Citroen C4 1.6 HDi SX

Individual, comfortable and great value, Citroen's C4 is a strong contender.

  • Stylish. Broad seats, dash-mounted screen. Value for money
  • Quirky steering wheel, poor storage, rear headroom

When it comes to unconventionally stylish cars, Citroen has a very rich history. It defined itself as a manufacturer willing to take risks when it launched the distinctive DS, with its air-suspension and swivelling headlights. However, the marque slipped into the design doldrums during the Eighties and Nineties, and has only recently got back on track.

Now, its sense of style has returned, and the C4, launched in 2005, was one of the first models to show off the French maker’s new design ethos. It’s a vast improvement on the anonymous Xsara it replaced, and from the bold double-chevron grille to the beetle-back rear hatch, it’s unmistakably a Citroen.

The three and five-door are quite different in profile, but the latter has the more cohesive design. Hand­some and well proportioned, it’s easily the best-looking model in this trio.

The stylists have tried to carry this design flair through to the interior, but we’re not sure they have succeeded. While the fixed-hub steering wheel is certainly quirky, it takes some getting used to, and the buttons aren’t easy to reach.

It’s the small details that grate with the C4. The ignition key doesn’t lock when flipped open, meaning any attached keys bounce against your knee, and there’s no real storage – all you get are some small and unusable trays and cubbyholes, which seem like afterthoughts. Ergo­nomically, it’s not especially well laid out.

So are there any good points? Well, the broad seats are accommodating, the dash-mounted screen is easy to read even in direct sunlight and the cabin has a refreshingly individual look. However, the 314-litre boot isn’t particularly generous, and due to the curved roofline, rear headroom is pinched, although the cut-out seatbacks mean reasonable leg space for those in the back. Where the firm really needs to pull its socks up is in the build quality department. The car in this test is Auto Express’ own 9,000-mile long-termer, and the loose steering column trim, tinny doors and flimsy plastics weren’t reassuring.

On first impressions, neither is the engine. The 1.6 HDi is clattery and noisy at start-up, although it’s much better once fully warm. With 240Nm of torque at a lowly 1,750rpm, it should pull pretty well thanks to the C4’s 1,280kg kerb­weight, but it never actually feels as muscular or responsive as either rival. The Citroen lagged well behind at the test track, and although it was relatively free from vibration, the engine was badly let down by the vague gearchange. It’s not all bad news, however. Thanks to its impressive ride quality, the C4 is an excellent motorway cruiser, and its high-speed stability is particularly impressive. It struggles to absorb potholes at lower speeds, though, while the frame doesn’t feel as strong as the five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating suggests it is.

And the C4 isn’t the last word in involvement. The steering is sharp but over-assisted, and on rough roads there’s noticeable kickback through the column. At least the car is grippy, turns in well and has strong brakes – it stopped from 60mph in 37.3 metres, which is the best here.

On paper, the Citroen is the most expensive of these three, but the firm’s constant cashback offers mean it’s highly unlikely you’ll actually pay the £15,440 on-the-road price. Shop around and you should be able to get around £2,000 off, making this mid-range SX model the cheapest car here. It comes with stability and cruise control as standard, but is missing climate control or an MP3 player connection.

Nevertheless, the C4 is good value for money, and Citroen deserves praise for being brave enough to develop a family hatch like no other. If only the execution was more polished.

Details

Price: £15,440Model tested: Citroen C4 1.6 HDi SXChart position: 2WHY: With its funky looks, the C4 has helped to put style back into the family hatch market.

Economy

Our long-term Citroen is well run-in, having covered nearly 9,000 miles – so we’d hoped for more than 42.1mpg over the course of its 1,900-mile round trip to the south of France. The 556-mile range was good, though.

Residuals

Citroen’s giveaway pricing policies have led to poor residuals – only 35.1 per cent in the case of our C4 1.6 HDi SX. However, if you pay less for the car in the first place, the drop in value is not quite as large.

Servicing

A real surprise here. Although Citroen dealers may offer savings when buying a new car, getting it serviced is a different matter. The first three visits will set you back a hefty £679 – over £200 more than the Mazda.

Tax

Although it puts out 3g/km more CO2 than the cee’d, the C4 sits in the same 18 per cent tax bracket – as does any car with emissions of less than 140g/km. The higher price tag means it costs an extra £50 a year to run.

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