Flashy DS4 lives up to its pedigree

 

ROADTEST CITROËN DS4 2.0 HDI SPORT: THE DECISION by Citroën to use the DS nomenclature was always going to be controversial. The original DS is a style icon and there was the feeling that adding this to the DS3, which looked like a car littered with detritus from a ram-raid on Halfords, was a marketing exercise too far. The DS3 was pitched as a Mini rival, with infinite customisation options and the same sort of cheeky appeal as the BMW-made Mini.

DS3 has been a success in some markets, particularly the UK, where the Chelsea set and their ilk lap up “trendy” cars. Here in Ireland, the reception for the DS3 has been much frostier. Just 21 were registered in 2010 and when we last checked, they had gone just one better in 2011. Those are pretty awful numbers. Mini sold seven times as many Mini Hatch models this year and 10 times as many in 2010. Perhaps things would have been better if the car had been on sale back in the boom time, when practicality wasn’t the first thing on people’s minds. Worthy as the DS3 is, the fact that it’s a three-door makes its appeal limited, especially when it sits firmly in the “lifestyle” category.

But Citroën is not yet done with the DS range. There is now another member of the family and this one perhaps makes more sense for our market.

The DS4 is a cousin of the Citroën C4. Now imagine that cousin went on the kind of makeover show where the pleasant-but-jaded housewife gets sent to a bizarre-looking plastic surgeon for a makeover, when all she really needed was a week off. Collagen injections, silicon implants and some Christian Louboutin shoes later, and her husband looks as shocked as he is delighted at her “unveiling”.

The DS4 is a bit of a styling hybrid. It is part coupé, part hatchback and a little bit SUV. It is one of those cars that is difficult to categorise and Citroën itself doesn’t seem to want to put it into any particular compartment.

Not that it is easy to do with new models these days, such have the lines blurred between genre. It is actually 60mm shorter and 40mm higher than the C4, on which it is based, and it is a flamboyant blend of LED lights, chrome and gleaming alloy wheels. The car attracts quite a degree of attention. Our test car looked very striking with 19-inch black alloys and pearlescent white paint.

Rather typically, when French brands get creative, the inside is novel. Or daft, depending on your taste. You can make the windscreen enormous by pushing back the sun visors and sliding them back over your head. The cabin layout is similar enough to the C4, but there are lots of DS badges around and the soft touch plastic is of really high quality. The carbon effect trim is a little on the tacky side though.

The quality is good throughout, but it needs to be if it’s going to compete with the cars that can match the DS4’s price tag. The coupé shape of the car means that headroom in the rear is a little restricted and the centre seat in the back will only suit children.

You can change the colour of the digital display on the dash and even change the indicator sounds, which vary in degrees of irritation.

The choice of engines in the DS4 will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in Citroën. A 1.6-litre 110bhp diesel will be the bread-and-butter of the range with the choice of a manual gearbox or the six-speed electronic EGS gearbox.

You can also have a 200bhp 1.6-litre petrol or the 2.0-litre 163bhp diesel, which we were driving. It is a fine engine – feeling quiet, refined and urgent, plus with emissions of 134g/km, it sits in motor tax band B, so annual road tax is €156. Combined fuel economy of 4.3 l/100km is good too. The E-HDi versions of the 1.6-litre HDi go one better and sit in motor tax band A but they feel sluggish compared to the bigger output unit.

The first part of our week was spent pounding up and down the motorway and at this the DS4 excelled. The seats are particularly comfy and the massage function built in would make you almost feel guilty. The electronic handbrake is the least fiddly we have come across and we liked the parking space “gap” measuring system, which uses sensors built into the front bumper to scan the length of the parking space as you drive slowly past it. The system beeps and a message flashes up to tell you whether parking is possible, difficult or inadvisable. Unlike Ford’s system, you do have to do the manoeuvre yourself so quite how it knows anyone’s ability to park is beyond me.

What most surprised us about the DS4 was the handling. Given that it sits several inches higher than the C4, raising a car’s ride height tends not to do much for its agility, but the DS4 defies physics in this regard and is very impressive on twisty back roads.

The good driving position, good front visibility and torque-generous engine make for an entertaining drive. Sure enough, the 19-inch alloy wheels can be a little unforgiving on poor road surfaces but it isn’t half as bad as we first suspected. The steering is very good, even if there could be a little more feel through your hands, something Citroën has to work harder on right across their range.

There are lots of reasons to be happy in the DS4 then. But we are just a little unsure of who is going to want to be in one in the first place. Citroën in Ireland have a pretty big task to get the brand and this DS range into the Irish buyer’s conscience.

The last couple of years have been very bad for the brand here and when a marque like Seat, which is selling rebadged old Audis these days, sells 500 more cars than Citroën, this tells you that something is wrong. Renault has outsold Citroën seven-to-one in Ireland this year. Peugeot has sold twice as many cars as Citroën.

And let’s look at what this DS4 is up against. Sure enough, the range starts at a very reasonable €23,995, but the car we were driving was €29,895 and while it comes laden with equipment, there are some very posh rivals available for the same sort of money wearing Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW and Lexus badges. Getting the Irish buyer to spend premium prices for a Citroën might take some time, as can be seen by the poor showing for DS3.

Judged on its own merits though, the DS4 is an impressive car. It might be “a bit flash” for some but there can be no doubting that it is well built, innovative and very, very good to drive. When we mark Citroën’s copybook this time next year, we will see if the Irish buyer agrees.

Factfile

Engine1,997cc four-cylinder turbo diesel putting out 163bhp at 3,750rpm, with 340Nm of torque at 2,000rpm with a six-speed manual gearbox

0-100km/h8.6 secs

L/100km (mpg)urban - 5.1 (55); extra-urban - 6.6 (43); combined - 4.3 (66)

Emissions(motor tax) 134g/km (€156)

Specificationsafety features include four disc brakes including two ventilated discs; ABS; front and rear radar-type parking distance sensors; electronic traction control; intelligent drivers airbag; intelligent passengers’ airbag with de-activation switch; front and rear side-curtain airbags; front side airbag; stability control system; electronic brake distribution; front fog lights; day time running lights; front and rear wheels; 19-inch alloy rims – width 8 inches; LED day time running lights; audio system with digital media card reader and CD player that reads MP3 CDs; radio receives AM/FM and RDS; steering wheel-mounted remote audio controls; full digital dashboard; leather and leather seat upholstery; alloy and leather steering wheel with tilt adjustment and telescopic adjustment; automatic air conditioning with fully automated climate control and two climate control zones; Bluetooth connection; connections for USB and auxiliary audio devices; parking space information; panoramic windscreen.

Price€29,895