The DS 4 is a high-riding hatchback, but for all its maker's claims to the contrary, its too much like the standard C4

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The DS 4 was the second model in Citroën’s DS premium brand. Following the popular and highly rated DS 3 supermini, the DS 4 is the upmarket cousin of the Citroen C4 five-door hatchback.

There’s also the larger and handsome DS 5 crossover hatchback, which mixes dramatic styling with a premium interior.

Shame. For all its funky styling, the DS4 is a jack of all trades, but a master of none

Despite sharing most of its engines and underbody mechanicals with the ordinary C4, the DS 4 isn’t exactly a conventional family hatch. It is described by Citroën as a hybrid of saloon, coupé and compact 4x4; effectively then, it’s a high-riding five-door hatch with the kind of profile silhouette you’d expect from a two-door 2+2. To exacerbate that further there is a more rugged Crossback.

The entry-level DS 4 gets a 1.2-litre PureTech petrol with 128bhp and 169lb ft of torque. There’s also a 1.6 HDi 120 petrol with 118bhp and 221lb ft starting off the diesel contingent. Further up, there’s a 2.0-litre HDi producing 148bhp and 178bhp respectively, while topping the range is a 1.6-litre turbocharged THP petrol producing 160bhp and 205bhp.

Despite Citroën’s claims, the DS 4’s resemblance to a standard C4 is too close for comfort from some angles. Particularly from the front, where headlights and a bonnet borrowed wholesale from the lesser car do nothing to distinguish its heritage.  

Moving around the car you begin to see points of difference, but you’re left wondering if the cumulative aesthetic effect is quite special enough. Bespoke design points are present, especially around the rear flanks, but they’re difficult to spot.

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There’s a little bit more uniqueness inside the car. The pleated ‘habana’ brown leather and patterned console and door-handle trims in our initial test car looked rich and expensive, and were reminiscent in part (not least thanks to the distinctive colour) of the Infiniti EX37, which is praise indeed.

An extra-long windscreen extends backwards over the driver’s head, removing the header rail from limiting your forward visibility, and there are various interior lighting flourishes such as a strip of LEDs along the base of the windscreen, and instruments whose backlight colour you can change at your whim.

The DS 4’s driving position is improved by the car’s higher-than-normal driver’s seat, but don’t expect SUV-like practicality elsewhere. The rear seats offer limited knee and headroom, and there’s no more boot space than in a regular hatch.

As for trims there is five trims - Elegance, Performance Line, Prestige, Crossback and Crossback Terre Rouge. Entry-level models come equipped with 17in alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, electrically heated and folding mirrors, panoramic windscreen and rear parking sensors as standard on the outside, while inside there is dual-zone climate control, height adjustable front seats and Citroën's 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, DAB radio, USB connectivity and smartphone integration.

Upgrade to Performance Line and the DS 4 gains 18in alloy wheels, aluminium pedals and front sports seats with massage function, while opting for a Prestige model gets you LED headlights and foglights, keyless entry and start, a reversing camera, front parking sensors, a leather upholstery and a blindspot monitoring system.

The more rugged DS 4 Crossback gets aluminium roof bars, gloss black exterior details and a raised ride height, while the Terre Rouge includes 18in alloy wheels, a leather upholstery, parking sensors, a reverse-dipping mirror and a bespoke orange paintjob.

So does the driving experience make more sense? Well, unlike the cabin fittings, it’s a far cry from the one you’ll find in a standard C4. In pursuit of more driver involvement, Citroën has substituted the regular car’s electric power steering system for an electro-hydraulic system, which is quicker and much heavier.

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Making a higher-riding car with a more dynamic drive wasn’t an easy brief, and it will surprise few that Citroën has had limited success. The DS 4 has decent body control and a low-frequency lope to its primary ride quality over longer wave crests and undulations that makes it pretty comfortable over smooth surfaces. It is at least a fairly comfortable cruiser, only blighted by some oddly-placed seat controls.

Performance is as strong as you’d want it to be, at least with the 197bhp engine of our test car, and gearshift quality is good. Our experience of the DS 4 equipped with the 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel proved mostly positive. It's an extremely refined unit for starters, which offers excellent cruising potential.

There are the obvious economy benefits to having the diesel, with Citroën claiming 55.4mpg. But the HDI engine has a frustratingly narrow powerband; all of its 251lb ft seems to arrive in an instant which can make for awkward progress when combined with the long ratios of the six-speed gearbox.

Over rough surfaces, the DS 4 feels unsettled and lacking in composure. Hit a short sharp bump and the relative crudity of the DS 4’s torsion beam rear suspension makes itself felt as the chassis thumps noisily. At higher speeds, the same kind of rough roads upset the DS 4’s vertical body composure, and can cause the wheels to part company with the Tarmac entirely.

Our test car’s 19-inch wheels with 40-profile tyres must have been of little help to its rolling refinement, and lower-spec examples may indeed ride better. We expect none of them will have the kind of dynamic polish we hoped, however, based on the start made with the DS 3.

If you like the novelty that the DS 4 represents, and don’t really care about how it handles or how comfortable your friends are in the back seats, then you will not be disappointed by much of the above. But if, like us, you’re more interested in buying a car that has simple, objectively measurable talents, you’ll struggle to see the point.

The DS 4 isn’t distinctive enough and is too short on practicality, refinement and dynamic deportment to deserve recommendation for other reasons. It’s different, sure; but that’s not quite enough.

DS 4 2015-2018 First drives