Citroën’s all-new family hatchback is significantly cheaper in traditional ICE form, but is it better?

What is it?

This is the new Citroën C4 with a traditional powertrain, and it’s one that the PSA Group uses a lot.

I remember being in a design studio being told how Citroen was going to give its cars and SUV-like look but without the traditional drawbacks of an SUV or 4x4 that lead to inefficiency. It had decided it would try to add some rough looks without the big frontal area or tall ride height and this is that plan in action.

Quite an interesting-loooking car, no? At 1520mm high it's 25mm or so taller than a Ford Focus and here runs on tall 60-profile tyres, quite balloonish by most standards. Body cladding adds to the effect too. Its roof is a little lower than a Toyota C-HR, itself barely a crossover. 

This one is powered by a 128bhp (badged 130) 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine driving through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. So if you’re not able to take the EV plunge yet (with the Citroën e-C4), maybe this is the one for you.

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What's it like?

Or maybe it isn't. Sometimes engineers in the business talk about the 50-metre test: how a car feels in those first few seconds. This doesn’t even wait that long to feel genuinely poor.

The pedals are non-linearly responsive and the steering is impossibly light and indirect. It feels like somebody has taped big car-washing sponges to the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands and then challenged you to drive a car. It’s like it has never spent any time at all in the company of a ride-and-handling engineer. I don’t think this is how you do rolling comfort. Yes, there’s reasonable isolation, but I found its responses exhausting.

At least the engine and gearbox are quiet and smooth in operation. The gearbox is sometimes hesitant to downshift, but you can take control via wheel-mounted paddles if you like. What’s surprising, given how an electric motor makes peak torque from no revs and a petrol engine (even a turbo one) doesn’t, is how much more torque steer this C4 has than the ë-C4, too, and it also tramlines more under braking.

The rest of the package is as pleasant as the ë-C4. It's a spacious cabin, interestingly designed with particularly cool instruments and, praise be, heating and ventilation controls given their own actual buttons rather than being hidden within the touchscreen menu.

And, as is often the way with Citroëns, you will the find pricing, equipment and offers pretty strong (prices go from £22,990 to £26,320 for this range-topping Shine Plus).

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6 Citroen c4 2021 uk first drive review cabin

Should I buy one?

I don't think so. Which is a shame because this is, to my eyes, an interesting-looking car with a relatively appealing interior.

But it's a good deal worse to drive than the ë-C4 – the first time, in my recollection, that the electric version of a car is notably better to drive than the ICE one where both are available. It has the worst ride-and-handling combination I’ve experienced this year, and I’ve driven the Mini JCW GP.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Bishop 10 December 2020

Well, I applaud Mr Prior for writing what he thought about the car.  He definitely could have given his review more depth and breadth, but I find it refreshing to read something which was clearly very authentic.  I like Citroens as a rule, but this one leaves me cold, and that's just based on how it looks.

Andrew1 9 December 2020

This "review" is sponsored by VAG, most probably and written by a "French car" hater. Or by a non-German car hater. Or something.

Autocar's reviews have always been some 20 sentences jokes, half of that just filler towards the word count goal. But this is a different level: pathetic metaphores and nonsense.

Really, Matt, try a different job.

Fahrbahnkontakt 9 December 2020

A little bit surprised by this review compared to that of the ë-C4. If anything the electric car feels a little bit more floaty than its petrol counterpart on the low frecuency inputs and both have a quite good secondary ride. With the 18" wheels there can be some percusions on some very bad stretches of road, as the relaxed suspension settings don't completely control the wheel movements, but that is the price to pay for a very relaxing ride 95% of the time.

Steering is of course not as sharp as that of an equivalent Ford or Peugeot, but I don't think that is where Citroën wanted to position this car and all in all, if not very engaging its handling is very safe and predictable.  

Just my 2 cents after having driven both this and the ë-C4.