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For the volume manufacturers, success or failure can largely be determined by two offerings: the supermini and the medium sized hatchback. These are the most competitive sectors of the market, and as a consequence, standards have continued to rise with almost every new model. For some time now, the giant PSA organisation’s approach has been to offer competing product from both their brands, as although much of the platform and componentry of what appear visually to be very different models from Peugeot and Citroen, their hope is that they can double their success accordingly. They have generally managed to arrange it so that the product cycles are half a model apart, meaning that at any given point in time, they should have at least one model that is less than three years old. In the medium sized hatch market, the newer car is the Peugeot 308, itself now three years from launch and a car which whilst selling in reasonable volume has never been well viewed outside its native France. That should mean that its sister model, the Citroen C4, which shares more with the 308’s predecessor, the unlovable 307, should not stand a chance in the battleground of the 2010 family hatchback market, and indeed a replacement car has been previewed, with availability due later in the year. Whilst the styling of all recent Peugeots has caused me considerable angst, I have to say that the rather curvy profile of the Citroen C4 has always appealed, and even now, this car really does look quite unlike any other in the class. With the test of a Swiss spec 1.6i petrol engined C4, I aimed to find out whether Citroen’s family hatch, now one of the oldest in its class, is past its sell by date, or if it still has merit.
After driving so many recent petrol engined cars, where regardless of the stated bhp, the engine just proves gutless beyond belief, it was quite a pleasure to discover that the 120 bhp generated by the 1.6 litre 16 valve engine in the test car seemed all to be working, and that the C4 appears endowed with gearing which allowed the Citroen to accelerate rather better than any of its 1600cc rivals. The engine is smooth, and should you want to do so, it pulls well from quite low revs in third gear, though once you are at autobahn cruising speed, it is perhaps not the quietest. No complaints about the economy, though. After I had driven 650 km, the fuel gauge still showed a quarter of a tank, and when I did fill it and did the maths, it had averaged over 41 mpg, which I thought was commendable given that it did some autobahn miles and a lot of stop/start whilst I was taking pictures. The gearlever looks just like that which you will find in any other Peugeot or Citroen. However, in this car, it seemed to be far more precise than the vague wand like things I have experienced in all its stable mates recently. There is a huge amount of travel between the gears, but the actual gearchange was decently precise, with neither baulking nor vagueness, and you could change up and down quite quickly, which you need to be able to do when tackling Alpine passes. Whilst the C4 certainly has a better engine than you would find in an equivalent Focus, it cannot beat the Ford for steering and handling, but then no other car in the class can, either. Whether this really matters to you is something only you can decide.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the driving dynamics of the Citroen, with well weighted steering and safe predictable front wheel drive style handling. Although the pictures show the car in the dry, later that afternoon the clouds burst and it rained so hard that the car got a very comprehensive car wash on the A81 autobahn in Germany, the A4 from Schaffhausen to Zurich and this continued overnight as the rain pounded relentlessly for hours. It was still raining the following day when I took it up into the mountains to face the Klausen pass, so it will come as no surprise to learn that I was more cautious than usual. That meant that the brakes did not get quite the same work out, either, though there seemed to be no issues from either the pedal or the traditional centrally mounted lever. The C4 does ride well, and combined with some comfortable seats trimmed with a sort of macrame like central insert, it proved a pleasant place to spend some hours, and on the first day of the test, I did indeed spend many hours at the wheel. Visibility is good, too, though the very curved rear window does give rise to slight distortions of shape of following cars in the rear view mirror, which meant that they looked slightly odd. The additional side windows behind the C pillar certainly helped, and rear parking sensors would also simplify the challenge of deciding where the back of the car is.
The C4 certainly continues the Citroen tradition of providing an unusual dashboard. There is an awful lot of a slightly odd textured plastic covering most of the dashboard surface. There is simply a small ovoid panel in the centre of the dash, in which you will find a very small rev counter, a large digital read out for the speedometer, and bar graphs for fuel level and water temperature, as well as the odometer reading. That is it. Under this moulding are two buttons for the trip meter and to check various functions. The warning lights are presented in a very small ovoid unit at the top of the steering boss. And they are always there. as the central hub is fixed, which I thought was such a good idea, I wondered why no-one else has adopted this. The edges of this hub contain controls for the stereo system, though you can also use the rather small buttons on the conventional unit in the middle of the dash. You will also find the air conditioning controls, there and these are also utterly conventional. The overall effect is actually one of simplicity, though the rev counter was really rather too small to be able to read at a glance.