The DS4 is the second model to appear from Citroën’s DS premium brand. Following the popular and highly rated DS3 supermini, the DS4 is the new upmarket cousin of the C4 five-door hatchback.
Despite sharing most of its engines and underbody mechanicals with the ordinary C4, the DS4 isn’t exactly a conventional family hatch. It is described by Citroën as a hybrid of saloon, coupé and compact 4x4; effectively then, it’s a high-riding five-door hatch with the kind of profile silhouette you’d expect from a two-door 2+2.
The entry-level DS4 is powered by Citroën’s 118bhp, 1.6-litre VTi petrol engine or a 108bhp, 1.6-litre HDi diesel. There’s also a 153bhp 1.6-litre THP turbocharged petrol, a 158bhp 2.0-litre diesel or, as driven here, the headline 197bhp 1.6-litre THP turbocharged petrol unit.
Despite Citroën’s claims, 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, 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, and were reminiscent in part (not least thanks to the distinctive colour) of the Infiniti EX37, which is praise indeed.
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 such as a strip of LEDs along the base of the windscreen, and instruments whose backlight colour you can change at your whim.
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, Citroën has substituted the regular car’s electric power steering system for an electro-hydraulic system, which is quicker and much heavier.
Making a higher-riding car with a more dynamic drive wasn’t an easy brief, and it will surprise few that Citroën has had limited success. 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 over smooth surfaces. Performance is as strong as you’d want it to be, at least with the 197bhp engine of our test car, and gearshift quality is good.
Our experience of the DS4 equipped with the 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel proved mostly positive. It's an extremely refined unit for starters, which offers excellent cruising potential. There are the obvious economy benefits to having the diesel, with Citroen claiming 55.4mpg. But the HDI engine has a frustratingly narrow powerband; all of its 251lb ft seems to arrive in an instant which can make for awkward progress when combined with the long ratios of the six-speed gearbox.
Over rough surfaces, the DS4 feels unsettled and lacking in composure. Hit a short sharp bump and the relative crudity of the DS4’s torsion beam rear suspension 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 19-inch wheels with 40-profile tyres must have been of little help to its rolling refinement, and lower-spec examples may indeed ride better. We expect none of them will have the kind of dynamic polish we hoped, however, based on the start made with the DS3.
If you like the novelty that the DS4 represents, and don’t really care about how it handles or how comfortable your friends are in the back seats, then you will not be disappointed by much of the above. 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.
The DS4 isn’t distinctive enough 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.