What is it?
The family hatchback market is highly competitive at the best of times, but right now it's looking about as tough as it gets. Even before considering any crossover alternatives, not only do we have the omnipresent Volkswagen Golf and a new Ford Focus just around the corner, but for the first time in a long while there's a credible stylish alternative from Alfa Romeo, too.
So if Citroën's new C4 is to stand out in a very congested and talented crowd it will need to be good. Here, we are testing it in the UK for the first time, fitted with the most powerful diesel engine (a 2.0-litre with 148bhp). And it is a fine engine – on paper not as torquey as VW's or Ford's 2.0-litre units but, in reality, punchy, easy to use and impressively refined. The six-speed gearbox (the only option with this engine) represents an improvement on the slack imprecision of the previous-generation C4's, even if it is not exactly what we’d call positive.
What's it like?
In ride and handling terms, Citroën's priority was to deliver a comfortable and safe family car rather than something that might cater for the wishes of the enthusiast driver, which is entirely understandable. Even if we'd prefer the controls (pedal weights and electrically assisted steering) to be more inspiring, there is no doubting that it is a stable car, with sufficient grip.
What's disappointing, though, is that comfort, while acceptable, is far from exceptional. In isolation, there is enough compliance in the suspension to smooth even large bumps and sharp edges, but when asked to cope with a series of bumps in quick succession, or in conjunction with lateral loads, the suspension is found wanting, resulting in either a poorly controlled primary ride or steering kickback.
The cabin feels both more substantial and less gimmicky than previous Citroëns, the architecture contoured and interestingly designed. There's also reasonable adjustment in the seat and steering column, but the broad centre tunnel rests uncomfortably against your left leg.
But the further back in the car you travel, the better the news. Rear accommodation is acceptable, while boot space (rear seats in place) betters that of both the Focus and Golf. That is, assuming you don't opt for the optional Denon hi-fi upgrade (fitted here) which eats into the boot cavity.
Should I buy one?
The 2.0 HDi C4 is available only in top-spec Exclusive trim, at a cost of £21,495. Although this buys plenty of equipment as standard, this is relatively full pricing from Citroën. A Golf GT 2.0 TDi 140 is £21,380, a current Focus in Titanium trim is £19,095, while £21,195 buys the more powerful Giulietta 2.0 JDTm, albeit in mid-spec Lusso spec.
If the C4 was the only car you could ever drive, few would find fault with it, for by most standards it is a good product. However, in this slice of the market the class average has moved beyond being merely good.
Whether it is the Focus, Golf, Giulietta, Hyundai i30 or Skoda Octavia, each has a compelling reason to recommend it, and the unfortunate fact for the C4 is that, boot space aside, it offers little to catch our attention. And even then the Skoda is more spacious.