Citroen’s French flair cuts a DaSh
Citroen is bringing a definite sporty edge to its range with the DS series, says Andy Russell.
I should have known someone would ask the question but it caught me on the hop. Normally I can trot off facts and figures but when someone attracted to Citroen's smart new DS4 asked what the 'DS' stood for I was baffled. Dynamic, different, desirable, and sexy, stylish, sporty? It could be any of all of them but for the record it's 'distinctive series' – a bit boring at the end of the day.
Citroen kicked off its DS range with the three-door DS3, a rival to the MINI and Fiat 500. Now it has launched the DS4, designed to look like a coupe but actually a five-door hatchback with the back doors blending into the body, their handles hidden in the frame.
With its coupe lines, hatchback practicality and raised stance Citroen sees wide appeal for the DS4 with rivals including three-door coupes, three and five-door hatchbacks and even crossovers such as the Nissan Qashqai and MINI Countryman.
It's already won its plaudits – voted most beautiful car of the year in an online poll and most beautiful city or compact car by a top German car magazine, while at the 26th International Automobile Festival it won most beautiful interior.
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But the DS4 is not all style and no substance and if you're a keen driver you'll enjoy driving the DS4 where the DS could stand for 'decidedly sporty'. Based on the C4 – a good starting point – Citroen has tweaked and honed the running gear to make the DS4 more dynamic.
Under the bonnet is range of tried-and-tested engines – normally-aspirated and two turbo 1.6-litre petrols and two 1.6 (one an eco model with electronic gearshift) and 2.0-litre turbo diesels, the latter expected to account for 70pc of sales.
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I drove the 2.0-litre turbo diesel, with the smooth-shifting manual gearbox, which boasts elastic, punchy performance and returned 50mpg in real-world driving. And with 163hp it really brings out the best in the DS4's fine chassis.
Compared to the C4, the DS4's suspension is stiffer and the ride firmer so you trade some comfort for enhanced roadholding. But it's still supple enough to deal with bumps and lumps and the better body control not only pays dividends through corners, where it holds on flatly with plenty of grip, but also makes the DS4 feel more settled over undulating roads. The steering is responsive and accurate but the self-centring feel is a little too sharp for my liking while the powerful brakes can almost stand the car on its nose at low speed until you develop a light foot!
The DS4 seats four comfortably, five at a squeeze, and although not over-endowed with legroom in the back there's enough for most people provided the front seats aren't slid right back. Getting in and out is trickier than a conventional hatchback as the rear door openings are quite tight. On the subject of back doors, the way the angular window extends beyond the back edge of the door is very stylish but a couple of times I caught my arm on it. And you can't open the window – not such a problem with air-conditioning standard.
The boot emphasises the DS4 was built for versatility as well as verve. It's deep and square and with a 359-litre volume – 385 including underfloor storage – takes a decent amount of luggage. The 60/40 split rear seat backs fold flat but leave a step up from the boot floor.
The interior is beautifully finished, a most pleasant place to be, with a high-quality look to the trim, squidgy soft-touch plastics and bright metallic highlights around the recessed dials, airvents and steering wheel. I also like the panoramic windscreen which extends over the front passengers' heads and can be closed down with individual sliding sunblinds. It means you get great visibility at the front, shame the small rear screen limits the view out of the back.
The instrument cluster is dominated by a large speedo, with the driver information display inside, flanked by rev counter and fuel gauge. Most controls are straightforward but the audio system is a little daunting and confusing – especially for us men who refuse to consult the handbook, preferring to prod and poke until we find the right buttons!
Seeing the owner's handbook in the passenger doorbin tells me the glovebox is small, and it is, but decent doorbins and a lidded locker between the front seats are some consolation.
Available in DSign, DStyle and DSport trim, the former includes six airbags, stability control and hill-start assist, air-conditioning, LED day-time running lights, 17in alloy wheels, cornering function front fog lights and cruise control with speed limiter. DStyle adds 18in alloys, automatic wipers and lights, massaging front sports seats, part-leather upholstery, climate control and rear parking sensors while DSport has full leather seats, 19in alloys, front parking sensors and blindspot monitoring system.
Like the smaller DS3, the dynamic DS4 bring some real excitement to the Citroen range. It's not difficult to see its appeal - good to look at, great to drive yet practical enough to be everyday family transport.