THE Citroen C4 might appear more conventional than before but it's far from your average family hatch in 1.6-litre petrol form equipped with Citroen's ESG automated manual transmission. Keenly priced and strong on comfort, safety and equipment, the C4 rewards those who can see beyond the obvious choices.
Citroen is looking to build on the record established by the last C4 with an all-new model which features less striking styling than its coupe-aping predecessor but which instead uses smart technology to remind us of what Citroens used to be about - comfort, quality and refinement.
Across the range, the five and six-speeders on offer are a joy to use. The 155bhp 1.6 petrol-engined model tested here, however, is available only with Citroen's EGS automated manual gearbox and it's not one of the better examples of its type, making driving smoothly a tricky endeavour. Stick with a manual and you're rewarded with a car that's uncannily refined and available with a great range of highly efficient engines.
All the C4's petrol engines were co-developed with BMW and start with a 95bhp 1.4-litre engine. There's also a 120bhp 1.6-litre unit. But here it's the 155bhp 1.6 THP teamed with the EGS gearbox and the engine, at least, is great. It sprints to 60mph from rest in just 8.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 134mph.
The new C4 is a bigger car both inside and out and Citroen has also clearly made a concerted effort to improve the perceived quality. The old C4 felt a reassuringly solid thing but this car feels as if it belongs in the class above.
Space inside is about par for the class, with rear legroom only an issue if you try to seat tall passengers. Headroom is better than average as is access. The boot's a decent size too although the rear seats don't fold fully flat.
The C4 has always been a competitively priced car and this latest model is no exception. The range opens at around £15,500 for the 1.4-litre VTi engine and tops out at around £21,500 for the 150bhp 2.0-litre diesel.
Citroen has worked hard to improve the efficiency of its engine range in recent years and it can now stand toe to toe with the very best. The C4 is one of the few family hatches where the diesel engines aren't the automatic pick. Yes, they're very good but, given its 155bhp, it's hard to ignore the 1.6 THP petrol units which will manage 44.8mpg and 148g/km of CO2.
If you're the sort of car buyer who looks beyond the superficial I suspect the Citroen C4 might win your respect. It's not a flashy, overt sort of car, concentrating instead on refinement, quality and efficiency. There is no big sell to it either, no overriding feature that makes it stand out in a packed market place. In doing the sensible things extremely well, the C4 might have underplayed its hand but it's a vehicle that seems to get better the longer you spend with it.