Citroën DS4 review

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a crossover; a mash-up of a coupé and five-door hatchback, with a sport utility’s ride height and slightly compromised accommodation. The Americans have made a black art of mixing styles in this manner, some of which end up with all the charm of pants which you can wear on your head.

And why is it called a DS? That comes from Flaminio Bertoni and André Lefèbvre’s original DS of 1955, a car whose sheer eroticism, élan and singularity moved the structuralist philosopher Roland Barthes to describe it as “a new Nautilus”. Citroën could never follow that, but last year it relaunched the DS badge on the front of a three-door, hot-hatch version of its nondescript C3 with a weird floating-roof design and uprated running gear.

The DS badge is marketing froth, but underneath is some serious engineering and clever chassis tuning. This little Tarmac terrier has done amazingly well, selling more than 80,000 in its first year. “It was a risk,” admits a senior French Citroën PR. “If it had failed we would not be doing this new car.”

On that basis you might expect the DS badging to represent performance upgrades with funky design. Except the latest DS4 (and the larger DS5, which is slated for production this year) are SUV crossovers. You can’t quite rid yourself of the suspicion that the DS badge is being used on an ill assortment of cars the company doesn’t have the nerve to sell as Citroëns.

DS is also a production story, and each version is run down the same production lines as its more staid sister model, which helps boost plant production and profitability. This DS4, for example, will be built in Mulhouse, France, alongside the C4 family hatchback.

The DS4 goes on sale in July and has chunky Tonka looks and basking shark’s mouth grille. Not unattractive, true, but it ends up looking bigger than it actually is. Inside the cabin, the rear accommodation is compromised. The rear doors are highly stylised with windows that jut like Madonna’s bra and are likely to skewer your passengers when they climb in. The rear windows don’t lower, which gives the impression of being taken to court in a police Black Maria. There’s head and leg room to spare for a six-footer in the back, but it feels cramped compared to the C4 and the boot is a smallish 359 litres.

In the front, there’s plenty of room, the seats are comfy and supportive and the dashboard is well made and attractive. The driver gets a three-instrument binnacle, with difficult-to-read dials for speed, revs and fuel. There are lots of storage spaces and the generous door bins are big enough for a bottle of wine — what do you mean this is a French car?

The driving position is good, too, with excellent visibility and a wide range of adjustment for wheel and seat. It’s not as high as a “proper” SUV but you can see over the roof panels of the cars ahead. The high windscreen might add to the looks and allow glimpses of air traffic, but in practice it’s a nuisance and you end up adjusting the sunshades to their lowest position to reduce the glare.

There’s clever stuff in there, however. Sound alerts and background lighting can be changed to suit tastes, you can access most of the key functions through the steering-wheel buttons and the details, such as the aluminium-alloy pedals, leather door handles and curvaceous facia, are charming.

Diesel engines will take the lion’s share of the British market and two HDI units are offered; 110 or 160bhp, as well as a stop/start version of the lower-power diesel, which has carbon-dioxide emissions of 114g/km. Three petrol engines, all co-developed with BMW, are offered, with 120, 155 or 200bhp.

The launch cars were restricted to the top-model petrol and diesel in manual form. We drove the diesel first. With 160bhp and a twin-cam, 16-valve configuration, this four-pot is sparky for an oil burner but provides a lot of low-down torque so you aren’t rowing it along on the pleasantly mechanical-feeling gear lever. Gear ratios are well spaced to match the engine’s torque and there’s a high top gear to reduce revs at motorway speeds. It is also exceptionally quiet and refined.

The 200bhp 1.6 petrol is the more overtly sporty, with an artificially generated but addictive exhaust note and a terrific gearbox, which allows you to snap up and down the ratios as if it was a rally car. With a top speed of 146mph and 0-62mph in 7.9sec it’s appreciably faster than the diesel, but while its combined fuel consumption of 44.1mpg is good, the diesel delivers 55.4mpg, meaning just £110 in annual VED. That’s going to convince a lot of folk to put the petrol model back on the shelf.

We knew that PSA Peugeot-Citroën was back on form as far as ride and handling are concerned (Peugeot’s 3008 is indecently good) and the DS4 is no exception. The unexceptional running gear has MacPherson-strut front and a twist-beam rear suspension, but Citroën’s engineers have put a lot of love into it. There’s a slight compromise to the low-speed comfort as a result of the ride height being raised by 32mm, but the urban ride is perfectly acceptable and at speed it’s positive and agile.

The electrically powered, hydraulically assisted steering has feedback aplenty and is direct and accurate. Body roll is limited, but not at the cost of side-to-side compliance, so your passengers don’t end up tossing their heads on broken surfaces.

What’s astonishing is the transformation from the desperately ordinary C4 from which the DS4 is derived. It might not be a great handling car, but the DS4 is pleasant and even fun to drive. The DS badge doesn’t have a lot of coherence, but with cars like this it signifies a range that provides good-value entertainment and surprising practicality. Perhaps Citroën’s only problem is how poor they make its standard cars look in comparison.


Citroën DS4

Tested: 1,997cc, four-cylinder turbodiesel, six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive

Price/on sale: £18,500 to £24,000 (about £23,000 as tested)/ July 4

Power/torque: 160bhp @ 3,750rpm/ 251lb ft @ 2,000rpm.

Top speed: 132mph

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 9.3sec

Fuel economy: 42.8mpg (EU Urban)

CO2 emissions: 134g/km

VED band: E (£110 per year)

Verdict: Roland Barthes isn’t going to be writing a paean to this car, but it’s a weirdly spirited and enjoyable-to-drive crossover that offers reasonable value

Telegraph verdict: Four out of five stars


Renault Mégane Coupé, from £16,495

The car Citroën would like the DS4 to be compared with, although the Renault is more performance-based and more attractive. Not as versatile inside, but sharp handling. Some engines can be noisy at speed.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta, from £17,455

Has a higher chassis spec than the DS4 and it shows. Gorgeous looks, larger inside, and the ride and handling are superior. Best bet is the 1.4-litre Multiair engine, but the diesels are gutsy and economical.

Ford Kuga, from £21,495

Blue Oval’s soft-roader, with similar chunky looks the DS4 – plus lots of road noise. Handing is superior, however, and the PSA-based 2.0-litre diesel is economical, if gruff. Two- or four-wheel drive.


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