Citroen C4 Review
Since Citroen discontinued the Golf-rivalling C4 in 2018, there’s been quite an important gap in the brand’s line-up. Family hatchbacks are big business, and Citroen has more or less gone without for the past few years. So the C4 is back, but because Citroen has never done anything normal in its 102-year history, the new C4 isn’t really a hatchback. Instead, the coupe-ish, yet still slightly bloated body has been lifted a few inches to position it somewhere between the likes of the Ford Focus and the Nissan Qashqai.
Select's rating score* - 3.6 / 5
Unlike so many cars in this segment, the C4 arrives with the sole aim of being comfortable, so absolutely nothing about the car is set up for speed or sportiness. And in a world where sporty-looking versions of the Seat Leon and Ford Focus are among the best-selling variants, that’s a gutsy move.
But it’s a welcome one, and it gives the C4 a unique charm. That’s joined by bags of equipment, big, comfy seats and a strikingly solid cabin – all of which make the package more appealing.
You get a choice of four trims, but each comes with touchscreens, parking sensors and digital instrument displays, while mid-range Sense Plus and Shine variants add goodies such as satellite navigation and reversing cameras.
The C4 also offers a choice of five engines and one electric motor, if you prefer the battery-powered experience. The mid-range 130hp petrol engine and the 136hp electric motor make the most compelling options for private customers, but the electric and diesel versions will make more sense for company car drivers.
The automatic gear selector is perhaps the most obvious deviation from the norm, with no gear lever to be found between the front seats on automatic cars. Instead, there’s a kind of rocker switch arrangement with buttons for park and manual. It looks great and feels decent, too, but it doesn’t always work as smoothly as you might like.
Better executed is the optional passenger seat holder, which provides a handy drawer for stowage and a special attachment for clipping your tablet to the dash. A screen prevents the driver from noseying as you watch Game of Thrones on the M6.
But the C4’s best features are found in the cabin, where massive, comfy seats fill the space. Like huge sofas, they offer little in the way of lateral support, making the car’s body roll an issue through corners, but they’re great when you’re on the motorway, providing a soft, accommodating spot on which to plant your bottom.
If you’re expecting the C4 to be sporty, you’ve got another thing coming. This is a French family car in the traditional sense, with soft suspension, comfy seats and steering that makes you question whether the wheel in front of you is even connected to the wheels beneath you.
It’s a proper Citroen, and that is also reflected in the engine range.
Your choice is limited to three petrol engines and two diesels, as well as a high-tech electric e-C4 version that is arguably the pick of the bunch. But that car, with its 136hp electric motor and 217-mile electric range, gets its own special review, so we’ll concentrate on the petrol and diesel engines here.
The petrols are all 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engines that produce 100hp, 130hp and 155hp respectively. The basic 100hp engine will only be offered with the basic trim level and a manual gearbox, which will limit its appeal, while the more powerful 155hp engine is only available with more luxurious models and feels a bit unnecessary in a car that almost tries not to have a shred of sporting intent.
So the clear favourite is the 130hp engine, which is offered across the three most appealing trim levels with a choice of six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions. It’s expected to be a clear favourite with customers, and it’s easy to see why. The nine-second 0-62mph time is perfectly adequate, and it’s delivered eagerly but quietly by the parsimonious three-cylinder engine.
Drivers wanting absolute economy on long drives, however, might be swayed by the diesels. The 110hp engine is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox and is not available with the top-of-the-range trim level, while the 130hp unit is only available with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and it’s offered on all but the cheapest model. Which you choose will largely depend on your gearbox and trim preferences.
What won’t really depend on either of those things is the way the C4 drives. It’s immensely refined, despite being considerably taller than most family hatchbacks, and the ride is very smooth, particularly on motorways. The petrol-powered cars suffer from a slight jiggliness from the rear suspension on particularly uneven surfaces, but the electric e-C4’s extra weight almost completely eliminates that minor criticism.
The catch with that soft ride, however, is the lifeless handling. The C4 is perfectly capable of tackling corners, but it doesn’t reward you for driving like a lunatic. The steering is light and numb, you sit quite high and the body sways like a willow in a hurricane when you try throwing the car around. It’s much better to sit back in those massive seats and just relax.
However, the petrols are frugal enough to warrant your attention unless you’re particularly prone to long drives. The manual gearbox allows the 130hp engine to return more than 50mpg on the official economy test, and you stand a decent chance of achieving that on a long run.
Naturally, the lowest CO2 emissions come from the all-electric e-C4, and that will be well worth a look for those wanting a new company car. But for the high-mileage customers, even that 217-mile range might prove slightly too short, so then the diesels return to centre stage.
The 110hp engine will probably have the lowest emissions and therefore the cheapest company car tax bill, but because production hasn’t yet begun, we only have the 130hp engine to play with. But that’s economical enough as it is, with 120g/km carbon dioxide emissions planting it in the 27% tax bracket. Fortunately, the C4’s sensible retail prices mean that won’t be too ruinous.
Citroen’s modern, funky vibe shines through in the cabin, where the digital instrument display and the touchscreen infotainment system dominate. There’s a chunky, yet somehow still quite space-age look to the dashboard, which makes the car feel thoroughly up-to-date.
There’s a great sense of space, too, which is surprising considering the roofline, and the way you can shift in the big, sofa-like seats allows you to make yourself right at home. Even if you just wanted to treat the C4 as an extension of your living room – something not altogether unappealing during the months of lockdown – it would do the job admirably.
But that’s partly down to the overwhelming sense of solidity in there, too. Yes, some of the plastics feel a little too rigid, but the build quality – the way everything is bolted together – is up there with anything Ford and Nissan are doing right now. In fact (whisper it), it might even be as good as some Volkswagen products.
But despite this very grown-up level of quality, it loses none of its quirkiness. You still get the Citroen chevrons replicated in the knurling effect on the switchgear, and you get the rocker switch gear selector on cars fitted with automatic transmissions.
We’ve come to expect German brands to produce the most technologically advanced cars on the road, but the new Citroen gives VW and its sister brands a run for their money. Every version of the C4 comes with a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a digital instrument display, not to mention the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems.
And you don’t have to move far up the C4 range to add a head-up display that projects essential data such as speed and navigation instructions onto a transparent screen that rises from the dashboard. Satellite navigation is included on all but the lowliest model, too, as is a reversing camera.
Rise to the top-of-the-range Shine Plus model and you’ll find yourself with a high-end hi-fi system, wireless charging and an array of USB connectors in the front and rear for mobile device charging. As standard, you get a standard USB port in the front, but mid-range models add another in the rear seats and a USB-C port in the front. The Shine Plus, however, gives you another USB-C port in the rear.
In a family car, space matters, but the C4 hasn’t necessarily made the most of its SUV-esque qualities. There’s a 380-litre boot that’s competitive for the family hatchback segment, but it isn’t what you’d call enormous. The sloping roofline also means folding the seats and filling the boot beyond the window line won’t increase the volume on offer that dramatically. In fact, there’s more room in the back of the smaller C3 Aircross compact SUV.
Citroen has made a bit of a boo-boo with the interior storage, too, with some slightly small door bins and a handful of other less-than-commodious cubby holes. But what they lack in size they make up for in quantity. Everywhere you look, there’s a handy slot for one thing or another. You get two trays in the dashboard for phones and keys and the like, and there’s also a drawer above the glove box designed for tablet computers.
The C4 also has some handy false floors that allow you to stow your belongings away from prying eyes. The rubberised floor of the cubby under the dash can be raised to hide smaller items, while the false floor in the boot gives you the opportunity to hide larger items without the need for the parcel shelf.
Where the C4 excels, however, is further forward. The two front seats have bags of space, with massive seats allowing plenty of elbow- and shoulder-room. The rear seats are well-sized, too, and there’s a good amount of legroom in the outer rear seats. Even the central seat isn’t too bad, although adults won’t want to spend too long occupying it. Certainly not with five on board.
But thanks again to the coupe-inspired roofline, the headroom isn’t quite so impressive. There’s enough for all but the tallest adults, and kids won’t have an issue, but opting for the panoramic roof will impinge on the space available and leave grown-ups feeling a little cramped.
This new-shape Citroen C4 has not yet been tested by Euro NCAP, but we’d expect it to achieve a four- or five-star rating when the results come in. Not only is that par for the course with modern Citroens, but the company has gone out of its way to make the new C4 as safe as possible.
You can expect all the usual airbags and crumple zones you get from all modern cars, but Citroen has also fitted a range of driver assistance systems to help prevent any of those from being required. That ranges from simple things such as parking sensors to more complex equipment such as the lane-keeping assistance technology.
As standard, you get the lane-keeping assistant that steers you back into your lane if the car begins to wander, as well as emergency braking, which can automatically hit the brakes if it detects an imminent collision.
Moving up the range gets you blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance to the vehicle in front, while top-of-the-range Shine Plus cars can use this in conjunction with the lane-keeping assistance tech to take over steering and speed control. It sounds like autonomous driving, but it isn’t. It only works in one lane and the driver has to maintain control at all times. It does provide a safety net and a driver workload reduction at times, though.
Happily, the C4 range is very simple, with just four trim levels to choose from. Things kick off with the Sense model, which comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights and rear parking sensors. It gets the 10-inch touchscreen and the digital instrument cluster, too, as well as two-zone automatic climate control and automatic windscreen wipers.
The slightly more luxurious Sense Plus is arguably the most appealing model in the range, adding a reversing camera, the clever tablet holder and satellite navigation to the Sense’s already appealing standard kit.
If you want to go further, the Shine variants are marked out by their chrome trim around the windows, as well as the front parking sensors and keyless entry. Top-of-the-range Shine Plus models, meanwhile, get leather upholstery and a posh hi-fi system, as well as wireless phone charging and a driving seat that can massage you as you drive along.
The options list isn’t massive, but you do get to choose from some lively colours, including a deep red and a slightly funkier orange. You also get to choose colour packs that add flashes of colour to the bumper trim and door trims. The red is the bravest option, but more conservative customers can choose Metallic Sand trim or Glossy Black.
Other choice options include the panoramic glass roof, which encroaches slightly on the already-marginal rear headroom, and the heated steering wheel, which is laughably cheap and therefore something of a no-brainer. A built-in dash cam might also appeal to some drivers, as might the optional Park Assist function, which allows the car to steer you into a tight parking space.
Sitting somewhere between conventional family hatchbacks and mid-size SUVs, the C4 has conspired to accumulate as many rivals as possible. At the low-slung end of the list, the car to beat is the Volkswagen Golf, which is generally a very mature thing, while the most important of the high-riding rivals is probably the Nissan Qashqai – another example of comfortable, grown-up family transport.
So there are plenty of potential alternatives. The Seat Ateca, Mazda CX-30 and Skoda Karoq are all SUVs that sit a little higher than the C4 but offer more driving thrills, while the Renault Kadjar, Peugeot 3008 and Kia Sportage feel softer and more supple. You could also consider the Kia Niro, which comes with clever hybrid powertrains, and the Volkswagen T-Roc, which has less character but more dynamic capability and a similarly solid interior. Or the style-centric Fiat 500X, although that car is starting to show its age.
More conventional hatchback rivals include the aforementioned Golf and its arch rivals, the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. The Focus is the driver’s car of the three, while the Astra is more comfort-orientated. The Golf sits somewhere in the middle, along with the Seat Leon and the ageing but still competent Peugeot 308. The Mazda3, however, is the best of the bunch to drive, while the Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30 both offer reliability and space, if not huge amounts of excitement.
But although all these cars could be considered alternatives to the C4, none is what might be considered a direct rival. The coupe bodywork, SUV ride height and family hatchback space combine in a more or less unique way, leaving us with an intriguing alternative to the family car norm.
The C4 is quirky in that way only a Citroen can be, but it does so without necessarily alienating vast swathes of the consumer base.
Yes, it offers something different from the family car norm, but it offers the sensible stuff too. Practicality, technology and standard equipment are all there, but it’s mixed with these comfort-orientated, sportiness-eschewing road manners that make it stand out from the crowd.
Plenty of customers will want to play it safe with a Golf or a Qashqai, but for those who find such cars conservative and dull will find the C4 a hugely likeable and appealing proposition.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Citroen C4
**Correct as of 07/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2002.73 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.