Friday, January 23, 2009

Citroen C4


Citroen's striking new C4 was a fine replacement for the lacklustre Xsara both on the road and the rally circuit - Sebastien Loeb won the 2007 World Rally Championships in a C4 WRC.

Roadgoing C4s come in two very different-looking body-styles. The five-door has a rounded tail a little like the smaller C3's, while the three-door Coupé has a chopped-off rump reminiscent of an early Honda CRX or, given the shape of the rear side windows, an Alfasud Sprint. Its rear window's upper surface cuts far into the roof, a panel shared with the five-door even though the latter gives the illusion of a higher roofline.

Underneath its unique clothes (complete with Citroen's new-look nose featuring a chevron-centre air intake and 'boomerang' headlights), the C4 is much the same as Peugeot's 307 and shares that car's PF2 platform with minor changes to the suspension settings. That means a similar range of engines: the petrol units, all with 16 valves, are a 90bhp 1.4, a 110bhp 1.6, a 138bhp 2.0 and a 180bhp 2.0 for the Coupé-only VTS, while diesels are two 1.6s, of 92 and 110bhp, and a 138bhp 2.0. Once again, we see diesels matching similar-capacity petrol engines for power while far exceeding them for torque. There's also a 143bhp, 2.0-litre petrol engine matched to an automatic transmission for the top Exclusive five-door. A Sensodrive sequential-shift semi-auto is also offered with some engines.

That all sounds conventional enough; the radicalism comes when you sit inside. The steering wheel has a broad, fixed centre boss containing four switchgear zones, which are easy to reach and render the rest of the facia uncluttered. The central facia-top LCD instrument display is see-through to make it easier to read in sunlight, there's an aroma diffuser built into the centre vents and the options of both a lane-wander warning device and a speed limiter. The idea is to make the C4 a calm, relaxing place to be, which will - says Citroen - encourage safe, considerate driving.

Reliability and Quality

Oh dear: there have been a large number of problematic C4s. 'A true lemon!' says one 4car reader, who needed four replacement turbos in 17 months. 'Expect lots of pieces to fall off or break off,' says another. That said, some owners are very happy with their C4s: 'much more reliable than my last two Vauxhalls,' reports one satisfied Citroen customer. A mixed bag, but reports suggest that the C4 has suffered more than its fair share of glitches, gremlins and general build defects. It seems to be prone to electrical and electronic issues, as well. Thankfully, there's no hydropneumatic suspension to go wrong.

On the road

Two crucial points. The C4 is a better drive than a 307, despite sharing so many genes. But it is a little less fun than a Ford Focus, the car that still leads the compact hatchback pack. Softer springing, and dampers recalibrated for suppleness without letting the body float or lurch, are the key to the 307-trumping; the C4 moves along the road in typical French fashion, soaking up humps and dips effectively, yet it still steers accurately and moves tidily into a turn. It needs quite a big initial steering input (that's its biggest minus point relative to a Focus), but after that it feels responsive and has enough grip to keep the front wheels biting without drifting wide. This strong stability also means that the rear wheels won't step out of line if you decelerate in a corner, something which will please those who have been frightened by the Xsara VTS's no-warning antics here. Naturally, the sporty C4 VTS is a little firmer on its suspension and sharper in its steering, but it's still a smooth, easy drive - helped by the quick, light, accurate gearshift common to all C4s.

Using the switchgear in the steering wheel's centre is simple enough - it's just a thumbspan away. That thumb can then control the stereo, the computer and display screen, the cruise control and speed-limiter device, and heater air recirculation plus voice activation if fitted. Just behind the steering wheel is a pod-mounted rev-counter whose scale glows red as the limit approaches, while the central LCD display includes the speedometer and everything else.

As for the 'lane-departure warning', it vibrates the right or left side of your seat cushion to wake you up if you're dozing off and are wandering over a lane-dividing line. Activating the indicator disables the vibrator, or you can switch it off. The speed-limiter, developed in response to the French police's increasingly draconian attentions to speeds above the posted limit, uses the drive-by-wire throttle to limit the C4 to a pre-set speed, which you can exceed only by pressing hard against a resistance in the pedal. That way, you can use the accelerator as a footrest and save your ankle muscles.

The C4 is quite easy to see out of for a modern, thick-pillared car, but optional front and rear parking sensors help identify its extremities. The Coupé is easier to reverse-park with its rear window heading well below the waistline. Night driving is made easier with the optional steerable headlights - an idea pioneered by Citroen in the DS four decades ago.

The best all-round C4 here is the 2.0 HDi, which uses the (PSA-built) engine also found in a Focus 2.0 TDCi. It's a particularly gutsy and responsive unit, able to cruise serenely or squirt past slower traffic with a push of the right foot in typical modern-diesel fashion. Its six-speed gearbox gives it very long legs, and there is little response lag when accelerating from low revs. There are a couple of 1.6-litre HDi diesels too, of which weve only driven the more powerful 110bhp version. It is less responsive than the 2.0-litre version, but a surprisingly capable and strong performer given its limited cubic capacity.

By comparison the 2.0 petrol C4, tested by us in manual guise, needs to be worked harder and can get boomy at high revs - over 5500rpm, which is far beyond the diesel's range. The 1.6-litre petrol engine is smoother and quieter, and doesn't feel as if it has a 28bhp power deficit especially when it adds a burst of energy as it passes the 3000rpm mark.

The 180bhp unit in the VTS has a different character again. It's the engine already seen in the Peugeot 206 GTi 180, with continuously-variable valve timing, a free-flowing cylinder head and a peaky power delivery. It's smooth enough at low speeds but lights up around 4000rpm, passing the torque peak at 4750rpm and delivering maximum power at 7000rpm. That said, its performance figures are brisk rather than blistering: 0-62mph takes 8.4 seconds, but the VTS will run to an impressive 141mph helped by a low aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.28.

Safety and Security

Most of today's safety knowledge has been applied to the C4, with front, side and curtain airbags and the usual electronic stability system to help avoid the crash in the first place. The driver's airbag design takes advantage of its fixed housing, so instead of being round it's optimally shaped - like the side view of a mushroom - to give the best protection. The bonnet is aluminium and well clear of the engine beneath, to the benefit of pedestrian protection. All these measures combined have given the C5 excellent results in the Euro NCAP crash tests: the full five stars for occupant protection, four for child protection (with Citroen's approved child seats) and a creditable three for pedestrian protection. The front end is designed to be easily repaired thanks in part to sacrificial impact absorbers which ultimately divert collision forces away from the passenger compartment. The front wings are plastic.

As well as reducing noise levels, the laminated side glass won't shatter and helps resist break-ins. An alarm and immobiliser are standard, the electric tailgate lock can't be picked and the doors and tailgate lock as the C4 moves off. The C4 has been awarded top marks by Thatcham, the car insurance research centre, for resistance both against 'theft of' and 'theft from' the C4.

Running Costs

Running a C4 day-to-day should be cheap, as servicing is an annual event and most of the engines are fuel-efficient. Insurance groups range between 4E and 10E for most models, which should be affordable, but the 2.0-litre 180bhp VTS is quite high, at group 15E. The greater issue, though, is depreciation (loss in value).

Comfort and Equipment

First, the big picture. The C4 is quiet, it rides smoothly and its seats feel good. The back seat is a pleasant place to be, too, with more space than in a 307 because the seat is set further rearwards. Citroen claims the C4 to be the roomiest car in the class. The steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake.

And now the details. The plug-in aromatiser is available in nine fragrances divided into three themes: 'vitality', 'sensuality' and 'well-being'. Examples are Lavande Douce, Jasmine Mimosa and Fleur de Vanille. Refills are available at your Citroen dealer, but the whiff of racing oil and tortured rubber is not yet offered for the VTS. Perhaps we need to wait for a roadgoing version of the WRC car for that.

Tech-stuff abounds, such as tyre-pressure monitor, a Bluetooth option and a NaviDrive sat-nav system incorporating a phone, a text-message system and a direct link to a help centre. Top models have a JBL sound system.

An optional, fold-away partition system keeps items secure in the boot, and there are plenty of pockets and a meaningful glovebox.

Used Value

Second-hand buyers are wary of the C4, and this shows in the deprecation: there are high-spec two-year-old cars out there advertised for less than £5,000. Ouch. Good news for brave bargain-hunters - but watch out for the glitch-ridden early cars which were returned to dealers, as they may not have been thoroughly de-bugged. Best to buy from a dealer, with a warranty.

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