Should you describe the Citroen DS4 as: a) a hot-hatch, b) a sexy coupe, or c) a compact SUV? A fourth multiple choice answer is actually best: d) all of the above. Or ‘crossover’ in carmaker-speak.
The second model in Citroen’s more premium-focused, style-centric DS range – following the DS3 – proudly wears a number of berets, with the French manufacturer targeting a variety of buyers across a number of different segments rather than creating a car that is pigeonholed into one specific competitor set.
The intricacies and eccentricities of the Citroen DS4 certainly make it a standout in Australia’s sub-$40,000 segment.
Let’s start with the seats. Our Citroen DS4 DSport test car was upholstered with optional ‘Habana’ leather seats, which feature a detailed watchstrap pattern that wouldn’t look out of place inside a Bentley or in the lounge room of an interior designer. The catch is they add $1500 to the price of the DSport – which starts at $39,990 and already comes standard with simpler grey leather seats – and an eye-watering $3000 to the $35,990 petrol and $36,990 diesel DStyle models.
The pain to your hip pocket may be relieved slightly by the seat heaters and massagers, although the effect of the latter can be achieved more cost effectively by unleashing a child in the back to methodically knee the back of your seat, such is the sensation. It’s a job best reserved for kids, too, with room tight in the back seats for adults – including headroom that’s restricted by that coupe-style sloping roofline.
If you’re settled in the front seats, though, there are myriad treats to behold, such as the sliding sunblinds that roll back to reveal an expansive panoramic windscreen, a colour-customisable (different tones of blue only, though) instrument cluster illumination, and elegant satin chrome inserts that offset the smooth leather of the steering wheel, rubbery black dash material and the generally good level of plastics quality.
The basic interior design and layout is not that far removed from the Citroen C4 small car on which it’s based, however, and which starts from just $22,990.
The exterior provides much greater differentiation, with plenty of stylised touches such as the chrome and piano black contrasting superbly in the grille, delicate boomerang-shaped LED daytime running lights at the front, ripple-effect 19-inch alloy wheels on the DSport, Alfa-style hidden rear door handles, and gorgeous details in the contours of the tail-lights that create a level of stylistic drama beyond the small-car class.
Unfortunately, for every element that plays at your heartstrings there’s another that nags at your practical side. The centre screen is perhaps the worst offender.
It’s a tiny black and white display that probably wouldn’t have looked too far out of place in a Charlie Chaplin film. Not only does it look prehistoric among the DS4’s otherwise sleek cabin, it’s far from the most user-friendly item, with functions such as tuning the radio, pairing a phone via Bluetooth and navigating the trip computer less than intuitive.
Practicality isn’t the DS4’s strong suit, either. There’s nowhere to stand a 600ml drink bottle upright (and only one cupholder that struggles beyond regular-sized coffees), a small centre storage bin and an even more useless glovebox, fixed rear windows, and poor rear visibility due to car’s thick C-pillars, raked roofline and small rear window.
And even though the Citroen DS4 hints at SUV-ness with its body shape and raised suspension, the 359-litre boot is only about average for a hatchback, expanding to 1021 litres with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats pushed forwards. DStyle models feature a space-saver spare tyre while the DSport makes do with a puncture repair kit.
The entry-level DS4 DStyle is powered by a 115kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and is teamed exclusively with a six-speed ‘robotised EGS’ transmission, which essentially operates like an automatic. The DStyle petrol goes from 0-100km/h in 9.9 seconds and consumes 6.5 litres of premium unleaded petrol on the combined cycle.
The other option in the DStyle is the 82kW/270Nm 1.6-litre diesel engine, which we tested. Paired with the same automated manual gearbox, the sprint to triple figures blows out to 12.4 seconds but economy sharpens dramatically to just 4.4L/100km.
Your final option is the DS4 DSport, which teams a 147kW/275Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine with a six-speed manual transmission. It’s the same engine as the one in the Peugeot RCZ coupe and a slightly higher tune than the version in the Mini Cooper S. Accelerating from 0-100km/h takes 8.5 seconds while its official fuel consumption rating is actually one-tenth sharper than the DStyle petrol at 6.4L/100km.
If you’re anything like us, however, you’ll probably have too much fun with the engine to bother trying to break hypermiling records. We averaged just north of 8.0L/100km in a week behind the wheel on a mixture of roads.
The DSport never feels blisteringly fast but it’s the versatility of the engine that makes it enjoyable. With peak torque delivered from just 1700rpm, it remains responsive around town in fourth gear and will happily pull up hills in sixth.
There’s a decent burble from the engine, too, yet it’s refined and will go about its business quietly until you poke at the throttle with vigour. There’s a nice linearity to the acceleration, too, as the revs rise smoothly around the DS4’s digital tachometer.
The manual gearshift process could be better, though. There’s a bit of a clunky action when flicking from gate to gate, and the clutch pedal is overly light and lacks an obvious grab point. Combined with a brake pedal that is a touch sensitive, the DS4 makes smooth driving more of a challenge than necessary.
The front wheels struggle with all the power under hard acceleration, however, tugging firmly at the steering wheel against your attempts to keep it straight. The wheel also reacts savagely at times to potholes and joins in the road – particularly when met mid-corner – and the (jacked-up) suspension starts to become choppy over rougher surfaces.
On smoother surfaces the DS4 is better mannered and road noise is reduced, and you appreciate the solid weight to the steering that provides decent feel around bends (though it’s heavier than expected at parking speeds).
Despite its taller ride height, the DS4 doesn’t roll like an SUV and instead sits flatter like a conventional hatchback, although its turning circle, at 11.2m, is far from compact.
Standard features in the DS4 include automatic headlights and wipers, heated and electric folding side mirrors, cruise control with speed limiter, dual-zone climate control with pollen filter, drilled aluminium pedals, height-adjustable front seats, rechargeable torch integrated into the boot, and a six-speaker audio system with AUX/USB ports and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.
The pricier DSport adds patterned alloy interior door handles and leather seats.
The five-star Euro NCAP-rated safety package includes six airbags, electronic stability control, hill-start assist, rear parking sensors and blind spot monitoring with side mirror illumination warning.
It is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty as well as three years of roadside assistance.
There’s a problem with trying to be a jack-of-all-trades as the Citroen DS4 does, however.
If you approach car buying rationally and try to shop the DS4 against its ‘competitors’, you’ll more than likely find another car to better meet your needs.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a better hot-hatch, the Toyota 86 is a cheaper (and proper two-door) coupe, and there’s no shortage of compact SUVs with greater practicality, including Citroen’s own C4 AirCross.
But if let your heart do the thinking and overlook some functionality and practicality failings, you won’t be disappointed with the DS4’s versatile engine, striking aesthetics or lovable French eccentricities.