From £16,9807

The DS4 is the second model in Citroën’s DS premium brand. Following the popular and highly rated DS3 supermini, the DS4 is the upmarket cousin of the C4 five-door hatchback.

There’s also the larger and handsome DS5 crossover hatchback, which mixes dramatic styling with a premium interior.

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 gets a 1.6-litre VTi petrol with 120bhp and 118lb ft of torque. There’s also a HDi 115 petrol with 115hp and 199lb ft starting off the diesel contingent. Further up, there’s the 1.6-litre turbocharged THP petrol with 160bhp and 177lb ft, and the HDi 135 with 135bhp and 236lb ft.

Towards the top of the range, petrol DS4 models gets a turbocharged 1.6-litre unit with 200bhp and 203lb ft of torque, or for diesel owners there’s another HDi engine with 160bhp and 251lb ft.

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 its heritage.  

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. Bespoke design points are present, especially around the rear flanks, but they’re difficult to spot.

There’s a little bit more uniqueness inside the car. The pleated ‘habana’ brown leather and patterned console and door-handle trims in our initial test car looked 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 standard 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. It is at least a fairly comfortable cruiser, only blighted by some oddly-placed seat controls.

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.

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    22 December 2014
    Entry-level diesel MPV shares its three-cylinder engine with Mini but, due to long gearing, lacks the authoritative punch of a convincing premium product
  • Car review
    17 December 2014
    The replacement for the CL grand tourer has some big boots to fill
  • Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 AMG Line Shooting Brake review
    First Drive
    16 December 2014
    Elegant, alluring and with some welcome improvements, but not good enough to lead the class
  • First Drive
    15 December 2014
    Hushed, flexible and remarkable value for money. Arguably more fit-for-purpose than any other ‘S’.
  • 2015 Mazda CX-3 review
    First Drive
    12 December 2014
    The Mazda CX-3 has style and substance, and deserves consideration for anyone wanting a compact urban SUV. Here’s hoping Mazda gets the price and equipment right