Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Citroen DS4 - Fifth Gear Citroen DS4 review

The DS4 is the second model launched in Citroen's bold new line-up of upmarket alternatives to its mainstream offerings. It follows the much-lauded DS3 onto the market, but doesn't share the same rival-focused design brief. Where the smaller hatchback was conceived as a straight competitor to BMW's Mini, Citroen claims the C4-derived DS4 has no direct rivals as it combines a coupe profile with five-door practicality and the raised driving position of a crossover. 

The manufacturer insists the new model represents a redefinition of the segment boundaries, but in truth the DS4 is just another addition to the already fluid styling conventions of the increasingly voguish family hatchback class. Which isn't to suggest that the car is lacking in the looks department - indeed, the sight of its chiseled flanks are a fitting antidote to rivals' by-the-numbers designs, and are likely to be rewarded by increased interest at the local Citroen dealership.

However, the weaknesses are conspicuous. The low-swept roofline means opening windows have been abandoned in the rear and those huge rear pillars cast the back seats in shadow. Also the quality which sets it apart from other coupe-inspired five-door models - the jacked-up ride height - is arguably the DS4's weakest design feature. 

Inside this somewhat awkward stance is translated into a slightly higher vantage point, but it falls short of a crossover's commanding view. As one would expect from the DS brand, the C4-borrowed interior has been nudged upmarket with the introduction of new trim materials, massaging seats and an abundance of new chrome detailing. In top-spec format it all feels pleasingly well-appointed, and although not class-leading, the DS4 is decently refined.

Almost important as styling to the DS's burgeoning badge DNA is handling. Like the DS3, the new model has received a number of tweaks designed to return a more dynamic experience. The car's springs are some 10 percent stiffer and its anti-roll bar has been beefed up to eliminate some of the C4's waywardness. The result is a slightly more focused setup, but the still-too-light steering and occasionally jittery ride compromise the improvements.

The DS4 will come to the UK with a choice of five engines. The 1.6-litre HDi 110 and 2.0-litre HDi 160 make up the diesel options, while three versions of the 1.6-litre engine co-developed with BMW constitute the petrol line-up. The THP 200 is the most powerful offering, but the Citroen's vocal oil burners - particularly the HDi 160 - offers a better mix of economy and usable performance.

Prices for the DS4 start at around £18k for the entry level VTi 120 DSign and rise to around £24k for the range-topping THP 200 DSport. Considering the comparative strength of competition at that level (VW Golf, Ford Focus, Alfa Romeo Giulietta) Citroen's audacious attempt to produce something different is laudable, but ultimately the car doesn't feel special enough to successfully span the different segments it borrows from. However, while that means it is unlikely to replicate the DS3's meteoric trajectory, Citroen's curious mash-up is probably attractive enough, inside and out, to generate some of the kerb appeal that the brand was originally aiming for.