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Driven: Citroen C4 PureTech. Image by Citroen.

Driven: Citroen C4 PureTech
Distinctive on the outside, dreary within the Citroen C4 is a fine thing in many regards but flawed in other key areas.

   



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Citroen C4 PureTech

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: the styling, the comfort, the easy-going drivetrain, the real-world economy, the practicality

Not so good: handling mercilessly sacrificed at the altar of refinement, is there any need for the interior to be so dull?

Key Facts

Model tested: Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus
Price: C4 range from 23,010; 130 EAT8 Shine Plus from 26,605, car as tested 27,305
Engine: 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: eight-speed EAT8 automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door crossover-hatchback
CO2 emissions: 131g/km (VED Band 131-150: 220 in year one, then 155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 50.3mpg
Top speed: 130mph
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
Power: 131hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 230Nm at 1,750-2,000rpm
Boot space: 380-1,250 litres

Our view:

In and amongst the massive Stellantis conglomerate that has been formed by the merger of PSA's associated marques (Peugeot, Citroen, DS and its late purchase while PSA was still a single entity, Vauxhall) and then FCA's brands (Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati and some other American manufacturers that really don't have much relevance over here any longer), all these individual carmakers have to come up with some sort of clearly defined USP. Because, boy, is there a lot of product overlap going on here, most of which will need some serious sorting out in the coming months and years.

Citroen has already struck out in its preferred direction, however, as it wants to recapture its glory years of quirky styling and unsurpassed ride comfort. There have been some successful models in recent times as a result of this ethos, like the excellent C5 Aircross, and then there have been... less successful attempts at the formula. Chief among these 'misses' was the poor old C4 Cactus. In its pre-facelift guise from 2014 until late into 2017, it was a fabulous thing. Chock-full of character, based on the proposition that it was light and simple and cheerful, the only thing holding it back from greatness is that it didn't have the sort of pillowy ride quality that Citroen is now actively seeking as a company.

And then the facelifted model landed to replace it. Ye gods, what a mess. In some sort of futile attempt to transmogrify the prickly crossover into a plush, Golf-rivalling hatchback, the 2018 C4 Cactus was left hopelessly stuck between both stools - neither fish nor fowl, as some older folk might say.

Wading into battle for 2021, then, comes this C4. And yet more confusion reigns over precisely what it is. You'd think, from its plain alphanumeric, that it's 'just' a hatchback to sit in the Volkswagen Golf's class. But, hang on; isn't that what the C4 Cactus was striving to become? And therefore why does the C4 look like it stands quite a long way off the deck? Also, why are its lower portions clad in that rugged black plastic so favoured by crossovers of all types? And why have we picked the cars we have, at the bottom of this piece, as its key rivals?

It's all very difficult to pin down. Citroen seems to have decided that while the normal route, if you're doing a crossover-hatchback, is to either start with a normal hatchback and then SUV-ify it with a higher ride height and lotsa plastic protection, or alternatively start with a compact SUV and then attempt to make it more car-like by lowering the roofline and the body, it wants no part of such shenanigans. Mainly because it has neither a normal hatchback nor a suitable compact SUV as a starting point from which to create something like this C4.

What you end up with in the idiosyncratic form of the C4 is a piece of design that's going to be no less divisive than the tenth-generation Honda Civic. In fact, apart from the Citroen-specific touches of the chevron-shaped lamp clusters and Gallic swoopy bits, these two cars share the same general shape and the same bisected rear windscreen calling card.

We don't dislike the C4, though. Actually, we think it looks splendid. Especially in the most expensive metallic paint option of all, the 700 Premium shade of Elixir Red. Call it a crossover or call it a hatchback, we don't really care; in this wider class of cars and vehicles of roughly the same size as the C4, the Citroen stands out among all of them as something truly different and distinctive. Bravo to the designers and the beancounters for signing off on such a bold creation.

Which makes its humdrum interior all the more disappointing. There are different cabin ambiences to specify that can lighten the sombre mood of our test car and we must also praise Citroen for various neat touches incorporated throughout the interior, like that drawer in the dashboard that also serves as a support bracket for a tablet if you want it to, or the ergonomically excellent seats (part of Citroen's overarching Advanced Comfort programme; we'll return to this later), or the generous space in the second row of seating. It's also perfectly well-made and finished in terms of materials within, too.

But couldn't we have had a sizeable dash of the exterior design's flair mixed into a cabin that is, well, rather Germanic? We all remember that old Citroen C5 TV advert that tried to convince us that the French car was more like a Teutonic offering, but we don't want dour German sensibilities from this particular marque. And while we accept that Citroen can hardly start 'doing a GS/CX' on a 21st-century passenger compartment, resulting in deliberately zany decisions like mounting the indicator functions on rotating cylinders in the glovebox or having the satnav display situated in the boot, some added interest wouldn't have gone amiss in a fascia which is only enlivened by a few silver flourishes and those fabric strips on the door cards.

The problem with this is that the Citroen's cabin is generally a nice place to have to spend some time. The Shine Plus spec is equipped with such luxuries as ten-inch infotainment, a 5.5-inch TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display (presented on one of those flimsy glass panels that folds away into the dash when the C4 is switched off) and heated seats, among much more, and even if you fitted every option you could to this car then you'd only end up with a final price tag of 29,055. It's well-equipped and good value for money, basically.

And spend some time we did in the Citroen C4, as we had to drive it all the way down to Weymouth and back as part of its week with us. A total of 685 miles and almost 15 hours of driving saw the French crossover-hatch turn in 51.3mpg as a best figure (coming back from Dorset), against an overall of 47mpg. So it's frugal. Furthermore, the 1.2-litre PureTech with 131hp and 230Nm bestows admirable pace on the car and it has that typical, trilling warble of any three-cylinder unit so even when it's making a bit too much of a racket at high revs, it puts a smile on your face.

The Citroen is also, by crikey, blinkin' exquisite on the motorway. Increased sound-deadening measures around the upper areas of the passenger compartment ensure the C4 is dignified and quiet on a cruise, but those Progressive Hydraulic Cushion dampers in the suspension are magical. You need to cover 200-250 miles in one hit in effortless fashion and get out at the other end of the trek feeling refreshed and happy, you won't get many better cars for the job than the Citroen for anything less than 50 or 60 grand. What's best about the C4, and it's something that the C4 Cactus facelift spectacularly failed at, is that its soft suspension set-up doesn't make the car feel wayward when it's only travelling in a straight line. The C4 tracks straight and true at all times, which is what makes it such a relaxing car to drive over long distances.

However, the obvious pay-off is that the handling is pretty average. Again, it's nowhere near as loose and sloppy as that facelifted C4 Cactus, but the C4 PureTech is notably more roly-poly in the corners than almost all of its contemporary rivals. Powder-puff steering bereft of any feel and an indistinct front axle all add up to quickly discourage you from trying any antics with the Citroen on your favourite country roads. You amble in this car; you never attack in it.

But, on balance, fuzzy dynamics are not as terminal to the C4's health as they could be, because Citroen has set out to make the most comfortable car in its class by some distance and not some kind of pseudo-circuit machine in a five-door body. That comfort target has been well and truly smashed - you don't get any more cosseting a driving experience elsewhere in the C-segment, as far as we're aware. And if you're not in any hurry, then the Citroen's lacklustre handling won't matter one jot. All we wish is that the cabin was a tad more exciting to look at; then we could be talking about something potentially class-leading here.

Alternatives:

Ford Focus Active: Ford does its rugged Focus Active Estate as a hatchback too, if you want. Obviously handles better than the Citroen and has a better cabin too, but the C4 is smarter to behold and more refined.

Kia XCeed: we're not hugely convinced by this one. At least Citroen gambled on comfort by using the handling as its stakes - the Kia is just mundanely average in both departments. The XCeed's not a bad car, but a Ceed is just a whole lot nicer still.

Mazda CX-30: we never felt like there was much of a gap between the CX-3 and the CX-5. Mazda thought different and gave us this, which is undeniably lovely in many ways... but so's a Mazda3. And we'd rather have that.


Matt Robinson - 15 Apr 2021



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2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.

2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.2021 Citroen C4 PureTech 130 EAT8 Shine Plus UK test. Image by Citroen.








 

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