The Citroen DS4 fights for market share among one of the most crowded and competent classes of cars, slugging it out with market staples like the VW Golf and the Ford Focus.
That the Golf is the answer to almost every automotive-buying question just makes the job so much harder: VW might be at the centre of an emissions scandal that threatens to tarnish the company’s image for years, if not generations, but few are better at making cars that are so brilliantly rounded.
Nor can you ignore the Ford Focus. It might not have the premium feel and image of the Golf but it too is a superb all-rounder and is even better to drive than the German car. So the DS4 is going to have to be very, very good indeed if it is to tempt more than a handful of quirky Francophiles away from the mainstream.
A bold, distinctive design
The DS4 is a bold, distinctive design especially if you choose the contrasting roof, one of the many customising features that are available to make it your own.
Thus equipped, the effect remains tasteful instead of garish, helped by the surprisingly muted palette that’s on offer.
The hidden rear door handles lend the shape the feel of an SUV/coupe hybrid rather than a hatchback, although the price you pay for that rakish profile is rear windows that don’t open.
A frivolous and confident interior
If the exterior is one of restrained elegance, then the interior is more frivolous and confident; the ‘watchstrap’ leather seats look terrific and are becoming something of a signature look for the marque, while the dashboard is more restrained and almost Audi-esque in its simplicity.
The sliding sunblinds are a nice touch; you can slide what is essentially the roof lining back a few inches, giving a panoramic view of the road (and sky) ahead. It’s a gimmick, albeit a nice one and adds to the overall ambience; it really is a rather nice interior.
Which sums up the way it drives, too. It handles, stops, steers, grips, and brakes exactly how you’d want it to. It doesn’t exceed your expectations but nor does it disappoint.
The ride is a little on the hard side for my taste but probably no worse than many of its class competitors; conversely, you do leave yourself open to well-founded criticism when you brand yourself after a car in which the ride was so good…
An enigmatic engine
The engine initially had me baffled.
The DS4 was dropped off, and I was late for a meeting, so I jumped in and drove away without giving the specification sheet even a cursory look.
Aha, I thought; a gruff, slightly rough sound means that it must be a three-cylinder petrol engine.
Then came the rubber band mid-range acceleration of a turbocharged diesel engine, a trait that was immediately underlined by the sight of a rev counter with a 6,000rpm redline.
For the first time in my career as a motoring journalist I pulled over to find out what was under the bonnet.
The press pack told me that the three-cylinder PureTech petrol engine has “the power and torque of a 1.6-litre engine from a smaller 1.2-litre capacity”.
I couldn’t have put it better myself, other than the note that the fuel consumption fell someway short of the claimed 54.3mpg. I’m always wary of quoting my fuel consumption as it is generally only generated over a week, which is too short a period to give any sort of meaningful insight into the consumption an owner can expect over a year or more. This is why I tend to quote the Honest John Real Life Fuel Economy Register figure instead, using, as it does, crowd-sourced data to give potential owners a much more accurate guide to the consumption they can expect. But for new cars, like the DS4, there simply aren’t enough people contributing yet, so you’ll have to use my low-40s as a rough guide. This is the one problem with small capacity petrol engines that try and function as large-capacity ones; the fuel consumption never, ever lives up to the on-paper expectation.
A few niggles
Other problems with the DS4 include rear doors that don’t open very wide, making access difficult. This isn’t as much of a problem as it might otherwise have been as the rear seats are very cramped, so you’re hardly ever going to be carrying anyone in there anyway, especially if the driver is tall.
With a starting price of around £20,000, the DS4 isn’t hugely expensive and as DS Automobiles is only aiming to sell around 4,000 cars in the UK this year – of which a quarter will be the Crossback, a model that features some exterior cladding and mildly raised suspension to play on the SUV theme – discounts won’t be huge. If you aim for 10%, you should be happy with anything you get over £1,500.
Should you buy one? Probably not. The DS brand still baffles me and the DS4 still smacks of a Citroen that’s been given a quick makeover to broaden its appeal. It doesn’t do anything badly, but then it doesn’t do anything terribly well, either. I’m sure DS Automobiles has a bright future, but it is just that: A future rather than the present.
Power – 130bhp
Torque – 170lb ft
0-62mph – 9.9 seconds
Top speed – 123mph
Kerb weight – 1,255kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions – 120g/km
VED class – Band C
Towing capacity (braked) – 1,450kgs
Towing capacity (unbraked) – 675kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £20,845
Price as tested - £22,165
The VW Golf is still the gold standard for multifaceted brilliance. If you want to pay a bit more for then try the Audi A3, which is essentially the same car but with an even nicer interior.
The best of the rest
The Ford Focus lacks the cachet of the Golf, but it is even better to drive and usefully cheaper.
The Volvo V40 might have a staid image, but it’s got all of the Ford’s dynamism plus the best car interior in its class.
||If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his motoring column - to have each one delivered straight to your door every month, subscribe to Saga Magazine today!
Enjoyed this article? Why not sign up for our Technology and Motoring newsletter?