Citroen C4 shines with quality

With the arrival of the C3 and DS3 is was only a matter of time before Citroen brought the bigger C4 into line its new design philosophy.

And here it is; the second-generation C4 hatchback promises improved quality inside and out plus a greater focus on refinement and economy.

It's clear even from the outset that this C4 is a higher quality item. The car's rounded curves and glossy exterior trim accents do much to help create a premium ambience. And although this C4 is just as distinctive as its predecessor, it's also good to see a family connection with the smaller C3.

Citroen's increased focus on quality and refinement is most obvious when you settle into the car's cabin. There's no shortage of dark plastic and equally dark upholstery, which does much to create that businesslike ambience German cars are famous for.

The French company's designers have worked hard to make the cabin experience a pleasant one, and the combination of ergonomic and intuitive controls go a long way to confirming this. There's nothing out of the ordinary here, but the car's various functions operate with the polish of something from the class above.

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As we've come to expect from Citroen, the French manufacturer has departed from the norm in a few subtle ways in a bid to generate some extra interest. The car's electronic handbrake sits close to hand in the centre console, and it's also possible to change the illumination of the main dials – there's a handful of colour options to choose from. You can also change the sound of the indicator repeater, proving that Citroen remains keen to show off its quirky personality occasionally.

Back to more serious issues, however. The second-generation C4 has grown slightly over its predecessor in all the key dimensions, and nowhere is this more obvious than at the rear. Boasting 408 litres, the car's boot is the biggest in its class, making the C4 a genuinely practical and versatile family hatchback.

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It's also a car that's keen to save you money. With low emissions and fuel consumption, the main talking points for anyone buying a mainstream car these days, Citroen's engine line-up promises much. The focus is very much on efficiency, and it's encouraging to see low-capacity engines boasting above-average power outputs. The 1.6-litre range comprises turbo petrol motors shared with BMW and frugal diesels.

Alongside the main options is Citroen's new e-HDi diesel motor. Offering engine stop-start and energy regeneration, this 1.6-litre, 110hp unit is initially rated at 109g/km CO2 and will later drop to an even more appealing 99g/km. Either way, the unit is willing, smooth, refined and offers more than enough performance for everyday driving tasks.

That it comes with Citroen's 'clutchless' automated manual gearbox – that action is automated and you're presented with column-mounted paddle-shifters – is another quirk of the brand. Citroen claims the 'EGS' unit offers savings over a manual gearbox, which is part of the company's 'every little saving helps' ethos and sits alongside the C4's weight-loss programme.

What's clear from driving the new C4 is that Citroen is keen on delivering an experience that's much closer to that of a premium model than ever before. With Citroen's emerging DS sub brand tasked with offering a sportier edge, the C4 should suit buyers seeking refinement in a practical, well-equipped and familiar package.

There's a noticeable improvement in quality inside and out with this C4, while the driving experience delivers a supple yet engaging ride that Citroen fans will instantly warm to. Factor in the welcome increased focus on economy plus an impressive engine line-up and it's easy to see the car's appeal.

Citroen C4 1.6 e-HDi

Price: From �19,800 approximately. On sale January.

Engine: 1.6-litre turbo diesel developing 110bhp

Transmission: Six-speed 'EGS' semi auto gearbox with column-mounted shifters, driving the front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 11.2 seconds; top speed 118mph

Economy: 67.2mpg

CO2 Rating: 109g/km

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