At last, Citroen can offer a credible but properly distinctive family hatch. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the third generation C4.
This third generation C4 is a far more creditable offering for Citroen in the family hatchback sector. And, the French brand hopes, can play its part in rejuvenating this segment by integrating SUV style and the option of full electric power into traditional family hatch design. Plus there's a clever suspension system to make this contender feel really Citroen-esque.
"This car", says Citroen CEO Vincent Cobee, "is Citroen to the core", this third generation C4 model's task being to return the brand to credibility in the Focus and Golf-dominated family hatch sector. The last C4, launched in 2010, wasn't particularly Citroen and wasn't particular successful either, selling mainly on low price - and towards the end of its life not even on that. In 2017, Citroen tried to replace it with an evolved family hatch-orientated version of its C4 Cactus crossover, but that didn't work either. This third generation C4, launched in mid-2020, plugs plays the crossover card too in terms of some aspects of its visual appeal, but unlike with the outgoing C4 Cactus, in buying one, you won't feel you're being forced into an SUV rather against your will. Instead, this C4 plays to the things people tend to like about Citroen - innovative design, a distinctive feel and exemplary ride quality. Plus there's an all-electric e-C4 version too.
Citroen hopes that the way this car drives is what will sell it to you - or more specifically, the way this car rides. Like the outgoing C4 Cactus, it features a clever Progressive Hydraulic suspension set-up. Here, the car's springs and shock absorbers work in concert with hydraulic compression and rebound stops, which are supposed to slow body movement over bumps and tarmac tears. You'll want to know about the engines. There's the brand's usual PureTech 1.2-litre 3 cylinder petrol unit, available in three states of tune with 100, 130 or 155hp options. All variants will be front driven, with more powerful models available with an 8-speed auto gearbox. Citroen also offers its usual 1.5-litre BlueHDi 100hp diesel, available either with a 6-speed manual gearbox or an 8-speed automatic. New for the C4 range this time round is an all-electric version, the e-C4, which uses a 50kWh battery powering an electric motor and developing 135hp. It can make 62mph from rest in 9.7 seconds and go on to a top speed of 93mph, but the more important stat is this model's ability to cover a WLTP-rated range of 217 miles on a single charge. To boost this capability, the car can recover energy when decelerating or braking. And there are three drive modes - 'Eco', 'Normal' and 'Sport' - that can vary the level of engine power and the energy draw from the air conditioning to boost driving range.
What this MK3 C4 does beyond any doubt is to confirm that the delineating line between family hatch and compact SUV design is being ever more blurred. Which many folk in search of a compact hatch will think to be no bad thing. Citroen says the crossover cues aren't for crossover purposes. The higher-than-Focus-class-average 156mm ride height is there to offer a high vantage point and better all-round visibility. The matte black-finished wheel arches aren't for arduous tracks but to prevent supermarket car park dings. And there's plenty of signature Citroen design, with stylishly-shaped signature lights and chromed Chevrons that stretch across the car's width. Plus there's and an air intake grille featuring a pattern first seen on the brand's recent 19_19 concept car. Inside, the dash gets the kind of big 10-inch centre touchscreen that's in current vogue. And a fully digitalised instrument binnacle. Thankfully, unlike with the old C4 Cactus, the climate controls are separated out from the screen on the centre stack. Six interior colour schemes are on offer, all aimed at making you feel as 'if you're in your living room'. For the rear seat, the brand claims best-in-class knee room and offers a wide range of storage compartments. Plus there's a decently-sized boot.
Expect pricing in the usual £20,000-£30,000 bracket common to Focus class family hatchbacks these days; that's for the combustion-engined models, the most powerful versions of which come with the option of Citroen's EAT8 auto gearbox. You'll be looking at closer to £35,000 for the all-electric e-C4 version. Try and stretch to a C4 variant with the brand's Advanced Comfort seats, which offer extra support and include optional heating and massaging systems. Various interior colour scheme packages allow you to personalise the cabin. And wheel sizes range from 16 to 18-inches, with the e-C4 featuring an exclusive 18-inch 'Crosslite' alloy wheel design. The freshly designed 10-inch digital dashboard and instrument binnacle comes as part of the package, as does wireless 'phone charging and 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring connectivity. A nice optional touch you might well want to consider is a full-HD camera built into the rear view mirror which can take photos or video stored on a 16GB memory card. Safety-wise, there's no fewer than 20 different driver assistance features, including Highway Driving Assist and a 'level 2' semi-autonomous drive system incorporating Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist.
Citroen has a strong reputation for low running costs thanks to the way that the design of its cars keep weight down and because of the efficiency of its PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel engines. That continues here, the Puretech petrol models benefiting from engines designed to reduce frictional losses in operation. The PSA Group's BlueHDi diesel technology is based around a clever three-step after-treatment system designed to better eliminate the four nasty pollutants that diesel units usually put out - namely unburnt hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates. But this time round with a C4, you may not want to have a combustion engine. The full battery-powered e-C4 is fitted with an 11kW charger, which can charge from empty in around 5 hours using a 32amp home wallbox. It also has 100kW fast charger, which can achieve an 80% charge in around half an hour using a public fast charger. As usual with an electric car, you can control charging via your smartphone and take advantage of lower cost off-peak electricity tariffs. Whatever your choice of C4, you'll properly want to keep garage costs in check by opting for the affordable 3 year servicing plan that is available at point of purchase. Finally, there's the usual Citroen three year / 60,000 mile warranty.
All the ingredients for a strong showing are here as this third generation C4 nods to the two currently trending themes of crossover style and electrified power. Yet delivers them within a family hatchback package that traditional buyers in this segment can be comfortable with - quite literally, thanks to the Progressive Hydraulic Suspension set-up. The French maker thinks this sector is 'right for changes' and this car delivers them without getting carried away with innovation, as its C4 Cactus predecessor rather did. And it's obviously significant that within the range lies the brand's first credible full-electric model. Ultimately though, what really matters is that what we have here is a proper Citroen - with all that means. Thank goodness for that.