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Citroen C4 2004 review

What does Citroen mean to you? A heritage of wacky technology? Well, here is the most intriguing Citroen for a long time

Here is a Citroen to buy for what it is, not only how little it costs, and we shouldn't expect the sort of discounts seen with the Xsara. The C4 isn't quite as rewarding to drive as the new Focus, but it comes close and looks far more exciting. In today's world of gadgets and the desire to be different, it should be a winner.

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What does Citroen mean to you? A heritage of wacky technology? A sporty image spawned by hot Saxos and a World Rally Championship win? Great cashback deals? Well, here is the most intriguing Citroen for a long time, and it proves the firm is back doing what it does best.

The new C4 replaces the uninspiring Xsara, and enters the hardest-fought market sector of all. It's set to do battle with the new Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra - although no rival is as futuristic as the forward-looking Citroen.

But that's not to say the C4 is off-puttingly quirky, in the way of some old models from the company. The technology is genuinely useful, and is matched to a car which is better made and more refined than any compact Citroen we've seen before. Top of the techno-list is the centre of the steering wheel, a big boss that stays still as the rim rotates round it.

This hub contains switches for the sound system, computer and display screen, cruise control and speed-limiter device, and the heater air recirculation, plus - if fitted - voice activation. All the buttons are easily reached at a finger's stretch. Clever!

Then there is the central LCD instrument display, open to daylight behind so you can always read it, even in sunlight. Or how about the optional lane-departure warning device, which vibrates the appropriate side of the driver's seat if you meander over white lines? Or the speed limiter, which keeps you below a pre-set rate unless you press extra hard on the accelerator? This is designed to help you stay calm and within the legal limit. You will feel even more relaxed if you use the aromatiser cartridges, which slot into a facia vent and puff out perfumes themed as Vitality, Sensibility or Well-being. All this is in a solidly made cabin finished with many more soft surfaces than you will find in most rivals, including the Focus, despite Ford's boasts of quality. The interior promises tranquil progress thanks to laminated, sound-absorbing side windows and fully sealed structural sections. And then there is the way the newcomer looks. The front end features the bold chevrons and side-whiskers that have already been previewed on concept models and the facelifted C5. The tail comes chopped off for the three-door coup�, or rounded similar to the C3's for the five-door driven here.

Both bodystyles have the same roof panel and, according to Citroen, class-leading interior space. The underpinnings are shared with Peugeot's 307, but the C4's rear seat is set further back, while a movable luggage divider is optional for the boot.

Despite the shared 307 genes, the C4 is quite different to drive thanks to softer suspension settings aimed at refinement rather than sportiness. But that doesn't mean it feels soggy. It has the fluid, roll-along ride typical of a Citroen, but steers keenly and can be hustled tidily through corners if required.

The engine best suited to this is the 2.0 HDi, a 138bhp diesel that provides overtaking ability and easy cruising. There are also two 1.6 HDi oil-burners, while petrol buyers have a choice of a base 1.4, a 1.6 and a pair of 2.0-litre units. If the pricing is right, then the age of the quirky Citroen could be about to undergo a sparkling renaissance.

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