A very cold windy day in Canberra, with the merest hint of rain is the perfect weather for experiencing French cars in their natural habitat. It is the misery they were made for.
So, the new C4: What’s it got?
There are smart new 3D head and tail lights, daytime running lights, a fab new 1.2L 3 cylinder turbo-petrol engine and a slick new AISIN 6 speed auto transmission. The 1.2 is EURO 6 if any cares about those things. It means it’s not going to chuck out vast amounts of carbons every time you sink your Jimmy Choo into Feltex.
There are two models in the lineup: the $29,990 Seduction, and the $33,990 Exclusive. They have 5 doors and enough space for the contents of an entire DJ’s NY sale. You get the hatchback look with a faint hint of French flair. There are touches of chrome on the rear, door handles and a grille with a huge Citroën double chevron on it. Apparently Andre Citroën thought it looked like gears.
Apart from all the extra bling on the outside, the cabin has a fresh new look which recaptures “old Citroën”, and that is what has been missing these past few years. It isn’t so quirky that unfamiliar onlookers would be turned off by in your face weirdness, but is interesting enough to catch attention. If you like in your face weirdness then stay tuned for the Cactus. Meanwhile, C4 imbues the essence of what Andre Citroën intended for his cars. It is practical, comfortable, economical and roomy. OK, it probably won’t carry a basket of farm fresh eggs across a newly ploughed field like a 2CV, and it doesn’t have the uppy-downy suspension of the magnificent DS, but it is French quirkiness interpreted for the 21st century. It is as French as le baguette et vin rouge on a gingham table cloth with a couple of jaunty-capped Marcel Marceau imitators with silly accents singing “le marseillais”.
There are cup holders which the chaps at Citroën tell me is practically against the French religion, or something like that. There is also a flash new infotainment system. The screen has a fast response time for when you want things done lickety split. There is nothing worse than faffing about waiting interminably for a CPU from the 70’s to execute the simplest commands. None of that here, no no no. Flick through the menu smart-phone style to change radio stations, select your Bluetooth device streaming, and to make phone calls. There is no voice recognition, which for the most part is no loss as it rarely works.
We drove the top model which incudes a dealer fitted reversing camera as standard. For some reason there is not a box to tick for a factory option. Apparently they don’t do reversing in Paris. That’s not difficult to believe if you’ve ever driven in France. The base model can have the dealer fitted option too, for which you pay $1,000. Hearing that nearly made drop my A de Fussigny. The head unit has an input for a camera so any camera will probably suffice. You can spend the money you save on more baguettes and wine right?
The dual zone air conditioning worked extremely well. The temp was 6° for most of the day and the wind chill made it feel even colder, but inside was cosy and homey. The “Exclusive” we drove also had the full leather interior which includes heating and massage functions for the front seats. There is a tiny little problem with the massage switch though. It is located beneath the top of the seat cushion on a ledge along with the heating and lumbar controls. Because the massage is a push-button, it is easily activated when sitting on the side of the seat when entering or leaving the cabin. You might feel slightly sea sick if you’re driving down the road without being aware you’ve knocked it into the “on” position. I can imagine it being brilliant on a long trip.
There is smart entry and start meaning the driver can leave the keys secreted about his person. You can fumble for the fob if you want to operate the windows remotely, and on a hot day that could be a smart idea since the leather is black. If the day is face-meltingly hot, you might want to consider leaving the glass roof’s internal electric shade closed. It is surprisingly effective as we have seen in other models.
What’s it like on the road?
The drive is where a Citroën should really excel and I’m pleased to report the C4 is brilliant. The electric steering is ultra-light at parking speeds but gains more road feel as the speed builds. We noticed a slight lack of feel on wet roads so we will need to give this a more thorough looking over in a few weeks’ time when we do a full review. Let’s reserve further comment until then.
There are controls on the face of the steering wheel for cruise control and audio functions. Thankfully the awful button-loaded stalks found behind the steering wheels of other models have been given a well deserved heave-ho.
Although we covered a mere few hundred kilometres, we loved the comfortable seats and the sumptuous ride. It reminded me of the wonderful DS of old. It was like riding on a cloud and wafted down the road completely ignoring even the most appalling of rutted tracks. Turning into corners brings the rest of the car with it with no sense of impending disaster. Unlike some cars I’ve driven recently, I never got a sense that it was trying to kill me. The traction control is unobtrusive and only taps you on the shoulder if you’ve been a complete boob.
One spooky thing is that there seems to be little sense of speed. The cabin is fairly quiet, but because you’re not being tossed like a cheap salad, you don’t feel you’re being pushed hard. You’ve really got to keep an eye on the dial if you don’t want to drift above the limit.
Most of you will be dreading the thought of an anaemic 3 pot screamer wheezing it’s way down the highway trying desperately to keep up with traffic. Well, dread no more. The 1.2 turbo pumps out a respectable 93kw with 230Nm and feels far more powerful than the figures indicate. It’s truly deceptive. As I listened to the presentation, I found myself feeling slightly depressed thinking the C4 would be under powered and underperforming but I was completely wrong. It’s hard to believe that such a tiny engine could be so willing to please. We didn’t try the sports setting for the 6 sp auto but there was no real need for it.
Even in the tight corners, rutted gravel and steep hills, the auto found gears easily. It kicked down, enticing every last kw out just when needed then changed up smoothly again. Citroën says the changes are 40% faster than the old 4 speed box and just as well as it was showing its age. 4 speed boxes belong in the Ark along with vinyl seats and tape decks.
There are loads more features but we will leave that until we’ve had a chance to go into it more deeply.
Citroën sales are up about 6% and they hope the C4 will fill a space that new buyers will find attractive. If this short drive was anything to go by, I can see the appeal. A practical car that’s fun to drive easy to live with. I could happily drive this on a road trip and if I can shoehorn it into the schedule I’ll do just that, provided Citroën doesn’t mind a few thousand K’s on the clock. I’m eager to try the massage function to see if it relieves the lower-back-stress-inducing tedium of 500 kilomtre stretches on the goat tracks masquerading as highways. Time will tell but so far it is 2 thumbs up from me.
Specs and full details will follow in the review.