In the metal, however, the C4 is surely one of the most successful exponents yet of a common platform policy. It has absolutely no visual link with the 307, inside or out. This C4 is as distinctive as Citroëns used to be – except that there’s nothing ‘funny’ about its controls, no super-fast steering or a zero-travel, over-servoed brake pedal – properties (market experts now tell us) which pleased the few and disenfranchised the many.
Citroen’s change of gear has much to do with the arrival, four years ago, of design chief Jean-Pierre Ploué (formerly ‘Mr Renault Twingo’) who has done much to flesh out and redefine Citroën’s core values. This C4 is the first all-Ploué car, and the designer’s gift to the fraught small-hatch class is a car which prioritises comfortable travel and avoidance of stress, unlike most of the class’s driver-oriented confections.
The seating is low and the seats are soft. Instead of an imposing array of ‘cockpit’ controls, the car has a central LCD display which shows speeds as digits.
The tacho is a modest graphical line ahead of the driver which grows as the revs rise. It’s not sporty, but it definitely scores by being neat and different.
The steering-wheel design has been perfected in several recent Citroën concepts. When you turn the wheel, the boss stays still, presenting a large, perfectly placed switch panel. Citroën have grouped switches for four different supporting functions around its edges: audio, cruise control, navigation and telephone. They’re the things drivers normally have to grope for, and having them so accessible feels amazing. Other functions (lights, wipers, turn indicators) are grouped on two steering stalks.
Top-spec C4s are laden with gadgetry unusual in this class, including swivelling headlights (an echo, for some, of the DS in the ’60s), a speed limiter, tyre-pressure warning system and a dash-mounted air freshener of startling effectiveness (with a choice of nine different scents).
The newest gadget is a radar-activated lane-departure warning device designed to warn a drowsy driver that the car is straying out of its motorway lane by vibrating the right- or left-hand-side of the seat cushion, depending on which way the car is straying. We tried it, and it’s eerily effective.
For the C4’s exterior, Citroën is the latest mass maker to adopt two different styling philosophies for its three- and five-door versions of the same car. The five-door is a pleasant-looking, slightly beetle-backed affair, with a cab-forward windscreen that emphasises its interior and glass area. It’s long for the class at 4.25m, and quite low at 1.46m. It has an aerodynamic look (borne out by the low drag coefficient of 0.29) and draws from fondly remembered past Citroëns (not least the SM) and on some recent concept cars, such as British designer Mark Lloyd’s C-Airdream and C-Airlounge. But its face is distinctly family.
The three-door C4 – dubbed Coupé – is more rakish, courtesy of its long front door, raked B-pillar and the way its long, graceful roof sweeps down to a more abrupt Kamm-style tail, which evidently contributes to the aerodynamics, too (Cd 0.28).
The achievement is all the more impressive because the two C4 models share the same roofline and offer the same rear-seat room. The cabin feels spacious and has plenty of headroom front and rear, but the low, rather reclined front seating positions mean that while there’s a bit more rear knee-room than in the 307, it doesn’t reach the new standard established by the latest Ford Focus and VW Golf.