New family hatch is composed but doesn't stand out in a competitive segment

What is it?

You're looking at the new Citroen C4, France's latest rival for the VW Golf and Ford Focus. It will be launched at the Paris show in a couple of weeks' time and is due to reach the UK market in January 2011. Citroen bosses say the C4 is their third offering in a promised wave of new models that began, after an overhaul of the company's objectives, with the C5 in 2008 and the C3 in 2009.

The C4, which uses the middle edition of PSA's three new platforms on which almost everything new will be based, has MacPherson strut front suspension and a twist-beam set-up at the rear. It is around 5cm longer than the outgoing car (at 4.33 metres) and also a couple of centimetres longer and wider, but thanks to a stringent weight-saving campaign it is no heavier – a decent achievement, given that the C4 has already achieved a five-star NCAP rating for crash safety.

The new C4 comes with an engine line-up of four four-cylinder diesels ranging from 91 to 148bhp, including a special low-emissions 'e' version of the staple 110bhp engine that undercuts the previous model's emissions by "up to 15 per cent". Three four-cylinder petrol units, ranging from 94 to 153bhp, will also be offered. The lower-output C4 engines get five-speed manual gearboxes; the upper-end models get six-speeders.

The new ultra-low-emissions 110 diesel and the top-spec 153bhp petrol unit are both offered with PSA's love-it-or-hate-it six-speed automated manual, a transmission they confusingly describe as "clutchless". There's also a conventional four-speed auto available with the 118bhp petrol engine.

What's it like?

It's pretty conventional, really. The shape is neat and competent, with long styling lines on the sides to emphasise its length, a clever clamshell bonnet and the familiar incorporation of the Citroen chevron badge into the leading edge of the bonnet.

Despite being a bit bigger, it also manages to look more compact than the outgoing car. But in this crowded market sector there's nothing special or memorable about its looks; it's almost as if Citroen has made the C4 a 'non-halo' car to make room for the forthcoming bob-tailed DS4 high-rider, which will also be at Paris.

The interior is conventionally comfortable, with nicely chosen materials and a three-dial fascia with better standard equipment than many rivals, and lots of options. Interior room is similar to that of the previous car, which set a good standard in the class.

Notably absent is the outgoing C4's fixed steering wheel boss, which carried most of the car's key switches and was a real USP (Citroen explains the loss by claiming it has saved 3.5kg in weight). The new layout is intuitive and works well enough; the company has seen the need to spice it up a bit with gimmicks like choices of instrument light colouring and a choice of tones for the turn indicator click. This shows the direction of its concerns.

Better news on the road. Our test car was a 148bhp HDi diesel whose strong, torquey performance, allied with low noise and vibration, immediately made itself apparent.

Our test car also had a fluent six-speed manual gearbox whose long-legged top was an especially good cruising gear. Citroen says it has made exceptional efforts with seat comfort and noise suppression, and the success of this is clear as soon as you begin to drive.

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Allied to these achievements is the smooth ride for which the non-sports versions of the outgoing car were also known, plus enhanced quietness over bumps. Road and mechanical noise are low, focusing some attention on the car's wind noise, which is moderate for the class.

Should I buy one?

The C4 is a modern, refined and comfortable driving machine – albeit with nothing truly special to lift it away from the many C-segment cars that also fit this description.

Choosing it first probably comes down to three things: whether you're a Citroen enthusiast, whether it's a purchase from a local dealer you trust, or whether the deal is sharper than any you can do with a rival. If you do choose a C4 you'll be getting a good, albeit undistinguished, new car.

Citroën C4 HDi 150 Exclusive

Price: £21,995 (est); Top speed: 129mph; 0-62mph: 8.6sec; Economy 56.5mpg; CO2: 127g/km; Kerb weight: 1320kg; Power: 148bhp at 3750rpm; Torque: 251lb ft at 2000-2750rpm; Gearbox: Six-speed manual

 Looking for a Citroen C4 for sale? Visit PistonHeads Classifieds

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Add a comment…
Dan McNeil v2 19 September 2010

Re: Citroën C4 HDi 150

Evo_ermine wrote:
My Dad's ZX handled lovely in that old 80s/90s French manner. Supple and fluid. However the Xsara we had was a right soggy old pudding with stodgy steering and I hated driving the thing. It was only a basic version and I'm sure the hotter VTS was better, but the normal versions were pretty disappointing.
Had a ZX fro new as a lease car. Basic 1.9 D (non-turbo). Slow car, but possibly the best handling car I've ever had. Don't know why your Xsara had inferior handling, as it had a similar weight and identical chassis to the ZX. Partner has a Xsara VTS (previously a VTR). Brilliant handler.

Evo_ermine 19 September 2010

Re: Citroën C4 HDi 150

theonlydt wrote:
I can't comment on quality of this new one, but the looks are dumpy and derivative and it doesn't sound like the ride/handling is much better. For all their faults the ZX and Xsara were pretty decent cars in that department.

My Dad's ZX handled lovely in that old 80s/90s French manner. Supple and fluid. However the Xsara we had was a right soggy old pudding with stodgy steering and I hated driving the thing. It was only a basic version and I'm sure the hotter VTS was better, but the normal versions were pretty disappointing.

Always had a desire to buy a C4 coupe. Love the styling.

Lee23404 19 September 2010

Re: Citroën C4 HDi 150

michael knight wrote:
fact is that while we all like the idea of innovation and whacky suspension systems, unfortunately we don't tend to buy enough of the C6, C5 and other left-field Citroens. You can hardly blame Citroen for playing it safe with their volume-seller...

Spot on. While I would like to see every Citroen with hydropneumatic suspension and switches on the dash for indicators, they just wouldn't sell in any volume outside of France.