A jack of all trades but not class leading

What is it?

The second offering from Citroen’s premium DS sub-brand. And after the DS3, which even Citroen admits is far more popular than it anticipated, it has a hard act to follow.

The bad news is that it’s based on the overwhelmingly underwhelming Citroen C4 which itself is based on the old C4. Then again Citroen worked wonders turning the distinctly average C3 into the positively sparky DS3, so perhaps it can pull it off again.

What’s it like?

And you can’t fault the effort that’s gone into it. Not only does the DS4 share barely a body panel with the C4 (only the bonnet and front headlights are common to both), this is no nip and tuck operation. The car has been raised by 32mm and the driver’s hip point sits 15mm higher, apparently to give an SUV-like driving position. Underneath the skin the suspension has been completely retuned at both ends and the steering recalibrated too, to fit the sporting image of the DS brand.

Inside the changes are more superficial, feel applied rather than fundamental and depend very much on which of the three grades you buy and how much you’re prepared to spend on expensive extras like leather dash tops and stitched leather seats.

Three BMW developed petrol engines and two PSA diesels will be available from launch, the more powerful 2-litre version of which is in the car you see here.

Given the unprepossessing nature of the raw material, it’s surprisingly good. No, the DS4 isn’t going to send the Germans scuttling back to their drawing boards but nor is there any of the sense of depressing underachievement that pervades the C4 driving experience. The DS4 is genuinely and significantly different. In this regard at least it adds to the good work of the DS3.

Before you’re out of the car park you know good work has been done on the steering, the insipid overly light feel of the C4 has been entirely exorcised. It still feels artificial in a way we know electric systems no longer need to, but it’s no longer a bar to driving pleasure.

Bumble through town and you’ll notice next how firm the suspension feels. Although the spring rate has actually been reduced, this is more than offset by a substantial increase in roll bar diameter and much more damper control. Most of the time the ride is perfectly acceptable, but occasionally you can drop a wheel in a rut and feel a thud you just know a car with a properly independent rear end – take your pick from the Alfa Alfa Romeo Giulietta to the Mini Countryman – would have dispatched with far greater ease.

Accelerating onto the motorway you’ll find performance adequate, but the powerband of the 2-litre motor narrow even by diesel standards and not well suited to its wide-spread gear ratios. But once at a cruise the ride settles down leaving you alone with an impression of uncanny refinement. This must be one of the quietest four cylinder diesels on earth.

You expect it all to turn to mush once you reach the hills because, after all, there’s the bare bones of C4 under here. But it doesn’t. The DS4 is not a fine handling car by any stretch, but it is perfectly competent, mildly engaging and not at all annoying. None of which we’d feel tempted to say about the C4 in the same environment.

Back to top

Interestingly for a car that’ll sell so much on showroom appeal, its static qualities are what lets it down. While the outside looks classy and distinct, the interior appears like a mildly warmed over C4. Moreover there’s only just enough room in the back and, amazingly, the rear side windows are fixed. If you can think of another four door, five seat car on sale that won’t let those in the back open the windows even a crack, perhaps you’d let us know.

Should I buy one?

Citroen says the DS4 comprises the style of a coupe with the practicality of a saloon and the driving position of an SUV. The unintended consequence of such a description is to suggest very strongly that the car is a jack of all trades. And it is. Unless you happen to like the way it looks or set particular store by cabin noise levels, it is a car with no world beating attributes.

But that alone should not condemn it. The art of modern motor manufacture is defined by the art of the compromise and those settled upon by Citroen in creating the DS4 are notably well judged, some might say miraculously so given its origins.

So don’t expect the DS4 to change the world or even rewrite its class rules. But if you like what you see enough to buy one, the rest of the car is more than good enough not to make you regret your decision.

Giles Newton

Citroën DS4 2.0HDi DStyle

Price: £23,000 (est); 0-62mph: 9.3sec; Top Speed: 132mph; Economy: 55.3mpg; Co2: 134g/km; Kerb weight: 1320kg; Engine layout: 4 cyls in line, 1997cc; Installation: tranverse front, front-wheel drive; Power: 161bhp at 3750rpm; Torque: 251lb ft at 2000rpm; Power to weight: 122bhp per tonne; Gearbox: 6-sp manual

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Phinehas 10 May 2011

Re: Citroën DS4 2.0HDi DStyle

catnip wrote:

I want a five door car with 5 opening windows. I'm sure I've seen old American station wagons that have an electric window in the tailgate.

Very common in the States at one time but not good for anyone riding in the rumble seats who tends to die from CO poisoning. It's why it's illegal in many countries to drive with the tailgate open to accommodate a long load.

catnip 8 May 2011

Re: Citroën DS4 2.0HDi DStyle

Leslie Brook wrote:

I want a five door car with 5 opening windows. I'm sure I've seen old American station wagons that have an electric window in the tailgate.

I like that idea too - didn't the original Freelander have a wind down window in the tailgate, in 3 door form at least?

5cylinder 8 May 2011

Re: Citroën DS4 2.0HDi DStyle

I think the DS3 looks funky.

I think the DS4 doesn't.