Citroen DS4 review – DSport HDi 160 automatic

1 March 2013

Citroen DS4 side view

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: High quality interior, attractive design
Bad: Compromised visibility, cramped rear
Price: From £17,385
Citroën’s DS4 has been overshadowed, in my mind at least, by the energetic little DS3 hatchback on the one side, and the arresting, oddball DS5 on the other. Parked between that pair of fidgeting extroverts, the DS4 looks almost unremarkable – like a Vauxhall Astra standing on tiptoes trying to get noticed.

The DS4 also arrived between the other two DSs chronologically, perhaps suffering from the same lack of attention that triggers middle-child syndrome.

So I was glad to get the car on its own for a while, to see how if fared in the absence of sibling rivalry.

Citroen DS4 front view

The Citroen DS4 has been on sale in the UK since July 2011 but remains a relatively rare sight, with fewer than 4,000 examples sold here to date. It’s a sort of five-door, coupe, crossover design, with moderately raised ride height and big wheels, a swooping roofline and hidden rear door-handles. I half-expected frameless glass to complete the coupe picture, but tug open a door and the frames come along too.

While it doesn’t have a standout styling feature like the DS5’s big chrome kink, or the DS3’s shark-fin pillar, the DS4 is crisply styled with distinctive curved creases decorating its flanks. These lines work together with light-catching bulges and rubbing strips at the base of the doors to visually lengthen the car, breaking up the deep sides and deceiving the eye into perceiving the car as leaner and lower than it actually is.

Citroen DS4 interior

As a result, the DS4 feels surprisingly tall and spacious when you climb inside for the first time – in the front seats at least. Rear passengers don’t fare so well, with the relatively tight door opening leading to a bench with not much room for knees or the tops of heads. Think of the car as a four-door coupe, though, and things might not seem so bad, once you’ve folded your feet in.

The contrast between front and rear is exacerbated by two features that come as standard across the DS4 range. A panoramic windscreen adds to the feeling of light and air up front, while darkened privacy glass subtracts from the impression of both at the back. Best not to accept a lift if you suffer from a fear of being buried alive.

Citroen DS4 rear seating

From the driver’s seat at least, the moderately raised ride yields a good view ahead, although vision to the rear and over the shoulder is compromised by the dark glass and plunging rear glazing. There is also a slight issue when it rains – the clap-hands wipers have not been switched over from left-hand drive. The result is that the shorter of the two blades wipes the driver’s side in the UK, stopping noticeably short of the screen pillar. It’s one of only a few obvious flaws that undermine the DS4’s credibility as a well-engineered, premium product.

The DS4 is available in three trim levels – DSign, DStyle and DSport – with manual or automatic transmissions, and with a roster of petrol and diesel engines ranging from 113bhp to 197bhp.

The green motorist’s choice would be the e-HDi Airdream model, which pairs a 113bhp diesel engine with a six-speed automated manual gearbox, scoring 114g/km and 60.1mpg on the combined cycle test. Available only in the middle DStyle trim, it starts from £21,465.

Citroen DS4 rear view

I didn’t have that option for my test drive, having the choice of either the HDi 160 automatic in DSport trim or nothing at all. Unsurprisingly, I chose the sporty diesel.

This also happens to be the most expensive DS4 in the range, with a starting price of £24,785. Fortunately, the DS4 does hold onto value reasonably well over three years – it’s a slightly better bet than an Alfa Giulietta, say, and a lot more resilient than a Citroën C4, though not as safe a haven as a Volkswagen Golf.

With 161bhp and 340Nm on offer, the bigger of the three diesel engine options does a fine job of throwing around the DS4’s 1.5-tonne mass, reacting with smooth and instant urgency when stepped on. Zero to 62mph takes 9.9 seconds (as opposed to 9.3 seconds with the manual gearbox). The drawback is indifferent economy: 49.6mpg and 149g/km won’t win any prizes for thrift.

The softly slurred changes of an automatic gearbox do suit the character of the DS4, though. The overall ambience of the car, to my mind, puts you in the mood for laid-back luxury rather than any frantic, frenetic action. Power should be available, certainly, but summoning it up shouldn’t require the unsightly, sweaty effort of hauling at a gearstick.

Which does bring me to the interior, the highlight of this particular road test. The DS4 feels every bit as special as the DS5 but with fewer overwrought quirks – only the shiny metal strip on the lower edge of the steering wheel felt like an ill-judged piece of tinsel in an interior that looks and feels appealing in almost every direction.

Citroen DS4 cockpit

The instrument cluster is especially beautiful – like looking into three limpid blue pools. You can even dial the blueness all the way back to white if you prefer.

An extra £590 had been spent upgrading my DSport’s standard leather seats to Habana Club spec – a lustrous soft leather in distinctive watch-strap pattern that’s certainly worth having if you can afford it.

The big 19-inch wheels and 40-profile tyres of the DSport don’t spoil the ride beyond redemption – perhaps due to the raised ride height, the suspension felt smoother and more forgiving than either the DS3 or DS5, which will both give your teeth a good rattle. I suspect the 17-inch, 55-profile tyres of the base DSign model might better suit the DS4 – even if they might not look as good – but the option to downsize doesn’t seem to be available.

In summary, I enjoyed my time in the DS4 rather more than I expected. It isn’t cheap for a mid-sized, five-door Citroën, but it does feel persuasively special. It seems to me that this is one neglected middle child that deserves a little more love.

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