Citroen C4 Hatch road test
SEEN the new Citroen Cactus?
It's everything a Citroen should be: quirky, out-there, innovative and just a bit mad, with its futuristic design and unique Airbump flexible skin for the doors.
Citroen has for decades been the alternative Frenchie that every so often delivers works of genius (see the Traction Avant, 2CV, and hydro pneumatic suspensioned DS, for example) and the bubbly new C4 Cactus small SUV is like nothing else out there today. Which is good.
But before it arrives here early next year, we first get the rather more sensible and predictable C4 small hatchback.
The model's been absent from our market since 2013, Citroen wisely waiting for the facelifted cars being available with the punchier, more efficient and lighter PureTech three-cylinder turbo motor (as seen in Peugeot's 308) mated to a six-speed auto.
The new C4 Hatch is available only with this 96kW 1.2-litre triple, replacing the dated 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol and 2.0-litre diesel found in the C4s of old.
The on-paper benefits are plentiful. Compared to the previous 1.6-litre there's 8kW more power and 70Nm more torque, 100kmh is reached more than a second quicker, 2.1-litres/100km are saved and CO2 emissions fall by 39g/km. The three-cylinder donk is also over 100kg lighter than the powerplants of old.
There's new exterior and interior style too, and keeping things simple, only two trims are on sale: Seduction starting at $29,990 and Exclusive from $33,990.
The choice of shoulder-shrugging, adulterous French presidents for decades, Citroens are renowned for cabin comfort and smooth ride.
The C4 is a small hatchback, however, and while the front occupants enjoy decent space and comfy supportive seating, the rear passengers are hard done by.
At six foot, I'm not a huge human, but sat in the back my head was hitting the roof, due to what seemed a very high rear bench seat. Legroom out back ain't great either, making the C4 Hatch fine for families with kids, but not those wanting to ferry adults around.
The dash and doors up front feature plenty of pleasing soft touch plastics, but the clicky switchgear and plasticky centre console aren't the most elegant.
Positively, a decent 7-inch touchscreen means the console is clutter-free and simple to navigate, but aside from the excellent panoramic glass roof on the C4 Exclusive, it's a tad plain in the cabin.
On the road
If you like your drive to be effortless and serene the C4 Hatch excels. It absorbs bumps with ease, the cabin is well insulated and the three-cylinder engine is barely audible unless the throttle is planted.
The 1.2-litre turbo's a bit of a star actually, with good urge from low revs, a nice little note and a refined easy-going nature around town and on highway cruises.
In general the new six-speed auto adds to the smooth and effortless nature of the car, but is somewhat tardy if asked to quickly pick a cog under heavier acceleration.
Steering is very light, making it an easy steer, but those after a more engaging car will lament its rather vague feedback, but that's hardly the C4's raison d'etre.
It's softly sprung to bring that graceful ride, yet still manages to grip well through turns and felt altogether nicely balanced even on poor surfaces.
What do you get?
Standard on both trims are sat nav, 7-inch touchscreen with 8GB music storage, halogen headlights with LEDs, auto lights and wipers, dual zone climate, cruise control with speed limiter, rear park assist and electric folding mirrors.
Hop in the Exclusive and the extra $4000 seems cash well spent, with rear view camera, half leather trim, superb and huge glass roof, blind spot monitoring, front and rear sensors, keyless entry and start, electric parking brake and 17-inch alloys.
Exclusive customers can get fancier for another $2500 and enjoy full leather, front seat heating and massage function, but this is probably a step too far.
The C4 is a small hatch, so 408-litres boot space is decent; loading area is wide and with 60/40 split rear seats it's a practical carrier.
Storage space has been well thought out, with a mighty glove box (albeit impacting a bit on front passenger foot space), large bottle holders in the doors and drawers under the front seats.
Hmmm, tough crowd. First you've got VW's brilliant Golf ($32,790 in well-specced 103TSI Highline guise), or for the less obvious, Peugeot 308 Hatch 1.2 Allure ($30,990) or Alfa Romeo Giulietta Distinctive ($35,000).
A six-year warranty is a huge reassurance (and embarrasses VW's Golf), and quoted economy figures from 4.9-litres/100km are superb. Our test drives (albeit enthusiastic back road dashes) yielded less impressive high 8-litres/100km returns.
Not a design for those preferring their Citroens to be the last word in quirkiness, the C4 Hatch's unfussy design is at least elegant.
The C4 Hatch's trump cards are its refined three-pot motor, its ease to drive and smooth road manners. A decent choice for the no-nonsense small hatch shopper seeking a change from the predictable VW Golf option.
It lacks much in the way of thrill - driving or style-wise - however, meaning it's in for a tough fight in this packed small car segment.
There's no doubt Citroen needs a 'sensible' car in its range, but for those who truly appreciate Citroen's 'vive la difference' ethos, the compelling Cactus arrives soon.
What matters most
What we liked: Refined and lively three-cylinder motor, quiet cabin, impressively smooth ride over varied surfaces, six-year warranty.
What we'd like to see: Better rear space and headroom, it's not the slickest of auto gearboxes when the car's pushed so paddle shifters would be good, and a bit more Citroen style and panache to liven up the package.
Servicing and warranty: Backed by a six-year unlimited kilometre warranty, six-year roadside assist and capped price servicing.
Model: 2015 Citroen C4 Hatch Seduction and Exclusive.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small hatchback.
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 96kW @ 5500rpm and 230Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential auto-adaptive automatic.
Consumption: 4.9-litres/100km (Seduction) or 5.1-litres/100km (Exclusive) combined average.
CO2: 113g/km (Seduction), 117g/km (Exclusive).
Bottom line: $29,990 (Seduction), $33,990 (Exclusive) before on-roads.