In the metal, the Citroen C4 has a generic design, and while it’s not unattractive, very little has changed from the previous generation to make it stand out. That said, the front and rear lights are refreshed, with LED technology featured for the first time, and in keeping with Citroen’s other new models, its Chevron front and rear badges are also bigger and more attractive. The C4 is only available with five doors, like its rival the Ford Focus. However it comes with few of the distinctive features you’d expect to find in this competitive market – most rivals are styled with more pizazz. Entry-level cars have steel wheels with plastic covers, so you’ll need to step up to mid-spec ‘Feel’ versions if you want alloys or chrome window trims.
The materials on the dash and doors feel hard and scratchy
On the inside, the Citroen C4 feels brittle and plasticky, despite showing improvement over the previous model. There’s chrome detailing and the switchgear feels ok, but it’s miles behind the class leaders. There are fewer buttons on the console and steering wheel than before, but the materials on the dash and doors feel hard and scratchy to the touch; switches are poorly damped; and, the glovebox is tiny. Mid-range Feel models come with adjustable instrument colours, which allows you to vary the backlighting from white to sea blue, but the dials are difficult to read as it is, and the effect seems like a tacky gimmick. The seats are relatively comfortable and offer decent support, but the driving position is not great. It’s set too high, so you feel perched on top of the car, with an awkwardly high clutch pedal that can make long journeys uncomfortable.
Citroen has prioritised practicality when designing the C4. It boasts a similarly sized boot to many rivals, with 380 litres of luggage space, and a loading bay that’s both wide and long enough to make packing larger items easy. This means it has a bigger boot than the Ford Focus (315), and Vauxhall Astra (370) but is surpassed by the Skoda Octavia (590) and the Peugeot 308 (435). As for passengers, while there’s plenty of room up front, leg- and headroom are a little tight for rear seat occupants – there are roomier hatches available if you regularly carry taller folk. The rear seats don’t fold fully flat either.
Ride and handling
The Focus, Golf and Astra all feel more dynamic, with the C4 erring towards safety
The C4 is very softly sprung to try and make it more comfortable than its rivals. On the smoothest road surfaces, this works fine, but if the road bends, rises or offers up any kind of bumps, then the Citroen pitches and rolls around dramatically. Sharp ruts send nasty jolts through the cabin, too, and it fails to absorb small imperfections like the best cars in this class. The Focus, Golf and Astra all feel more dynamic, with the C4 erring towards safety rather than fun. The steering is vague and would benefit from being weightier, especially when manoeuvring at higher speeds and on faster roads. It’s fingertip light, which is good for parking and around town, but it’s prone to suddenly losing any resistance once lock is added, making the C4 feel rather unstable. This makes it difficult to trust the car’s reactions in tight turns, and it can’t match the grip of the best family hatches, either.
There are two petrol and three diesel engines to choose from. The petrol options are both 1.2-litre three-cylinder units, with a turbocharged output of either 109- or 128bhp. The range-topping version is available with a six-speed automatic gearbox, but as standard the C4 comes with either a five- or six-speed manual, depending on power output. The shift action is long and a bit notchy on both manual versions, though, and not as precise as we’d like. Diesel buyers can choose between a 1.6-litre BlueHDi with either 99- or 118bhp and a punchier 150bhp 2.0-litre HDi engine. The smaller diesel is smooth enough, and has a decent slug of torque between 2,000 and 3,000rpm. The petrol engines need working harder on the motorway, but deliver more flexible performance, and rev out more smoothly than the diesels. If you only cover short distances, we’d go for the petrol.
The small diesels offer the best efficiency, with up to 85.6mpg economy
Citroen has been quick to emphasise the C4’s green credentials and its overhauled engine range certainly delivers on that score. Petrol engines are capable of returning between 56.5 and 60.1 mpg while emitting 110- to 117g/km of CO2. That’s not bad, but consumption will shoot up quickly if you push the engine too hard as the turbocharger will be working more often, putting the engine at higher stress. The smaller diesels offer the best efficiency, with 85.6mpg fuel economy and 86g/km of CO2 claimed for the 98bhp model with start&stop technology and on 16-inch wheels. This, combined with a relatively low purchase price, makes the C4 an affordable fleet car, although weak residuals make it harder to recommend for private buyers, as you’ll lose a lot more money on a C4 than on, say, a Volkswagen Golf or Audi A3.
The previous-generation model doesn’t have a great record for reliability: it’s been the subject of 10 safety recalls, and electrical and mechanical problems are common. However, Citroen’s record has improved of late. Even so, it seems the C4 did not arrive in time to benefit from this uplift in performance: it currently languishes right at the bottom of most customer satisfaction surveys, with several problems reported with the electrics, and other reliability and durability problems seem fairly common. In fact in one recent survey of this type, the only five-door hatchback which performed worse was the Fiat Punto Evo – hardly a ringing endorsement of the Citroen.
The previous Citroen C4 received a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating when it was tested at the end of 2010. It was awarded 90 per cent for adult protection, 85 per cent for child occupant protection, 43 per cent for pedestrian protection and 97 per cent for safety assist. The dashboard was commended because its shape reduced the risk of injury for front seat occupants in a crash. Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic stability programme (ESP) and six airbags, which is all standard fare these days, whereas it misses out on the latest active safety kit available in most of its rivals, such as auto emergency braking, radar cruise control, or self-parking.
We’d opt for the Feel trim – Touch is too bare of creature comforts
There are three trim levels: Touch, Feel and Flair. Entry-level models come with cruise control, air-con, steering wheel-mounted controls and a CD radio, but not much else. Feel adds 16-inch ‘Wembley’ alloy wheels, DAB radio, lumbar support, adjustable instrument colours and Bluetooth connectivity. Range-topping models benefit from massaging front seats, 17-inch design alloys, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and additional storage space, as well as automatic wipers and headlights, a 7.0-inch touch-screen for the infotainment system, and cornering fog lights. We would opt for the Feel trim – Touch is too bare of creature comforts, despite its low price, while Flair is expensive, but adds little of actual real value.
Unless you can get a good discount, then it’s best avoided
The Citroen C4 is a fairly practical, efficient, but ultimately disappointing family hatch. Every engine is efficient, the boot is reasonable, and refinement is passable. However it’s nowhere near as good to drive, comfortable or practical as the best cars in this class. The interior feels dated and brittle, and it has a poor reliability record. The best option in the range is the affordable entry-level petrol, in mid-range ‘Feel’ trim with a manual gearbox. Unless you can get a good discount, then it’s best avoided in favour of one its many superior competitors.