For every sales success story there is one of underachievement. On the one hand think Ford Focus and on the other think Fiat Multipla.
Citroen has decided to launch a car more radical than the Focus was in 1998 into the high volume lower-medium sector hoping to boost its share of the fleet market.
Due in the showrooms from November 15, the new C4 line-up will introduce dramatic styling, unique safety features and a string of technical innovations to the lower-medium sector.
Backed by prices pitched around 4% higher than the outgoing Xsara, the models should pave the way for the firm to drive into the top 10 list of company car suppliers, believes Citroen UK managing director Alain Favey.
Third quarter year figures show the company has 3.5% of the fleet market, but with fewer than 3,000 registrations, the Xsara accounts for less than 1% of its total.
Favey said: ‘Innovative design has given us considerable success in the small car sector and we are about to repeat the performance in the lower-medium segment by replacing a six-year-old range with one that is more advanced than its rivals.
‘We have taken a back seat in the fleet sector for some time. I would like the C4 to take us back to where we were with the Xantia, another car that stood out from the crowd and offered a unique package.
‘We have no intention of getting into high volume business and buying registrations. I accept it may take us a little time to get on to the choice lists again, but my aim is to sell 20,000 units a year at prices that are profitable.
‘This car offers significant benefits and it allows us to return to the fleet sector with a full product offering. We are convinced it has the potential to become a major contender and I hope it will help us leapfrog Audi, BMW and Nissan in the fleet table.’
Markedly less conservative in appearance than the new Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra or Volkswagen Golf, the Citroen has been styled to appeal to user-choosers.
Favey said: ‘This is the first car in its class to have laminated glass in side windows and a steering wheel with a fixed centre hub that allows us to use an airbag that gives the driver better protection.
‘In addition, it will also be available with the lane departure warning system that has just been introduced on the new C5 range. As a result, we are able to boast high levels of safety and security and we expect it to achieve a five-star rating in the next round of Euro NCAP tests.’
Petrol engines for the model range from 1.4 litres to 2.0 litres, but the top motor, producing 180bhp, is reserved for the VTS coupe.
All three turbodiesel engines on offer meet Euro IV emission regulations, and the trio is topped by the 138bhp 2.0-litre unit used in the C5.
However, the entry-level 1.6-litre – PSA’s latest diesel – produces 92bhp and debuts in the C4 alongside the 110bhp version. Significantly, both offer more than 60mpg on the combined cycle.
Though they will be mechanically identical to domestic market cars, right- hand drive variants will follow established Citroen UK practice by coming in LX, SX and Exclusive trim levels.
Full specification details are not yet available, but it is understood that most variants will boast Citroen’s novel air freshener system designed to dispense nine different fragrances supplied by perfume specialist Robertet and now stocked by the firm’s 220-strong dealer network.
Even base-level cars will come with cruise control and a speed limiter as standard, along with anti-lock braking with emergency brake assist, central locking, power front windows and a CD sound system.
Air conditioning will form part of SX packaging and Exclusive versions are likely to stand on alloy wheels and have directional headlamps, laminated side glass, tyre pressure monitoring, a CD changer unit and a 10-speaker premium sound system as standard. But as with the C5, the lane departure system will be optional.
Favey said: ‘We rate this new car as a breath of fresh air in the sector and we aim to make the most of it, particularly as it will be available well ahead of the new Focus.’
Behind the wheel
CITROEN has gone back to its roots with the C4 to produce a car that looks good, boasts a class-higher demeanour and appears to have the fit and finish to go with it. Bigger all round than the Xsara, both the hatchback and the coupe offer more interior space and plenty of room for stowage. Rear seats can be folded to provide a flat floor and a novel partitioning system allows the boot to be divided into three compartments to provide added security when small items are carried.
The car’s dashboard is just as avant-garde as the exterior styling. Because most of the usual switchgear is transferred to the centre of the fixed-hub steering wheel, the instrument panel appears less cluttered. In another departure, the rev counter is sited directly ahead of the driver while information on speed, mileage, fuel, temperature and trip distance is housed in a digital strip in the top central area of the dash.
Instead of being based on over-complex components, this model range is anything but quirky yet still uses advanced technology to offer sophisticated motoring that is affordable.
Not all engine variants were available at the launch event in southern France, but the 2.0-litre 138bhp HDi model provided the most exciting drive, with effortless acceleration and a high sixth ratio for supremely relaxing motorway cruising.
For all that, the 110bhp, 1.6-litre HDi version proved to be the star turn, offering composed handling, a supple ride and a sufficiently spirited performance to have me believing a 2.0-litre engine lay under its gently sloping bonnet.
Even when pushed to 80mph in third gear on our French test route, the smaller turbodiesel unit made so little fuss that on this showing, the mid-range C4 hatchback seems ideal for the long distance business driver seeking the best blend of comfort and operating economy. Good aerodynamics produce remarkably low noise levels, and an uncluttered dash panel promotes a relaxing, minimalist environment.
Slightly lower slung than the five-door, the French-specification VTS I drove had sharper handling, but apart from restricted access to the rear seats, the more overtly sporting version remains practical family transport because interior dimensions are identical to those of the hatchback.
SO often viewed as the poor relation to Peugeot, Citroen has hit the jackpot with the C4, a range that elevates C-sector motoring to a new level. Though it shares 62% of its components with the Peugeot 307, the car is lower, sleeker and has the feel-good factor that makes it a strong contender for the next European Car of the Year title.
|Model: C4||1.4||1.6||2.0||2.0 VTS||1.6 HDi||1.6 HDi||2.0 HDi|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||90/5,250||110/5,750||138/6,000||180/7,000||92/4,000||110/4,000||138/4,000|
|Max torque (lb.ft/rpm):||108/4,000||148/4,000||149/4,750||158/1,750||191/1,750||250/1,750|
|Max speed (mph):||113||120||129||141||111||119||128|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||44.1||39.7||36.2||33.6||60.1||60.1||52.3|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||153||169||186||200||125||125||142|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||60/13.2|
|Transmission:||5-sp man;||6-sp man||; 4-sp auto|
|Service interval (miles):||Petrol 20,000;||HDi 12,500|
|Prices (OTR):||£11,095 to £18,395|
|On sale:||November 15|