20 July 2004

Citroen’s new C4, unveiled this week, must succeed in luring punters away from the usual hatchback fare with its unusual mixture of distinctive styling, high-tech features and unique gadgets.

The new Golf rival boasts a novel steering wheel whose rim rotates around a fixed centre boss. Buyers are also offered features such as an alert that warns you when you drift from your lane on motorways, directional xenon headlamps that turn with the wheels, and laminated glass in side windows – a first in a car of this class.

Drivers can choose to set their preferred speed limit, and they will be warned if they pick up a puncture. Citroën has also equipped its new model with a translucent instrument cluster that adjusts to ambient light for a clear readout night or day.

The replacement for the seven-year old Xsara will make its first public appearance at the Paris Motor Show in September and, as scooped in our artist’s impressions last week, the three- and five-door models get a very different appearance.

The three-door, called C4 Coupé, is the sportier model aimed at a younger audience; the five-door, badged C4 Hatchback, is expected to take around 70 per cent of sales. Both share a new front end, merging traditional Citroën chevrons into a horizontal grille, while the headlights are swept back into the bonnet in a distinctive tick shape. The Coupé has a more steeply raked rear roofline than the rounded five-door Hatchback, which misses out on the three-door’s ‘kinkback’ rear window.

Citroën claims class-leading interior space and aerodynamics; the 0.28 drag coefficient, they say, offers big rewards in fuel consumption and emissions. Five petrol engines stretch from a 90bhp 1.4-litre unit to a range-topping 180bhp 2.0-litre, also used by PSA partner Peugeot in the 206 GTi 180. Diesels, likely to be the big sellers, will be the 110bhp 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre HDi in both 90 and 136bhp versions.

The unusual steering wheel isn’t just for effect. The non-rotating hub offers a safety benefit: an airbag designed to fire from one set position. With most steering wheels, there’s no telling what lock the wheel will be on at the point of impact, compromising the design’s effectiveness. The C4’s airbag is a bespoke shape, giving better protection to the driver.

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