2016 DS4 Review

The facelifted DS4 isn’t coming to Australia in its ‘normal’ guise. James samples one in Europe to find out why.
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You may not have noticed, but the refreshed 2016 DS4 hatch from Citroen never made it to Australia.

Gracing the DS-Boutique of local Citroen showrooms is the DS4 Crossback crossover, but the new-look ‘ordinary’ hatch is nowhere to be found.

These vehicles are hugely similar, sharing most interior, drivetrain and body components. The Crossback scores some black wheel-arch and bumper cladding along with a 30mm increase in ride height.

But they aren’t so similar that we didn’t notice one variant has quietly vanished.

It shouldn’t be a surprise though. To the end of May this year, just 10 DS4s have been sold. To help you count, that’s all of your fingers and none of your toes.

The slow sales aren’t limited to DS4 either. It is fair to say that 2016 hasn’t been a grand année for the French brand so far. Sales across the board are down about 25 per cent, with the hardy Berlingo van and funky C4 Cactus SUV making up more sales than every other double-chevron or DS branded car combined.

The splitting off of DS to support the global luxury brand strategy hasn’t helped. It’s not as if the cars were walking off the showroom floor to begin with, changing the names just made it even harder for buyers to connect.

It’s a pity too as we really want to like the space-aged DS5, and the DS3 hot-hatch certainly has its fans around the CarAdvice corridors… but what about the DS4?

Based on the more pedestrian Citroen C4 hatch, the DS4 is trying to be so many things at once it isn’t quite sure which one it is good at.

The Crossback only further complicates things by adding ‘high-riding SUV’ to the car’s LinkedIn profile page.

In its defence though, the Crossback is yet to really make an impression. We haven’t driven it yet, and again really want to like it, mainly for having that little je ne sais quoi that makes it different for the point of being different.

The hatch though, with its coupe-blended styling and new ‘premium’ branding seemed to have the elements that buyers were looking for, but it has basically dropped off a bit of a relevancy cliff, even for a Citroen.

Why though? We took the chance to sample a European specification car to find out.

From the outside, our €24,880 (A$37,000) mid-spec ‘Style’ specification DS4 does look quite the stylish coupe-hatch, if in that specifically ‘French’ way. A bulbous nose with new headlamp and grille treatments give it a much more up-market look than its C4 base.

The enormous panoramic windscreen looks comically like a receding hairline that flows into a swooping coupe-like hatch rear end, complete with Alfa-esque hidden door handles. There are all the requisite kinks and lines that you expect of a French style statement, although the rear hasn’t really changed much at all since we first saw the car back in 2012.

One thing does grab you though: for a sporty, luxury hatch coupe thing, it sits really high. A good 30mm higher than a normal Citroen C4 to be exact and that’s still 30mm shy of the new Crossback version.

Context is key here, so think of a Mazda CX-3 or a Holden Trax which have 155mm and 158mm ground clearance respectively. The DS4 has 173mm. That’s bigfoot territory for a hatchback.

So yes it is stylish, but it is also a bit goofy. Citroen 101.

Inside too, the stylish-but-goofy theme continues. For the driver and passenger, the big windscreen offers great vision and a bright cabin. The majority of switchgear is PSA parts-bin, but easy to use and sensibly ergonomic.

The instruments can be tinted to be all blue with white centres or all white with blue centres – and anything in between.

There is good support from the seats, upholstered in our car with a mix of dinamica-suede and leather.

Get into the back though and the ‘coupe’ part of the DS4’s brief comes to light. The doors are small and the opening quite narrow.

Head and leg room is compromised for taller adults and there are no rear vents. You do get a 12-volt charger, center arm-rest with ski-port, map pockets and good door bins… but you can’t put the windows down.

Yes, the DS4 is a five-door hatchback with fixed rear windows. Style over substance taken to the nth degree.

For what it’s worth though, if you do fit, the rear bench is quite comfortable and my seven-year old travelling companion was happy back there once the air conditioning had cooled the car down (which it did quite quickly).

The boot too is pretty good, offering 385-litres with the 60:40 seats up (a VW Golf has 380-litres). There’s a 12-volt point and a clip-out torch lamp here too.

So it’s all nice and all, but it’s not really very special.

Lucky there are so many DS logos to remind you of your up-market, premium brand purchase!

On the DS3 and DS5, the logo has been integrated cleverly and at times, subtly into the design of the car. From the cloth-folding roof fabric on the DS3-Cabrio to detail elements on the DS5 headlamps, it is one of the things that makes these cars really cool.

The DS4 though seems to have missed the ‘cool’ workshop and just has laser-etched DS-designs on some of the cabin trims, fabrics and kick-plates. In isolation each one is okay, but the lack of effort makes it feel more like a tacky celebrity’s car with a Louis Vuitton wrap than a prestige brand statement.

Material selection too, is just not where it needs to be for an up-market brand. Granted, our car misses some of the neater options like the watch-strap leather seats and double stitched nappa-leather dashboard – but ticking those boxes pushes the price up higher. A top-spec, all-singing all-dancing DS4 like they show in the brochure will set you back €43,500. That’s about $65-grand. You would have to be certifiable.

And this is where the case for the DS4 falls apart.

The brochure I mentioned shows fabulous people in fabulous clothes in fabulous settings with a DS4 in the same metallic Gris Platino as our test car (one of nine colour options). It presents a vision of where the brand is trying to be. A funky alternative to mainstream German prestige. Fashion-forward, hip, chic and very French.

The issue though, there is a massive disconnect between this representation and reality.

It’s like the team from Citroen was sat on a bad table at the (fictional) ‘Launching a Premium Automotive Sub Brand Conference’ keynote speech. Rather than rub elbows with Lexus and Genesis, they were stuck down the back with Infiniti.

In this company, the car needs to be premium in terms of performance, positioning and packaging. Two out of three isn’t enough either, so where does the DS4 fit in?

Previous iterations of the DS4 in Australia offered a choice of petrol and diesel power, but the local 2016 Crossback opts only for the high-output 133kW/400Nm turbo diesel. Our European test car is a little more sedate, with an 88kW/300Nm HDi diesel.

And you know what? It isn’t too bad.

It’s zippy off the line, with peak torque available from just 1750rpm. Our car featured a six-speed manual transmission which was smooth and easy to use. The car performed well in town and on the highway and offered respectable response whenever it was called upon.

Citroen claims a combined fuel consumption cycle of just 3.7-litres per 100km. We saw a bit higher than that, 5.9L/100km on a 300km mixed loop, but we also weren’t being shy with the throttle.

Looking at the instant consumption reading at 100km/h cruise, we did see consumption wavering under the 4L/100km mark, so our results could easily be improved.

The ride too is pleasant enough on highway and standard city streets, but it did start to shake and thump a bit on rougher cobbled road sections and poorly sealed urban streets.

Running along some open country roads, the DS4 felt tight and confident through the bends and was a very pleasant touring car.

It may not be the ‘most’ premium feeling car to drive, but it was quiet and comfortable over the majority of road surfaces. Performance isn’t the weak point.

Positioning as we’ve said is aiming high, but the car stands apart from average C4 Citroens on the road, and the few other DS4s I spotted did look quite cool. Again, Citroen is on the right track here, but isn't quite in the A-seats yet.

Packaging then is the DS4’s Achilles' heel.

What is it? It is too ‘hatchy’ to be a coupe, and it does a pretty ordinary job of being a hatchback anyway. It’s not really an SUV, nor is it a sports-crossover. You can stitch some luxury in there, but it prices itself out of the sensible Universe when you do this.

The DS3 and DS5, although flawed in many ways, are still a bit special. Answers to questions only a few ask, and a wonderful change from the generic appliance cars we see all too often.

The DS4 is the typical middle child. A little bit lost and unloved, despite being quite a good little car under the skin. It’s probably the only time you’ll ever read this, but we would recommend a normal Citroen C4 over the DS4 purely for this reason.

Dropping the hatch from our showroom lineup now looks to have been the right decision, and gives the DS4 Crossback a bit more focus on where to establish its role. Sure, it still has its flaws, but at least it isn’t trying to hide them this time.

I can say too that if the little 88kW diesel was fun, the 133kW motor should be a hoot – and as long as you don’t put anyone you like in the back seat for a long period of time, the funky and even taller version of the DS4 might still find some buyers looking for a statement of difference.

But for now, we shed no tears knowing we missed out on the standard DS4. A car too niche for our already niche-filled market.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.