With the new C4, Citroen returns to a sector in which it has sold many iconic models over the years. This century-old company was formerly known for offering intriguing, leftfield family-focused cars that often sold in impressive numbers. But the previous C4, which ceased production in 2018, bought that tradition to a shuddering halt.
The dreary, charmless and forgettable machine failed to offer a single USP, and car buyers rightly rejected it. But offered in parallel to the C4 was the car that set the company on its current charismatic path: the 2014 C4 Cactus. Literally, a shape of things to come.
Always conceived as a crossover to sit below the C3, it was sadly too small to be a convincing alternative to a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus. Issues such as rear windows that didn’t open properly didn’t endear it to some either. But its distinctive styling and genuine character reminded the world what Citroen could offer family car buyers.
Now, with the brand new C4, Citroen is back in this sector, armed with everything it learned from the C4 Cactus. A sister to the Peugeot 308, the stylish new car actually steals an immediate march on rivals by being future-proof straight out of the box: it’s offered in petrol, diesel and pure electric e-C4 guise.
We’ll review the e-C4 separately, and obviously we’re not going to talk about the diesel here, because you’d all leave in a huff (and petrol is forecast to outsell it more than four to one). For now, we’re looking at the 1.2-litre Puretech petrol, the likely best-seller, which is offered in 130hp guise and, in due course, 155hp auto and 100hp entry-level forms.
Trims are sensible: Sense or Shine, with ‘Plus’ variants of both, and prices start from £20,990. That’s a little more expensive than the acclaimed, AUTOBEST Best Buy Car of Europe 2020-winning Seat Leon – but less than the £23,355 Volkswagen Golf, £22,210 Ford Focus and, indeed, the £21,700 Peugeot 308.
Citroen reckons the car I drove, the 130hp, £23,005 Sense Plus will be popular – and it’s still cheaper than a basic Golf. So, what’s it like?
Citroen C4: First impressions
You won’t miss the new Citroen C4, I’m delighted to report. Dreariness is out and distinctiveness is in. Citroen’s conceived it as a crossover-style hatch, with big wheels, plastic cladding, a chunky stance and a little more height than something like a Golf.
It has a tall front end, with a standout V-shaped chrome and LED light layout. At the rear, the roofline has a coupe-like sweep that Citroen says is modelled on the classic GS and CX. Nothing wrong with drawing from your heritage (and it’s blended with beefy rear wheelarches that nod to SUVs).
It’s an easy car to step into, being not as low to the ground as a normal hatchback (pity about the chunky sill, though). The interior looks high-quality, with a premium appearance, and a dual-screen setup is modern, even if the instrument pack is a bit small.
The freestanding central touchscreen – 10.0 inches in all variants – is high-resolution and I like the angled panel it’s set within. Citroen has listened, too: there’s a volume knob and, further down, physical heater controls, rather than asking for everything to be done via touch.
Beautiful seats are a highlight. They’re ‘Citroen Advanced Comfort’ chairs, with variable foam densities for luxury-car softness and support. They’re wide and armchair-like, yet hold you in nicely.
Rear-seat space is decent. Kneeroom is said to be the largest in the sector, while foot and headroom are also good. Pity, again, about the thick sill that makes getting in and out a bit tricky. Both front and rear doors do have a wrap-over bottom though, keeping the sills clean so your trousers don’t get dirty.
The rakish rear means the boot opening is broad, and 380 litres of space is just one litre shy of a Volkswagen Golf. Point of note: the rear screen is split, so there’s a bar in the rear-view mirror where the sweep-down glass meets the upright section. Both are heated, but there’s no wiper for the top part, as it aero-clears once on the move. Sense Plus models have a standard parking camera for when you’re reversing off the driveway in the morning…
Other equipment highlights on the Sense Plus include a full-colour head-up display that beams built-in sat nav instructions ahead of the driver, 18-inch diamond-cut alloys, LED headlights and a novel slide-out drawer on the dash (see above) into which you can mount a tablet device. Slightly quirky, very Citroen.
Citroen C4: Driving impressions
The C4 is an extremely refined family hatchback, both in terms of its lack of engine, road and wind noise, and the very plush feel of its ride. You sense this straight away, with the familiar Puretech engine seeming more distant than normal, and bumps notable by their absence.
The engine is smooth in every application, and the extra isolation here only adds to its appeal. Even when revved hard, it never becomes throbby or vocal. Special mention goes to the tiny round rev counter in the instrument display, which enthusiasts will see as a nod to the fun Citroen AX GT.
Feel-good roll-along comfort is the real plus point. In a sector full of cars that can feel stiff and tight, jiggling along on their over-large alloy wheels, the C4 is a welcome contrast. It’s a car you’ll buy over its rivals because of its impressive comfort alone (further aided by those lovely seats).
Supple suspension, with Citroen’s clever Progressive Hydraulic Cushions as standard, is strikingly soft. Brake hard and you’ll see the nose dive, accelerate hard and watch it rise. It tips into corners in a way unfamiliar to modern family hatch drivers and, yes, if you try to drive it like a hot hatch, it will get a bit lively.
But you won’t, because it is such a pleasure to drive in a more measured way. Potholes are soaked up with no bump and no noise; broken tarmac, the sort that will have you tensing in anticipation of a crash-bang, is filtered away serenely. It’s a wonderfully relaxing car and one that really does feel like a proper Citroen.
Despite a bit of lean, it still handles confidently: light but tight steering helps with accuracy, and there’s plenty of grip from the standard 18-inch wheels. Even Citroen trademarks that take getting used to, such as ultra-light brakes and steering that becomes particularly effortless in town, feel well matched to this low-effort car. The six-speed manual gearbox is easier and more precise than in many Citroen and Peugeot models, too.
The 130hp engine has ample torquey pulling power and settles down nicely on the motorway – so much so, there’s no need for a diesel, even if you’re a high-mileage driver (and on the test route, I averaged 47.8mpg, which is pretty impressive for a near factory-fresh car).
Citroen C4: Verdict
The Citroen C4 is a distinctive-looking car, with a smart interior, that’s well equipped and good value for money. It’s real strength, however, is in how distinctive it is to drive and be driven in – thanks to its excellent and very well-honed comfort and refinement.
This is a proper Citroen, one offering something genuinely standout in a crowded sector, and I’d strongly recommend those seeking a relaxing, roll-along ride to take a test-drive. Genuinely, you will be surprised by this smooth and supple new hatch.
Bringing character back both to the family hatch sector, and continuing Citroen’s rediscovery of what it does so well; what a refreshing new model the C4 is.