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Car reviews - Citroen - C4 - Exclusive hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Impressive three-cylinder engine, limo-like ride comfort and interior silence, big boot, soothing and satisfying for daily duties
Room for improvement
Tiny glovebox, cramped rear head/legroom, low-speed transmission judder, that nobody will buy one

Gallery

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Citroen logo3 Mar 2016

Price and equipment

Citroen has elected to cram the C4 hatch with standard equipment rather than come out swinging with a headline-grabbing base variant that draws people into showrooms and be tempted by higher-priced and better-specified versions.

As a result, the after-on-roads invoice for this small car will begin with a three rather than a two, especially in top-spec Exclusive trim tested here, which is listed at $33,990 plus on-road costs.

The only options available on a C4 Exclusive are metallic ($800) or pearlescent ($1000) paint and full leather upholstery with heated front seats and lumbar massage function ($2,500).

Everything else is standard, including a 7.0-inch touchscreen with 8GB music storage and myriad connectivity options, satellite navigation, blind-spot monitoring, semi-autonomous parking, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate-control, automatic lights and wipers, keyless entry with push-button start, part-leather upholstery, panoramic glass roof, cruise control with speed limiter, 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome-capped electric folding door mirrors, a self-dimming interior mirror, LED daytime running lights and an electric parking brake.

Despite this long list of equipment, the C4 hatch is still pricier and less powerful than most similarly specified European rivals including the Peugeot 308 Allure 1.6 ($31,842 plus on-road costs), Renault Megane GT-Line Premium and Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline (both $32,990 plus on-road costs) and Alfa Romeo Giulietta Distinctive ($35,000 plus on-road costs with automatic transmission fitted).

Also European – it’s built in Britain – is the Honda Civic hatch VTi-LN ($31,090 plus on-road costs).

While the Citroen’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine develops a respectable 96kW of power and 230Nm of torque for its size, all the above rivals bar Renault are four-cylinders and produce more than 100kW (the Alfa is punchiest with 125kW) and all but the Renault and Honda – the latter having the only naturally aspirated engine in this analysis – are at least 10Nm torquier than the Citroen.

That said, the C4 hits back with a six-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assistance package.

Interior

For driver and front passenger, the C4 hatch is an incredibly comfortable vehicle. The Exclusive’s part-leather seats are sublimely comfortable and have a classy knitted type of upholstery Citroen calls Tissu Mistral Saint. It is pleasant to touch, adds to the seat cushion comfort and looks hard-wearing.

The same can be said for the rest of the solidly constructed cabin, which, with a few notable exceptions such as the glovebox lid, is mostly furnished with quality materials and tasteful soft-touch finishes.

And get this: The C4 is eerily quiet on the move, with superbly suppressed wind, road and engine noise. Many journeys can be made in borderline silence and therefore absolute bliss. It makes the little Citroen an absolute delight to travel in.

Steering height and reach adjustment are plentiful, the instruments are clear, the touchscreen works well, there are proper rotary controls for the dual-zone climate control (especially the three-stage auto setting that prevents the blasting effect caused by most AC systems set to auto). The cruise control is easy to use, the panoramic glass roof’s blind operates well and is highly effective at blocking light and heat.

At their default brightness setting, the central touchscreen and instrument illumination are eyeball-searing at night. In typically quirky Citroen fashion, turning off the central display also kills many of the instruments, including the digital speedometer, leaving the warning lights, analogue speedo, gear indicator and cruise control status.

Thankfully, the dashboard-dimming control also affects the touchscreen, but you have to increase the brightness again come daytime. Another quirk is the instrument colour selection, which transitions from white through various – and variously lurid – shades of purple to blue.

Apart from requiring repeated attempts to pair an iPhone and then problems with Bluetooth audio streaming (we resorted to the USB connection), overall touchscreen functionality is adequate to good.

But the system behind the screen is low on computing power. We lost count of how many times we were entering a sat-nav address when an address predictor prompt appeared and responded to inputs we were making beforehand using the keyboard, either selecting the wrong address or sending us back to the previous screen only to make the same mistake again. And again.

Although front-seat passengers benefit from handy (but clunky in operation) drawers under the seats that are big enough to accommodate the glovebox guide and other items out of sight, a sizeable box beneath the central armrest, a phone-sized recess in front of the gear selector, a sunglasses holder in the ceiling, a tray by the driver’s right knee and a pair of generous door bins, the flimsy feeling glovebox is only just big enough for a pair of gloves. And as we’ve come to expect from French cars, there is also just the one cup-holder and no drinks bottle holding facilities.

Rear quarters provide a disappointing amount of head and legroom, making life difficult for tall back-seat passengers. Although the full-length panoramic glass roof robs ceiling height, we felt the rear seats could have been set a lot lower.

Isofix child seat anchorages are present and correct but we found space for a baby capsule limited without front passengers making compromises. Storage-wise are door bins (unsuitable for holding drinks bottles), two map pockets, two cubbies (that look like they should have been air vents) in the centre console and a ski hatch behind the oddly upholstered central armrest.

Better news comes from further back, where the 380-litre boot matches a Golf for seats-up capacity – although a 308 smashes both with 435L – and provides a nicely square-edged space with plenty of hooks for hanging shopping bags plus a cargo net and two elastic straps for securing items. Beneath the boot floor is a space-saver spare but not much additional room around it.

Citroen has made much of its special provision of a reversing camera for the Australian market and while commendable, its lens is mounted a little too high and the top centimetre of the display is obscured by bodywork. It’s still very useful and adds to the C4’s excellent all-round visibility, which is aided by the presence of rear quarterlights, a sensibly-sized rear windscreen and fairly high seating position.

Well-placed, large mirrors with highly effective and non-obtrusive blind-spot monitoring system also help – and the passenger side one automatically tilts when reverse is selected to help avoid kerbing the alloys when parallel parking. It all adds up to making the C4 easy to drive and a pleasure to live with.

Furthermore, the dual-zone climate-control is powerful and highly effective, as we found during a Queensland spring heatwave.

Engine and transmission

We wonder when we will cease to marvel at the current crop of three-cylinder turbo-petrol engines. The C4’s 96kW/230Nm is all you’d want and need in a car of this size and (1340kg) weight.

A 0-100km/h time of 10.9 seconds sounds modest (it also has a half-decent 197km/h top speed) but it’s responsive round town, sounds great when revved (accompanied by a cicada-like sound from the turbo) and punchy enough between 80 and 110km/h to overtake long lines of slower traffic on country roads or accelerate along motorway entrance ramps.

It is also smooth, refined and muted – and silent at a cruise. It’s the perfect compliment to the C4’s quiet cabin and fantastic ride quality, feeling like an invisible and silent wave of torque pulling you along. It has to be experienced to be believed.

The C4’s Aisin six-speed torque-converter unit is a quantum leap from the four-speed ‘nodding dog’ automated manuals of old. On the move it always seems to be in the right gear and progress is accompanied by almost imperceptibly smooth shifts, while kick-down response is quick.

Occasionally when pulling out of junctions it was caught napping in second gear, then caused a delay in acceleration as it kicked down to first – with sometimes bottom-clenching results when trying to enter a busy traffic flow.

But manual shifts through the pleasant-feeling selector are crisp and quick up or down and I this mode, the dashboard advises the best ratio to select for efficiency. It will still kick down a ratio or two if you floor it in manual, so control is not completely handed over to the driver.

At walking pace it would judder like an inexperienced driver is riding a manual car’s clutch and on the cusp of stalling. The effect is complete when the idle-stop system kills the engine. We have experienced the same symptom on other PSA Peugeot-Citroen vehicles, so it was not a faulty car.

This really begs the question, why did PSA put this transmission to market with such a serious and disconcerting NVH issue, especially in the otherwise refined and resolved C4?On a more positive note, the idle-stop system is one of the quicker and smoother ones on the market and it helped us achieve average fuel consumption of 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres, which is up on the official 5.1L/100km combined cycle but still pretty frugal for a petrol.

Ride and handling

Along with cabin comfort and silence, the C4’s ride is one of its stand-out features. Citroen is back at its brand-defining best in this regard, after a few years of trying to outdo the Germans with hard seats and questionable spring rates. The C4 is one of the best-riding cars on the market, regardless of size or price. More than once we compared its smooth progress to that of a relaxing long-distance European train journey.

In urban driving, it feels agile and fleet of foot, while being quiet and relaxed on the motorway.

The steering’s on-centre vagueness hides a strong level of accuracy. Coupled with the excellent all-round visibility, it is possible to place the C4 exactly where you want it on the road, which provides confidence and broadens the scope for some back-road fun.

Feedback through the wheel does increase when it really matters – when the tyres are close to entering the break-away of grip. Once that happens, there is a lot of room to play before the stability control intervenes and the C4 feels deftly manoeuvrable, nimble and is very adjustable on the throttle within that window of opportunity. Beyond that the intervention is subtle.

It all means the little Citroen is surprisingly fun can be persuaded to dance around corners unexpectedly quickly – once you get your head around the initial amount of body-roll and realise how well it settles and hunkers into a corner.

The brakes are confidence-inspiring but like many European – and particularly French – cars, they have too much initial bite at any speed. Just a touch of the pedal can alarm passengers with the sudden deceleration. We never really got used to it during our week and more than 700 kilometres with the car.

Combined with the soft suspension settings, the sharp brakes also caused the car to sit on its nose a bit before corners, which, all credit to the C4’s overall composure and ability to quickly recover from internal and external chassis inputs, didn’t upset the applecart too much. Even having to swerve around tree debris mid-corner did not cause the Citroen to lose composure.

The only real let-down was a bit of judder through the steering when powering through and out of corners.

For a car so ostensibly tuned for comfort, it can be hustled along a winding road very enjoyably. The challenge is managing the brakes!Safety and servicing

Citroen offers a six-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on all passenger vehicles, with roadside assistance for the same duration.

But the French brand’s six-year/90,000km capped-price servicing scheme is not cheap, with annual/15,000km maintenance intervals ranging from $355 to an eye-watering $955 and averaging just under $450 a visit (prices current at the time of writing).

In December 2011 ANCAP awarded the pre-facelift C4 hatch a maximum five-star safety rating with 34.89 points out of a maximum 37 based on data from Euro NCAP’s test of a left-hand drive, four-cylinder diesel variant. It scored 15.25 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, 15.64 out of 16 in the side impact test, a perfect 2 out of 2 in the pole test and pedestrian protection was judged ‘marginal’. The test pre-dated whiplash protection assessment.

Standard safety gear comprises dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags, along with front seatbelt reminders and pre-tensioners with load limiters, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution and electronic stability control.

Verdict

On paper the C4 hatch might struggle a bit, but as a car to live with in the real world – blissfully free of faux-sporting or keep-up-with-the-Joneses aspirational intent – it gets a lot of things right and because of this, it makes chore-laden daily duties more pleasurable.

In that sense, it’s the perfect car for an imperfect world of speed-bumps, potholes, poor road surfaces and agitated drivers. The C4 just shrugs them all off and keeps you cocooned in quiet comfort.

You’d have to pay a lot more money for a much larger car to enjoy the wafting sensation of travel aboard the C4 hatch. It rides sublimely and its whisper-quiet cabin makes you think, ‘how’s the serenity?’ Those things put you in a good mood, as do the comfortable and softly upholstered seats. It’s a road rage free zone.

Put it this way – we drove the C4 after a month of driving various BMWs and Mercedes and didn’t feel short-changed. There’s a refreshing honesty about this car.

Given the above, we weren’t disappointed with the dynamics on country lanes, either – and how often do you genuinely drive like that anyway?The effortless yet characterful drivetrain helps, too, as does the big and well-shaped boot, which came in handy for us after some unplanned furniture shopping. It’s just a shame the luggage space comes at the expense of rear legroom.

Citroen went through a stage of trying to out-German the Germans and the pre-facelift C4 displayed a few of those symptoms. But this latest version addresses the worst excesses of the French brand’s wilderness years, builds on the C4 model’s strengths, adds one of Australia’s best aftercare packages and becomes a car we’d seriously consider putting our own hard-earned into.

There aren’t many cars we can genuinely say that about.

Rivals

Peugeot 308 Allure 1.6 from $31,842 plus on-road costs
Runs the VW Golf close for class leadership, but we’d choose one with the same sweet three-cylinder engine as the C4 and spend the change on a few options. Or a holiday. In France.

Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline from $32,990 plus on-road costs
Smoother than slightly melted butter and more quietly competent than a seasoned airline pilot. But like the best pilots, comes with the whiff of scandal. We wonder how long VW can stave off the fact Australia’s dollar has slumped before the Golf’s too-good-to-be-true pricing starts to creep upward.

Renault Megane GT-Line Premium from $32,990 plus on-road costs
Good value but not long for this world and therefore dated, despite a recent facelift. We’ve driven the replacement overseas that promises to be a strong contender when it arrives Down Under so buy with caution.

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