Average. Citroen has ensured that the new car in its DS line-up is as stylish as the last, but it isn't the trendsetter promised
Tested: May 2011
The DS4 is the second model launched in Citroen's bold new line-up of upmarket alternatives to its mainstream offerings. It follows the much-lauded DS3 onto the market, but doesn't share the same rival-focused design brief. Where the smaller hatchback was conceived as a straight competitor to BMW's Mini, Citroen claims the C4-derived DS4 has no direct rivals as it combines a coupe profile with five-door practicality and the raised driving position of a crossover.
The manufacturer insists the new model represents a redefinition of the segment boundaries, but in truth the DS4 is just another addition to the already fluid styling conventions of the increasingly voguish family hatchback class. Which isn't to suggest that the car is lacking in the looks department - indeed, the sight of its chiseled flanks are a fitting antidote to rivals' by-the-numbers designs, and are likely to be rewarded by increased interest at the local Citroen dealership.
However, the weaknesses are conspicuous. The low-swept roofline means opening windows have been abandoned in the rear and those huge rear pillars cast the back seats in shadow. Also the quality which sets it apart from other coupe-inspired five-door models - the jacked-up ride height - is arguably the DS4's weakest design feature.
Inside this somewhat awkward stance is translated into a slightly higher vantage point, but it falls short of a crossover's commanding view. As one would expect from the DS brand, the C4-borrowed interior has been nudged upmarket with the introduction of new trim materials, massaging seats and an abundance of new chrome detailing. In top-spec format it all feels pleasingly well-appointed, and although not class-leading, the DS4 is decently refined.
Almost important as styling to the DS's burgeoning badge DNA is handling. Like the DS3, the new model has received a number of tweaks designed to return a more dynamic experience. The car's springs are some 10 percent stiffer and its anti-roll bar has been beefed up to eliminate some of the C4's waywardness. The result is a slightly more focused setup, but the still-too-light steering and occasionally jittery ride compromise the improvements.
The DS4 will come to the UK with a choice of five engines. The 1.6-litre HDi 110 and 2.0-litre HDi 160 make up the diesel options, while three versions of the 1.6-litre engine co-developed with BMW constitute the petrol line-up. The THP 200 is the most powerful offering, but the Citroen's vocal oil burners - particularly the HDi 160 - offers a better mix of economy and usable performance.
Prices for the DS4 start at around £18k for the entry level VTi 120 DSign and rise to around £24k for the range-topping THP 200 DSport. Considering the comparative strength of competition at that level (VW Golf, Ford Focus, Alfa Romeo Giulietta) Citroen's audacious attempt to produce something different is laudable, but ultimately the car doesn't feel special enough to successfully span the different segments it borrows from. However, while that means it is unlikely to replicate the DS3's meteoric trajectory, Citroen's curious mash-up is probably attractive enough, inside and out, to generate some of the kerb appeal that the brand was originally aiming for.
All of the engines are competitive in terms of emissions, but the leading light is the 110 e-HDI which produces 114g/km CO2. The only niggle is the way Citroen has achieved that figure. What it claims as micro-hybrid technology is essentially just a start stop system - something which other manufacturers have fitted to their cars as a matter of course.
Once again Citroen promised a more dynamic car would result from the DS branding, and to a degree the DS4 lives up to its billing. The model is noticeably firmer than the comfort-focused C4 and resists roll surprisingly well; however, it still falls far short of the segment benchmark.
While the DS4's remit may be increased dynamism, Citroen's reputation is built on selling cars with agreeable ride quality. The adjustments to the car's suspension settings means some of the C4's suppleness has gone, and the model can feel a little unsettled over rough ground. Nevertheless, refinement is superior to the well-regarded DS3.
Citroen insists that its production line staff have been specially trained to recognise the extra level of care and precision the DS brand apparently requires. Make of that bizarre statement what you will, but the car does (in top spec at least) feel like a decent stab at premium. The effect fades the further you get from the steering wheel, but in the captain's chair the DS4 feels like a step up for Citroen.
The familiar 200bhp 1.6-litre THP 200 petrol engine offers its usual slug of linear power and can be depended on to make the DS4 feel brisk, but the 2.0-litre HDi 160 is a better fit for the car's character. The other powerplants, especially the more economical HDi 110, are likely to be worthy consideration if pace isn't at the top of your list.
Curiously, the impression of space in the DS4 depends entirely on where you sit. Up front the car feels distinctly airy thanks to that panoramic windscreen; in the rear, the huge C pillar and slim, tinted windows make it feel like Saddam's spider hole. The fact that the windows don't open only adds to the close-fitting effect.
With even the range-topping THP 200 returning 44mpg, the DS4 makes for a typically parsimonious modern hatchback. Unsurprisingly the 110 HDi emerges at the top of the range pile, with Citroen claiming around 60mpg from the 1.6-litre diesel engine.
Like most upmarket products, the DS4's value for money is intrinsically linked to how desirable you consider it to be. If the car's styling appeals to you then Citroen's high price tag is justifiable. If not, the bestsellers at Ford and Volkswagen represent a far better return on your investment.
The Denon sound system to go with its polyphonic sound alerts and colour-alterable instrument cluster. The sat-nav isn't quite as handsome, and is likely to remain on the option list for lesser spec models.