Acknowledging that its body design makes it a bit of a mongrel
Citroen broke new ground with its upmarket DS range, creating a modern prestige sub-brand. In some ways, though, the French manufacturer was reverting to its roots, in resurrecting some of the Gallic quirkiness for which it was once known. The DS models are a breakaway from the mainstream approach Citroen has taken in recent times, and a return to a couture style with a strong dash of slightly oddball French flair. This DS4 was the second model in the lineup, coming after the DS3 and just before the DS5. So it is the mid-way arrival and the mid-size model of the three cars that wear the swervy chicane badges adorning Citroen’s prestige DS range.
It is not easy to categorise where this car fits into the automotive scheme of things. It is a ‘niche’ model that is part hatchback, a semi-coupe, and it also has pumped-up styling reminiscent of the chunky MINI Countryman. So the DS4 shoehorns into the motoring scene as a quirky kind of crossover. It is oddly described by Citroen as a ‘crossbreed’, acknowledging that its body design makes it a bit of a mongrel. It has five doors, but it doesn’t immediately look as though it does, due to the rear side doors being cleverly disguised with handles that are hidden in the upper door edges. This tricks trick the eye quite successfully to enhance the DS4, making it look like a three-door coupe, although it has the convenience and practicality of the five-door that it actually is.
Citroen is not the innovator here, it is not the first time that this ruse has been used. VW-owned Seat did it a while back, and other manufacturers have used the same visual deception. It is particularly effective in the DS4, though, and a quirky detail about this car is that those back doors have windows that don’t open. So this is a five-door car with only two retractable windows. That is undeniably oddball. Citroen rationalises it by pointing out that most rear car windows are rarely opened anyway. That may well be so, but it may not placate rear seat passengers in the DS4 who crave a bit of fresh air.
The engine choice is 1.6 litre petrol with varying power outputs from 120 to 200 PS, and either 1.6 or two-litre HDI diesels. Prices range from £19,445 for the entry-level entry-level 1.6 HDI DSign to £23,950 for the top-of-the-range 2.0 HDI DSport.
Our test car has the 1997 cc four-cylinder diesel engine teamed with the six-speed manual gearbox. Power output is 160 bhp at 3,750 rpm, and the maximum torque of 251 lb ft happens between 2,000 and 3,000 rpm. The performance figures suggest a lively car, but it contrives not to feel quite as energetic on the road. The DS4 exudes reasonable personality from behind the wheel, but it feels a bit of a Marmite car, both in the way it looks and the way it drives. You need to experience it to know whether it appeals, so a test drive is very important if it is a car you might consider owning. With adequate power from this two-litre turbodiesel, the towing capacity is a very reasonable 1,550 kg.
We also tried the DS4 with a 1.6 litre petrol engine, and although it has less power, lower performance and is less appealing from the viewpoint of economy and CO2 output, it felt the nicer car to drive, with a more alert behaviour than the slightly nose-heavy stance of the diesel. There is also a micro-hybrid e-HDi with stop-start technology and an automated manual gearbox.