As the biggest French carmaker stops messing about and gets back to winning ways, Matt Joy fully expects Citroën’s new DS4 to deliver. But will it just shrug its shoulders and go on strike?
Even those of you with a distinctly casual attitude to cars — namely you buy them and drive them but nothing more — may have heard of the Citroën DS3. And even if you haven’t, you may have seen one on YouTube tearing around Jyväskylä in the hands of Sébastien Loeb. The baby premium hatch took the market and its rivals by surprise last year by combining sharp design, the all-important personalisation options and a sharp driving experience, while still being a genuinely useful and practical small car. Suddenly the less accommodating Mini and Fiat 500 seemed a bit less attractive. Yes, it appears France has finally ended its strike.
Now Citroën has released its second car to wear the DS tag, which denotes a design-led approach and something slightly outside of the normal template. The DS4 is billed as a four-door coupé — something that a few other manufacturers have presented — but Citroën went a step further and created something of a crossover. Although it shares some hardware and fundamental structures with the C4 hatchback, the similarity ends there.
A quick look at the side profile and there are bold curves everywhere, with a strong arc to the roof and slashes over the rear wheel arches. With hidden handles on the rear doors there is a coupé feel to it, but it also rides higher than a conventional hatch to give a loftier driving position, while the panoramic windscreen brings more light into the cabin and affords a better view out. Unusual it certainly is and whether you find it attractive or not is a personal matter, but whatever your feelings it is unquestionably bold, refreshing, and will stand out in traffic.
Despite the focus on appearance, the DS4 is a thoroughly practical car. The overall height of the body means plenty of room regardless of whether you sit front or back, and the boot is a usefully large 359 litres with a further 26 litres beneath the boot floor. It’s worth mentioning that because of the unusual shape the rear windows are unable to roll down, although in a car with climate control as standard this is likely to be a small issue. Certain models also come with a vast centre console storage box, which adds up to an impressive amount of space.
Although the cabin is more conventional than the exterior, there are still some smart touches. There are flashes of silver around the air vents and gear lever, there is the option to have customisable sounds and lighting effects, and should you choose the full leather trim option, the seats have multiple panels that evoke the look of a watch bracelet — unusual but highly appealing in the flesh.
With the blend of practicality and style sorted out, Citroën also claims that the DS4 is sporty as well as comfortable and offers an involved driving experience, and after sampling various versions, it is hard not to agree. The way in which the steering responds to inputs and the suspension keeps the body in check when cornering, is impressive. While it will never match the sprightliness of the smaller DS3, for a car of its size and status the DS4 is an enjoyable drive in a variety of conditions. The larger 19in wheel options trade a little ride comfort for the sake of looks, but this is also down to personal preference: regardless, the DS4 strikes a balance between comfort and fun that will be just right for most people.
The DS4 can be specified with a good choice of well-proven petrol and diesel engines. Petrol fans can choose the excellent THP turbocharged units, with the 197bhp 1.6-litre 200 THP version offering power with impressive economy and emissions. It will cruise with ease and potter through urban traffic quite happily, but should you be fortunate enough to find yourself on an open road it will punch to 100kph from rest in just 7.9 seconds. And the semi-crossover approach means it will appeal to a wide audience — even though the design means only those with a taste for modern looks will understand.
Engine 1.6-litre four-cyl turbo
Transmission Six-speed manual, FWD
Max power 197bhp @ 5,800rpm
Max torque 275Nm @ 1,700rpm
Top speed 235kph
Price Dh135K (UK)