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.