The Citroen C4 has been given a subtle but effective update that brings it in swinging at the best in the family hatch class. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Citroen C4 works smarter rather than harder this time round, with a styling refresh, some super-economical engines slotted into the range and an interior that nudges its way quite markedly upmarket. If you're not afraid of thinking outside the box a little, this is a car that earns an easy recommendation.
All too often we tend to lapse into a sort of shorthand when making car recommendations, nowhere more so than in the family hatch class. The accepted wisdom for many years has been to buy a Volkswagen Golf and if you don't want, like or can't afford the Golf, go for a Ford Focus instead. And just like that, we tend to relegate the rest of the class to also-rans. Citroen is determined not to be battling for the scraps in this class and its C4 is a car that is both interesting and talented.
It's also been treated to a wash and brush up to help it clamber up above the likes of the Renault Megane, the Nissan Pulsar, the Vauxhall Astra, the Skoda Rapid, the Toyota Auris and the Peugeot 308. If your motoring tastes extend beyond Golf or Focus, you might well enjoy the C4. Quite a lot, actually.
Citroen has introduced some innovative three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engines that wear a PureTech badge. The fastest of these offers 130PS, skittling the C4 to 62mph from rest in just 10.8 seconds, which is quicker than the 1.6-litre BlueHDi 100 diesel alternative. The Puretech 130 unit will keep at it until it runs out of answers at 124mph, so despite buying a small engine, you're certainly not choosing a weak one. The peak torque figure attests to this, with 230Nm available from just 1,750rpm. Compared to Ford's much-vaunted Ecoboost 1.0-litre in 125PS guise, the Citroen is half a second quicker to 62mph and has another 30Nm of torque in reserve. It's a lightweight motor too, which has all manner of benefits when it comes to corner turn-in and body control. That 130PS engine has also been joined by a more affordable 110PS version, also fitted with a manual gearbox.
There are also a trio of diesels that are well worth considering. The BlueHDi 100 and 120 engines with a capacity of 1.6-litres deliver maximum power of, respectively, 99PS at 3,750rpm and 120PS at 3,500rpm. The torque at 1,750rpm is 254Nm for the BlueHDi 100 manual unit and 300Nm for the BlueHDi 120 S&S with a 6-speed manual 'box. If that's not enough, then there's also a top-of the-range BlueHDi 150 model variant to consider.
As for the driving experience, well, it's a shame that with this generation C4, Citroen did away with the fixed steering wheel boss that was such a talking point in the previous generation version, but apparently a more conventional wheel saves 3.5kg. Despite many of the previous C4's more extrovert features being consigned to history there are one or two quirks remaining, such as the fact that you can tailor the sound of individual warning chimes or the indicators as well as the colour of the instrument lighting.
Design and Build
The C4's silhouette hasn't changed at all with this update but some of the details certainly have. The most obvious changes are the headlight units that now comprise two 3D chrome-finish modules on a gloss black background with LEDs adding a distinct light signature. The car also features chrome chevrons connecting the headlights and the ribbed bonnet curving into the sides is a neat touch. Moving aft, there are revise rear lights again with the 3D effect. A few more splashes of chrome and some revised alloy wheels and additional colours (including Platinum Grey and Spirit Grey) give the C4 a sharper look.
Drop inside and you'll notice the 7-inch touch screen straight away and Citroen anoraks might also notice better quality upholstery finishes. The dashboard and fascia are a good deal more conventional than you might expect and all of the controls are easy to figure out without recourse to the manual. It's as if Citroen has gone back to concentrating on getting the basics right and you'd have to say on that basis the C4's design is a winner. Instead of pouring design resource into a gadget you might use once a year, they've instead designed a seat that's supremely comfortable. Space inside is about par for the class, with rear legroom an issue if you try to seat tall passengers. Headroom is better than average as is access, the C4 only being offered in practical five-door form.
Market and Model
Prices start from just over £14,500, which is very competitive in the Focus-sized class. There's a choice of 'Touch', 'Feel' and 'Flair' trim levels. The 7" touchscreen you get on most variants helps to marshal a lot of the minor functions on the dashboard into one clean unit and includes some impressive functionality. The satellite navigation system it can include displays map, speed limits, takes account of traffic conditions, and suggests the most fuel-efficient route. The media player features radio, audio streaming and sync to personal devices. The telephone gets the usual hands-free functionality via Bluetooth and directory access, and also features double-call management.
Go for a typical mid-range 'Feel' trim level and you'll get features like rear parking sensors, cruise control with speed limiter, 16-inch alloys, leather trim for the steering wheel, handbrake and gear knob, front fog lights and that clever customisable instrument panel. The Citroen also scores when it comes to safety and equipment, with a five-star EuroNCAP rating already under its belt. The C4 scored 97% in the 'Safety Assist' test - at the time the highest score achieved for any vehicle of its type. That's due to the sheer array of driving aids fitted as standard. You get anti lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Braking Assistance while ESP stability control is fitted across the range. Six airbags are also fitted, as well as cruise control with a speed limiter. There are elctronic options too, like front foglights with a static cornering function. And a Blind Spot Monitoring system.
Cost of Ownership
The introduction of the latest engines has helped to drive down the cost of ownership. The diesels are a case in point, with these engines drastically reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions as well as shaving another 4% from the CO2 figure. The Stop & Start technology with an upgraded starter used with the BlueHDi 120 engine helps cut its combined cycle fuel consumption to 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions are an impressive 95g/km with ultra-low rolling resistance tyres.
Go petrol and you'll probably enjoy the 130PS PureTech unit, which manages 58.9mpg and emits just 110g/km. To put that in perspective, the old 110PS 1.6-litre e-HDI engine in the C4 only did 1g/km better and was slower, heavier and noisier into the bargain. Go for the 110PS PureTech petrol engine and it does marginally better again. Citroen quotes figures of 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and 110g of CO2 per km with ultra-low rolling resistance tyres. Other running costs have been driven down as well. Warranty Direct, an independent company not given to any partiality or bias, rated the current generation C4 as one of its most reliable vehicles, scoring better than a BMW 3 Series, a Honda Accord or a Lexus IS.
The Citroen C4 is one of those cars that often gets overlooked despite racking up all kinds of best-in-classes. Here's just one more example. You don't like packing light? Well, you could always do the logical thing and choose the car with the biggest boot in its class at 408-litres. No prizes for guessing what this is. Now that the PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel engines are right on the money as far as economy and emissions are concerned, the in-car electronics are right up there with the best and the C4's reliability stats bear any kind of scrutiny you fancy, it's hard not to give this car the thumbs up.
Broaden your mind beyond the usual motoring magazine Golf or Focus recommendations (and I'll admit I'm as guilty of that as many other journos) and there are some genuinely talented contenders out there. The C4 just joined that list. It deserves more recognition, so perhaps we can start here.