Following on from our first drive of the Citroen e-C4, now we try this funky French hatchback with more conventional petrol power under its bonnet. What's it like?
In the Metal:
The electric and petrol/diesel Citroen C4s all look almost identical on the outside, those propelled by internal combustion differing only through the use of silver details in the front bumper and side Airbumps (the e-C4 has blue highlights in the same places), as well as there being a pair of exhaust pipes peeking out of the valance of the car at the rear on this 131hp/230Nm PureTech model.
Overall, the C4 is certainly distinctive, and we really like the daring way it looks, although we appreciate the busy styling will not be everyone's tasse de thé. At least, however, it doesn't blend into the carpark crowd and it's a whole lot more successful, more cohesive piece of design than the poor old facelifted C4 Cactus.
It's within the Citroen where we're not half as convinced by the efforts, or otherwise, that the French marque has put in. There's nothing wrong with the C4's cabin, per se, as it's neatly, intelligently arranged and features the requisite large central infotainment touchscreen of the 2020s age, as well as a digital instrument cluster (which is a measly 5.5 inches across the diagonal, although we'll gloss over that for the moment) supplemented by a head-up display. Most of the fabrics and materials used feel pleasant to the touch, there's plenty of space onboard for four adults - and maybe even five, at a push - to get comfy, and the boot is a decent 380-litre cavern.
No, it's more that... well, it's all a bit yawn-inducing, isn't it? And before you start groaning and rolling your eyes, we're not about to suggest that Citroen should engage in some awful 'forced wackiness' and start mounting the indicator switches on the roof lining and locating the handbrake in the nearside-rear passenger footwell, or anything daft like that.
But, after the bold and dramatic exterior styling, this interior isn't half dull. Our test car had a sombre black-on-black-on-black ambience that wouldn't have been out of place on a mid-1990s Opel and aside from some slivers of silver around the air vents and those strange fabric strips on the door cards, the ambience is staid and truly uninspiring.
Shame, because if it was a bit better executed, the C4 might have been able to capitalise on the fact the current Volkswagen Golf Mk8's cabin is not exactly faultless. Oh well.
For the C4, Citroen places the emphasis on comfort over speed. And good on the French firm for doing that; we all remember the classically comfy Citroens of yore and there's nothing wrong with the marque trying to recapture those glory days. Indeed, in the vast Stellantis conglomerate Citroen is now a part of, there are plenty of brands that claim to be sporty, so ploughing a different furrow of plushness is not only to be applauded, but also highly sensible for the company's long-term future.
And the petrol C4 is one of the best 21st-century executions of Citroen's 'Advanced Comfort' programme yet. Its supportive, plump front seats and good, elevated driving position lead to a vehicle in which covering 395km in one hit is no hardship whatsoever. Trust us; we know because we had to endure such a trek in the C4. Yet it breezed away the mega-marathon with little effort whatsoever, leaving us feeling unstressed and happy when we got out of the car at the end of nearly five straight hours at its wheel.
This is because its Progressive Hydraulic Cushions (PHC) in the suspension do a marvellous job of soaking up the worst of the road surface's imperfections. Happily, Citroen seems to have got the balance between outright softness of the springs and dampers versus a bit of body control and high-speed stability right in this car, because the C4 doesn't wander around alarmingly on the motorway and it isn't as easily deflected from its path by lumps and bumps as some of the other PHC-equipped models we've tried.
Furthermore, its little 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is lovely - sure, it sounds a tad strained if revved right out and it's coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission that is hardly the epitome of 'whipcrack gearshifts', but in general the engine provides more than adequate performance for the C4's commendably low 1,278kg mass. And we're not just talking about speed and midrange muscle when we mention performance here - we're talking about the fact it can genuinely return around 51.3mpg (5.5 litres/100km) on a steady, long cruise.
So, the C4 has the practicality and comfort thing all wrapped up, especially as it limits both road and wind noise superbly well. The payoff, though, is that it's notably compromised for cornering. There's plenty of body lean in the bends and some pitch/dive to report while accelerating and braking, while the steering is also light and feel-free to the point of being insubstantial. So, you won't want to hustle the C4 PureTech, not in the slightest.
What you get for your Money:
We can't mark this section for now, as the Citroen C4 range is yet to be priced up in Ireland. We'd be hopeful that Irish-spec cars would have the eight-speaker stereo, 10-inch touchscreen infotainment, wireless smartphone charging, LED lights all round, auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and more of our test vehicle, but we cannot confirm exact specifications at this stage. As soon as this information changes, we'll update this section of the review.
While the handling on the new Citroen C4 is no great shakes, it's not as wayward as some other models from the manufacturer we've tried recently and so the focus on outright comfort at the expense of all else isn't the detriment it might have turned out to be.
Having said that, we'll refrain from getting more enthusiastic about the Citroen hatchback right now for two reasons: one, we don't know prices and specs for Ireland as yet, which could make all the difference to how the C4 is perceived by consumers; and two, the interior is fairly lacklustre in terms of its visual appeal.
Apart from that, the petrol-powered Citroen continues to be an intriguing family-friendly alternative to the mainstream elite in the hatchback sector.