The new Citroen DS4 – launch report

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BUYING a car used to be so simple. Family cars were either hatchbacks, saloons or estates. A 4×4 was taller, wider and heavier. A sports car was lower, faster and lighter. Giving a car a label was a doddle.

Not any more. Citroen reckons the DS4 is a family car with the height of an SUV and the looks of a coupe. It calls this mish-mash of classes a cross-breed.

The enjoyable point ‘n squirt manners of its smaller brother, the DS3, are neutered by the extra weight and taller suspension.

In nature, cross-breeding has produced some fine animals. For example, cross-breeding a male donkey with a female horse results in a mule.

The DS4 has sprung from the rather plain C4, Citroen’s current mid-market hatchback, but it’s taller, wider and shorter than its less cool cousin. From the front they look rather similar – only true fans will spot the re-profiled bumper – but in profile the differences are obvious. The DS4 is the more interesting, with complex surface details, chrome trim, hidden door handles, taller suspension and a swoopy roofline.

This styling lash-up shouldn’t work, but it does. The DS4 looks interesting where the C4 is anonymous.

There’s a price to pay for the street-chic looks, though, and it’s mainly in the back seats where the rear windows don’t wind down or even hinge outwards and the pointy doors can catch the unwary passenger. Hiding the rear door handles is an old trick we first saw on the Alfa 156, but even the Italians worked out how to accommodate the design with electric window lifters.

Citroen reckons doing the same would have spoiled the DS4’s fine lines, because the glass is too long to fit down inside the door, so style took priority.

There’s nothing wrong with the raised driving position, though. It’s not quite the “king of the road” feeling you get with an SUV, but the higher sight-line comes in handy when you’re stuck in a jam and need to see over the roof panels of queuing cars.

Although the cabin architecture is similar to the C4, material quality is better and there are some interesting options, such as two-tone leather trim or a bracelet stitching pattern based on the links of an expensive chronograph watch strap. In Europe, the DS4 can be had with a hand-stitched leather dashboard but British buyers won’t get this option. Citroen UK reckons it won’t be popular enough.

The panoramic windscreen sweeps up into the roof which helps to lighten the cabin’s atmosphere and the door handles are fashioned from leather. Just like the C4, the DS offers a degree of built-in user customisation – the mood lighting and polyphonic warning tones can be altered to taste – as well as a comprehensive list of additional cost options.

Despite the coupe-like sweep of its roof and the hefty alloys, the DS4 isn’t a driver’s car. The enjoyable point ‘n squirt manners of its smaller brother, the DS3, are neutered by the extra weight and taller suspension.

Although the 200bhp 1.6-litre petrol turbo has an addictive exhaust note, the HDi diesels are more suited to the DS4’s laid back demeanour. They are available in 110 or 160bhp flavours.

The success of the DS3 took Citroen by surprise. Despite selling 80,000 examples in its first year, demand has outstripped supply.

It’s perhaps surprising that the DS4 (and the forthcoming DS5) haven’t taken the same performance upgrade path as the DS3 but Citroen is chasing a different (more mature) market.

The real loser in this game is the C4. After all, who would want the plain Jane hatchback when they could have it’s bubbly, vivacious cousin for just a little bit more?

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