A proper French take on a small car (or is it an SUV?), the third-generation Citroen C4 moves upmarket with a single flagship variant. We find out if this funky hatch is good enough to justify its Volkswagen Golf price tag
Citroen has been stuck in a rut in Australia for a little while, with only two vehicles in its line-up – the C3 and C5 Aircross – which have accounted for 144 sales so far in 2021. That is set to change with the arrival of the new-generation C4, a car tasked with bringing some of the marque’s signature Gallic flair back to the small car – or perhaps small SUV – segment in Australia.
That’s the peculiar thing about the C4 – it eschews traditional automotive categories. At 4355mm, it’s longer than a Volkswagen Golf (4284mm) and shorter than a Mazda CX-30 (4395mm), while at 1540mm tall, it also sits between a small SUV and a classic small hatch in height.
While that may make it confusing for buyers to line the C4 up against its competitors, Citroen has effectively covered all bases with its new car – belatedly replacing both the underwhelming second-generation C4 hatch (2011-16) and likeable C4 Cactus small SUV (2016-18 in Australia), while indirectly burying the C3 Aircross (for now)
The new C4 does a good job of standing out, too, especially finished in ‘Pulse Orange’ ($690) with its more subtle ‘air bumps’. There are aspects that Citroen fans will be able to identify from the brand’s back catalogue – for example the sloping rear window and truncated boot deck that references the 1970 GS, as well as the first-gen C4 Coupe – though the LED headlights and sharp detailing are decidedly contemporary.
Following Peugeot’s lead, Citroen Australia has simplified its line-up in both vehicles and variants on offer. That means this $37,990 (plus on-road costs) C4 Shine you see here is the only grade you can get.
Other markets get more choice – including an e-C4 electric variant with 350km of WLTP range that is under consideration for Australia – but for now the only decisions we get to make are colour choice (there are seven of them) and whether to option a $1490 sunroof.
The C4’s premium price tag puts it in direct competition with the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI R-Line ($37,650 before on-road costs) and that means the Citroen needs to be especially polished if it’s to rival the small car dynamic benchmark.
Under the bonnet the C4 starts strong with a 114kW/240Nm 1.2-litre turbo-petrol ‘Puretech’ three-cylinder that feels just right in this 1237kg front-driver. The engine’s plentiful mid-range punch meshes well with a slick eight-speed torque-converter automatic for brisk acceleration – often feeling much quicker than Citroen’s 0-100km/h claim of 9.2 seconds thanks to its abundance of torque
The grunty motor combines with what seems like acres of smooth suspension travel to make an ultimate urban assault vehicle. With four onboard and 50km/h showing on the C4’s digital cluster, speed humps are no issue. Yet small, sharp-edged bumps can catch out the 18-inch alloys, despite wearing relatively high-profile 195/60R18 Goodyear rubber.
When you finally reach the end of the C4’s suspension travel, however, Citroen’s ‘progressive hydraulic cushions’ (marketing speak for hydraulic bump stops) arrest motion beautifully with none of the ‘thwump’ from traditional rubber stops.
The small, polygonal steering wheel may be strange to hold at first but it feels so light and crisp in your hands that the C4 is a dream to thread through urban and suburban streets. This is aided by this car’s SUV-meets-hatch driving experience that provides supreme forward visibility and driver confidence.
But what about when you’re out of town – can the C4’s plush chassis keep up?
I’m pleased to report it can. Although the C4 is based on PSA’s CMP platform – shared with the smaller Peugeot 2008, as well as the forthcoming new-gen 208 hatch – the C4 inspires big confidence in the country where the slight float from its rear end ebbs away after devouring large bumps and it simply irons out the surfaces beneath.
The ability to see far into the distance and spot nasty divots helps too, and while the C4’s suspension set-up is ‘only’ a torsion beam at the back, the French have proven that they are masters of this simple technology.
With the steering weighting up significantly over 80km/h and Sport mode engaged, the C4’s sweet chassis goads you into exploring its fluid dynamics. This isn’t a rival for a hot hatch, but simply a perfectly sorted small car – the sort of product the French are well-known for.
If there’s one thing that could be improved it’s the isolation of the rear suspension over bumps. This isn’t as pronounced as in some cars – such as early Hyundai i30s or older Skoda Octavia wagons with a rear torsion beam – but the C4 is otherwise so refined inside that this intrusiveness can grate on coarse-chip surfaces.
The one genuine sore point with the new C4 is its safety rating. In both ANCAP and Euro NCAP testing, the C4 received four out of five stars owing partly to a less-than-stellar front adult occupant protection rating because it doesn’t have a centre-front airbag.
The C4 Shine does feature a decent level of active-safety tech, though, such as AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and (an admittedly pretty average) 360-degree parking camera. However, it misses out on contemporary must-haves such as junction AEB and rear AEB.
At the end of the day, personal safety is a choice that can’t be evaluated like handling dynamics, but I implore you to delve deeper into the C4’s four-star ANCAP rating, as ageing rivals such as the Mitsubishi ASX ultimately offer similar – or lower – levels of occupant protection.
Disappointingly, the boss of the new C4’s steering wheel is attached to the rim and there are no in-built air fresheners here (as in the 2004 C4). But apart from those features, the latest C4 does its best to reference the original’s quirky features, though in a far more refined and well-built package.
All of the plastics possess a quality that resonates with the C4’s ambitions, with tactile dash and door mouldings in the front cabin. Fit and finish are high-quality too, with no rattles or creaks to speak of during testing.
The heated, leather-appointed seats are designed with comfort in mind – certainly for the driver who gets electric height and backrest adjustment (though, oddly, manual fore-aft slide), as well as lumbar and a massage function. However, those in the passenger seat are relegated to second-class with manual backrest, fore-aft slide and no massaging.
Interior storage is great, and the ingenious tablet holder scores points for effort, but perhaps not execution. There are four tablets the system works with right now – two from Apple, two from Samsung – and that’s awesome for watching movies, but I wish Citroen had pushed it further. Maybe Europeans love tablets, though I think a little extra work could have gone into making provisions for 13-inch laptops.
Technology is strong in the C4, if not class-leading, with a 10.0-inch touchscreen that runs wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and has built-in navigation. The 5.5-inch digital driver’s display appears low-tech initially, but it has the ability to prompt navigation directions, and offers several display modes.
In the back, the Citroen’s quirky proportions help this vehicle be comfortable for four adults, with five able to fit at a push. Rear air vents are standard too, which is a lovely touch for the Australian climate.
Fitting the Chasing Cars forward- and rear-facing baby seats was also simple with the C4’s wide door apertures and generous roofline, though it can be difficult to find the Isofix points behind the zippers.
The boot volume is rated at 380 litres – almost identical to a Mk8 Volkswagen Golf – and the melange of hatch and sedan means the C4 is fairly practical, if not as capacious as other small SUVs like the Kia Seltos.
With the e-C4 under consideration for Australia, the small Citroen’s running costs could become much more affordable, but as it stands the piston C4 isn’t bad. The ADR combined fuel consumption figure is 6.1L/100km, and we averaged 7.3L/100km on our test loop.
Citroen backs the C4 with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty in Australia. While not as generous as the six years offered by previous importer Sime Darby between July 2014-November 2017, the five-year guarantee is on par with what competitors currently offer.
Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000km at a cost of $2484 for five years or 75,000km of maintenance.
With the third-generation C4, Citroen has developed a really enjoyable package that focuses on maximum occupant comfort, but retains traditional Gallic poise on testing roads.
The C4 is not perfect, but it’s fun and French in every way, and with its supple suspension, punchy engine and exploitable dynamics, this small car is a proper return to form for Citroen. Even the interior has some real substance to it, though the four-star ANCAP rating stops the C4 short of being brilliant.
If Citroen can make a business case for the electric C4, we’d love to see that car make it to Australia. Similarly, if sales take off, there could be sense in sliding a lower-grade C4 into the range with cloth seats and less embellishment at a more affordable price point.
However, we reckon the smart C4 Shine is a comfortable, fun and – most importantly – an interesting way to carry a family around in comfort.
The highly-anticipated eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf has now arrived in Australia – and it’s still the well-judged small car it always has been.
Mazda’s first ‘premium’ SUV is now a firm favourite among Australians seeking a stylish compact crossover at a reasonable price
Key specs (as tested)
About Chasing cars
Chasing Cars reviews are 100% independent.
Because we are powered by Budget Direct Insurance, we don’t receive advertising or sales revenue from car manufacturers.
We’re truly independent – giving you Australia’s best car reviews.
The estimate provided does not take into account your personal circumstances but is intended to give a general indication of the cost of insurance, in order to obtain a complete quote, please visit www.budgetdirect.com.au. Estimate includes 15%^ online discount.
Budget Direct Insurance arranged by Auto & General Services Pty Ltd ACN 003 617 909(AGS) AFSL 241 411, for and on behalf of the insurer, Auto & General Insurance Company Limited(ABN 42 111 586 353, AFSL 285 571).Because we don’t know your financial needs, we can’t advise you if this insurance will suit you. You should consider your needs and the Product Disclosure Statement before making a decision to buy insurance. Terms and conditions apply.
Indicative quote based on assumptions including postcode , 40 year old male with no offences, licence suspensions or claims in the last 5 years, a NCD Rating 1 and no younger drivers listed. White car, driven up to 10,000kms a year, unfinanced, with no modifications, factory options and/or non-standard accessories, private use only and garaged at night.
^Online Discounts Terms & Conditions
1. Discounts apply to the premium paid for a new Budget Direct Gold Comprehensive Car Insurance, Third Party Property Only or Third Party Property, Fire & Theft Insurance policy initiated online on or after 29 March 2017. Discounts do not apply to optional Roadside Assistance.
2. Discounts do not apply to any renewal offer of insurance.
3. Discounts only apply to the insurance portion of the premium. Discounts are applied before government charges, taxes, levies and fees, including instalment processing fees (as applicable). The full extent of discounts may therefore be impacted.
4. We reserve the right to change the offer without notice.