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Let’s get one thing straight: the new-look 2015 Citroen C4 isn’t a mainstream hatchback, and it will pale into insignificance in terms of sales numbers against the big name models in its class.
“While it may seem odd that we are not making bold statements of targeting conquest sales and growth, the truth is we are not. Citroen today attracts a very particular type of customer – they’ve done their research, value ride comfort, value specification and are a brand loyalist,” said John Startari, Citroen Automobiles Australia general manager.
“The C4 is the vehicle for them. It’s well specified, good to ride in, efficient, and with its new drivetrain, enjoyable to drive. It plays to our strengths and customer demands.”
The C4 range consists of two models only – both powered by the same three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and offered with a standard six-speed automatic – and they’re priced at a premium to most of their mainstream competition.
According to Startari, Citroen buyers typically pay between $28,000 and $30,000, and that’s why the brand is offering two models: the Seduction, priced at $29,990 plus on-road costs, and the top-spec Exclusive model we tested at the local launch this week, which kicks off at $33,990 plus on-road costs.
So, wearing a hypothetical Citroen customers’ hat, does it stack up?
Yes. It really does.
Citroen has changed quite a bit about the updated C4. It’s lighter, more efficient, offers more technology and, while it is dearer, there’s plenty of equipment.
All models get a new media system with satellite navigation, and while the top-spec gets a reverse-view camera, that tech can be optioned on the low-spec model for a steep $1000 fee.
That new 7.0-inch touchscreen media system is relatively simple to use, complemented by six hard buttons that sit below the screen, with Car, Nav, Media, Phone, Internet and Settings buttons that aid with navigating through the menus.
There’s Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a single USB input with an auxiliary jack, and the six-speaker sound system has clear, quality sound.
The top-spec model with its panoramic glass roof with electric blind does make for a pleasant cabin experience, but that roof does eat into about an inch of headroom in the back.
The rear isn’t the best in terms of accommodation to begin with, as it has limited toe-room and knee-room for taller occupants, and there are no rear air vents. The doors have pockets, but not bottle holders, and there are no cupholders in the back despite a middle armrest for the ski-port on the top-spec model.
Up front there’s only one cupholder, too, and the doors don’t have holsters for bottles - although you can lay down a bottle up to 1.5 litres in size. Further, there’s a small centre console bin, a tight little bin in front of the shifter, and a pair of small stowage boxes under the front seats.
The boot, though, is more generous in its storage, with a very competitive 408 litres of capacity. By comparison, the Volkswagen Golf has 380L, and the Mazda 3 has 340L.
The front seats can be had with heating and massage functions if you option leather trim on the Exclusive model (at $2500). But, while they are comfortable, there is no electronic adjustment available. Still, people of different shapes and sizes will be able to get comfortable, and the seats offer nice support, too.
There have been big changes in terms of driving, too.
Under the bonnet is a new 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces a healthy 96kW of power and 230Nm of torque, which is plenty more than most four-cylinder engines available in the mainstream models. It’s even got 8kW and 70Nm more than before, and uses just 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres in the Seduction and 5.1L/100km in the Exclusive.
It’s the same engine seen in the impressive Peugeot 308 and, as it is in that car, the little triple is a tremendously good powertrain with terrific mid-range push.
It is a little grumbly (that’s the nature of the inherently unbalanced three-cylinder engine), but it revs smoothly around town, and sits comfortably at highway speeds.
Also excellent is the six-speed automatic transmission, which, on test, exhibited very few unlikeable attributes. The shifts were smooth and quick around town, and the gearbox was unfazed during more spirited driving, too, holding gears commendably up steep climbs and swapping smoothly under hard acceleration.
The new engine and gearbox combination is a full 105 kilograms lighter than the existing (and underwhelming) 1.6-litre petrol auto, and the car drives better for it, too, as the company has retuned the suspension, and the steering is a new electro-hydraulic system.
It feels lighter at the nose than the old model, and while the steering is light and reasonably accurate when you push it hard, it isn’t as engaging as, say, the Peugeot 308, Mazda 3 or VW Golf, and we noted some rack-rattle over mid-corner bumps.
Citroen claims this isn’t trying to be a hot hatch, or even a warm hatch, and while it’s not unenjoyable to drive hard, their assertion is bang-on.
As mentioned above, Citroen customers love their ride comfort – that’s a hangover of the ground-breaking DS models with their hydropneumatic suspension (still fitted to the larger C5 today, now expected to be the last to feature the system).
Thankfully, the Macpherson front struts and torsion beam rear in the updated C4 deliver on the promise, with excellent comfort over rough surfaces and reactions that are stable, settled and generally not sloppy, despite a level of softness to the suspension that means it will pitch and roll more than some firmer-riding models. We did notice, though, that on poor surfaces the back could skip out a little over ruts.
As for safety, the Citroen has six airbags as standard (dual front, front-side, full-length curtain) and electronic stability control, hill hold and those standard parking sensors. It has a five-star ANCAP rating.
To entice some of those buyers that probably don’t put Citroen high on their list of consideration, the C4 has been launched with the brand’s excellent six-year, unlimited kilometre warranty that is now backed by the Citroen Confidence program.
That program includes six years of roadside assistance and six years of capped-price servicing, with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The cost averages out to $605 per annum over the period, but for buyers willing to get in by September 30, Citroen is offering that plan for free.
In summary, the 2015 Citroen C4 isn’t for everyone. Buyers after even higher levels of specification and more assured resale could go with better-known brands, and there are definitely more accomplished drivers’ cars out there for similar cash.
If you’re a fan of the brand – and even if you aren’t – you’ll be impressed by the comfort, efficiency and quality of the Citroen C4 hatch, though it comes at a price.