When it comes to throwing down the gauntlet, the Renaultsport Mégane’s 222bhp is pretty decisive. With a mere 180bhp trickling through its front wheels, Citroën’s C4 VTS is off the pace before it’s got going. But, as its makers are keen to stress, the hottest C4 is not trying to set a performance benchmark, but provide a sporty focus to a comfort-oriented range.
It doesn’t look like a hot hatch, either. There’s no look-at-me bodykit, just a small spoiler, neatly squared tailpipe and intricate 17in alloys. But when you start with a shape as fresh and dynamic as the C4’s, who needs add-ons?
Citroën fans will love the C4’s cabin quirks, such as a built-in air freshener, directional headlamps and fixed-hub steering wheel. But there’s appeal for those unfamiliar with the Double Chevron too. Soft plastics, quality switchgear and an air of solidity bring to mind Germany’s finest.
Like Peugeot’s 407, the C4’s cab-forward shape creates an MPV-like atmosphere – and as a result, pillars that can blot the view through tight turns and roundabouts. However, the car’s comfortable, supportive sports seats are excellent.
Citroën makes much of the three-door’s class-leading drag coefficient of 0.28, but that only applies to the 1.4; this VTS makes 0.31. Suspension and road noise are well suppressed, but there’s a rustling around the A-pillars and the firm ride never settles, even on smooth autoroutes. Geared to pull just 19.6mph per 1000rpm in top (fifth), the engine is busy, too.
Strangely, on more rural routes the ride calms, and the VTS feels more secure. The C4 shares the Peugeot 307’s MacPherson strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension, but the Citroën is livelier than its stablemate.
The VTS is a further step forward over lowlier models, with a noticeable boost in grip and body control. The brakes, too, feel significantly stronger, the discs up 19mm to 302mm at the front but the same 249mm to the rear.
The electro-hydraulic power steering is well-weighted and accurate, yet once on lock it feels a little unconnected. Some 63 per cent of the C4’s 1337kg weight sits over the front wheels, but the 205/50 Michelin Pilot Exaltos offer excellent bite.
When understeer does arrive, it’s easily cured by throttling back. Disengage the standard ESP – only the VTS’s can be completely disabled – and a sharp mid-corner lift will have the C4’s tail drifting out of line, just as it would with the old Xsara VTS.
Citroën claims the VTS will hit 62mph from rest in 8.3sec and run to 141mph. Not bad, but the 1997cc four never really feels like it’s giving all 180 horses. That’s because the rather modest 149lb ft of torque doesn’t arrive until 4750rpm, and though it’s livelier between 4000rpm and the 7400rpm cut-out, there’s no sudden step up in power as in Honda and Toyota’s variable valve-timed units.
There is an exciting induction roar, though.
If you’re after thrills then the 197bhp Civic Type-R is more tempting, particularly as it undercuts the C4’s estimated price tag by a grand. But the Citroën’s £17,000 is likely to include six airbags, air-con, cruise control, laminated glass, a CD autochanger, rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and directional headlamps.