Can the new DS4 succeed where the C4 failed? Its ordinary family car sibling has already been beaten by the Golf, so Citroen’s distinctive alternative has its work cut out here.
The styling is supposed to be one of the new Ds4’s prize assets, but we’re not convinced. While the tall-riding body certainly sets it apart from the lower-riding Golf, and the tapered tailgate gives the five-door model a sporty profile, the creases and curves mean the car has a very busy appearance. We think it’s likely to date more quickly than its conservatively styled rival.
The VW in our pictures is a mid-range Match model, but we tested a GT. This has more visual appeal, with chrome trim on the grille, front air intake and foglight surrounds, plus privacy glass and smart 17-inch alloy wheels. Lowered suspension also gives a sportier stance.
Although the Citroen isn’t as high as a conventional SUV, it’s noticeably taller than its rival, resulting in excellent visibility. However, look in the mirror or glance over your shoulder, and the sporty exterior styling has obvious flaws – the small rear windscreen and wide C-pillars create big blindspots. Plus, our test car’s black rooflining and narrow side windows combine to provide a dark interior.
Coupé buyers will no doubt love the moody atmosphere inside, but family buyers will be less pleased, as the more cramped rear seats (there’s 60mm less legroom than in the Golf) have a claustrophobic feel. And worse is to come, because the rear windows are fixed and can’t be lowered.
There’s no shortage of boot space – the DS4’s 385-litre load area trumps the 350-litre Golf’s with the rear seats in place. Yet ultimate volume is compromised by the sloping back window. Fold the rear benches in both cars, and the VW has a 284-litre advantage.
It’s not all bad news for the Citroen, though, as the front seats provide decent comfort and, in DSport trim, there’s lots of kit. The centre console and dash borrow heavily from the C4, so you get decent-quality switchgear, dual-zone climate control and a trio of cowled dials. The mainstream model’s busy multifunction steering wheel also makes an appearance.
In contrast, the Golf is simple and incredibly effective. It does without the DS4’s flashy design and places the emphasis on quality, with first-rate materials and solid switchgear. If the Citroen is to live up to its billing, it needs to perform on the road. Its 161bhp 2.0-litre HDi diesel has a power and torque advantage here, which was obvious in our performance tests. There was nothing to separate our duo in the 0-60mph sprint – both posted a time of 8.7 seconds. However, the DS4 was faster than the 138bhp Golf in all our in-gear tests.
The VW is more accomplished to drive, though. While its major controls all operate with slick precision, the Citroen is less consistent. Its grabby brakes demand concentration if you want to drive smoothly, and the gearbox lacks the sporty, mechanical feel we’ve enjoyed in the smaller DS3. The engine’s power arrives suddenly in a narrow band, too, in direct contrast to the more linear delivery of the 2.0-litre TDI in the Golf.
In bends, the DS4 is more rewarding to drive than its C4 cousin, and feels suitably sporty, reacting quickly to steering inputs. But when it comes to comfort and refinement, the VW has the edge. In GT trim, the Golf’s lower suspension set-up reveals more bumps around town and is less forgiving over motorway expansion joints than the Match model in our pictures. But the DS4 still thumps loudly over deep potholes and allows more body roll.
On this evidence, the Citroen hasn’t done enough to topple our compact family car champion. So, does it make more sense as a crossover?
WHY: Hugely popular and talented Golf needs no introduction. Our class leader is the family hatch that all newcomers have to beat.