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What is it?
Citroen’s second model from its DS premium brand. Following the popular and highly rated DS3 supermini, the DS4 is the new upmarket cousin of the C4 five-door hatchback, and goes on sale in the UK at the beginning of July.
Despite the fact that it shares most of its engines and underbody mechanicals with the ordinary C4, the DS4 isn’t exactly a conventional family hatch. Marketed as a non-conformist’s alternative and described by Citroen as a hybrid of saloon, coupe and compact 4x4, it’s effectively a high-riding five-door hatch with the kind of profile silhouette you’d expect from a two-door two-plus-two.
Whether it’s a revelation or just different for difference’s own sake is what we’re looking to establish here, in our first proper UK drive in a range-topping 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol DSport version of the car.
What’s it like?
In the raw, not as distinctive as you might expect. While the DS3 looks special enough to seem like a model in its own right, the DS4’s resemblance to a standard C4 is too close for comfort from some angles. Particularly from the front, where headlights and a bonnet borrowed wholesale from the lesser car do nothing to distinguish.
Moving around the car you begin to see points of difference; can’t miss the raised ride height, plunging roofline and more dramatic surfacing, in fact. But you’re left wondering if the cumulative aesthetic effect is quite special enough.
There’s a little bit more uniqueness inside the car – at least there was in our highly-equipped test car. The pleated ‘habana’ brown leather and patterned console and door-handle trims look rich and expensive.
An extra-long windscreen extends backwards over the driver’s head, removing the header rail from limiting your forward visibility, and there are various interior lighting flourishes like a strip of LEDs along the base of the windscreen, and instruments whose backlight colour you can change at your whim. Still, it does all seem rather like window dressing on a cabin that’s mainly inherited from a C4.
The DS4’s driving position is improved by the car’s higher-than-normal driver’s seat, but don’t expect SUV-like practicality elsewhere. The rear seats offer limited knee-and headroom, and there’s no more boot space than in a regular hatch.
So does the driving experience make more sense? Well, unlike the cabin fittings, it’s a far cry from the one you’ll find in a cooking C4. In pursuit of more driver involvement, Citroen has substituted the regular car’s electric power steering system for an electro-hydraulic system which is much heavier in weight and quicker in terms of pace.
Making a higher-riding car with a more dynamic drive wasn’t an easy brief, and it will surprise few that Citroen has had limited success in its mission. The DS4 has decent body control and a low-frequency lope to its primary ride quality over longer wave crests and undulations that makes it pretty comfortable and pleasant over smooth surfaces. Performance is as strong as you’d want it to be, and gearshift quality is good.
Over rougher surfaces, however, the DS4’s performance is anything but. Hit a short sharp bump and the relative crudity of the DS4’s rear suspension (a torsion beam) makes itself felt as the chassis thumps noisily. At higher speeds, the same kind of rough roads upset the DS4’s vertical body composure, and can cause the wheels to part company with the tarmac entirely.
Our test car’s 19in wheels with 40-profile tyres must have been of little help to its rolling refinement, and lower-spec examples may ride better. We expect none of them will have the kind of dynamic polish we were led to expect, however, based on the start made with the much more finely honed DS3.
Should I buy one?
If you like the novelty that the DS4 represents, and don’t much care about how it handles or how comfortable your friends are in the back seats, perhaps. But if, like us, you’re more interested in buying a car that has simple, objectively measurable talents, you’ll struggle to see the point.
To our eyes, the DS4 isn’t distinctive or stylish enough to justify its place in the world, and is too short on practicality, refinement and dynamic deportment to deserve recommendation for other reasons. It’s different, sure; but that’s not quite enough.
Citroen DS4 DSport 1.6 THP 200
Price: £23,650; 0-62mph: 8.5sec; Top speed: 146mph; Economy: 44.1mpg; CO2: 149g/km; Kerb weight: 1431kg; Engine layout: 4cyls in line, 1598cc, turbocharged petrol; Power: 197bhp at 5800rpm; Torque: 203lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual