Citroen DS4 DStyle HDi 160
Bling. Unless you’ve been watching lots of Jay-Z videos on MTV recently, it's probably not the first thing you think about when it comes to cars. But we reckon Citroen’s DS4 is one of the first cars to truly embrace bling and Citroen’s hoping that – dripping with chrome and loaded with kit – it might lure you out of the premium German car you’re currently driving.
The DS4 is part of a new range of Citroens carrying the DS name. In the Citroen Lexicon, DS used to mean a beautiful, innovative French saloon from the 50s. But re-imagined for today, Citroen says it stands for 'different spirit'. It's launching an entire range of cars under the badge, which started with the Mini-rivaling DS3. And the DS4? The DS4 is a jacked-up, almost crossover-sized hatch that occupies little more road space than a Golf. Citroen claims it’s a coupé and while we might not agree, in relative terms, this is a Superdry hoodie to the regular C4's beige cardigan.
You sit much higher than a regular hatchback in the DS4 and indeed from the front, the car reads like an SUV. It’s at the back where things get interesting though, because the roofline rakes down and the side window-line whips up to meet it, hence Citroen’s claim of it being a coupé. Cunningly, the rear door handle's integrated into that window line, so the idea is that you don't 'read' the rear door when you look at the side of the car.
We think that's marketing waffle and it certainly doesn't feel like a coupe in the way that an Audi TT does. Yet in fairness to Citroen, two of our friends completely missed the fact that it had rear doors; trying to clamber into the back by way of the front when they came to get in it.
And if you buy the appearance, the DS4 offers an interesting package, because you get a greater sense of space inside and a bigger boot than the equivalent C4. We reckon it’d be the perfect for a young family who need something practical but don't want the image that goes with an MPV. If only that side window line hadn’t meant the rear windows can’t be opened.
And the bling? It’s plain to see in all its chrome, gloss and black and white goodness. Sure, our test car took this to extremes with its pearlescent white paint and wheels - a friend unkindly christened it the “my-little-pony look” - but whichever DS4 you choose, you’ll get chrome, gloss, LEDs and big wheels and the ability to do some personalising. We think P Diddy would be proud.
And, moving inside, the theme continues. We tested the DS4 in mid-level DStyle trim and as standard you get - deep breath - automatic headlamps and wipers, leather interior, parking sensors front and rear, cruise control and speed-limiter function, massaging seats, Bluetooth phone connection and USB audio, a super-sized 'visio' windscreen which stretches back into the roof. And - the gimmickiest thing we've ever seen in a car - the ability to change the colour of the lighting on the gauges from white through to blue.
We didn't find the driving position particularly comfortable, but we got seamless pairing between the car and iPhone4 and the ability to have a totally clear phone conversation at motorway speeds. Our only real gripe was with the optional Sat Nav unit, which is neither a touchscreen nor an iDrive-type system, meaning you’re endlessly turning the knob you use to tune the radio to make address entries.
Better then, to use the vast array of buttons on the (huge) steering wheel most of the time – they control most of the cabin functions and look confusing at first – but after a week they make the centre stack largely redundant.
Our favourite function was the parking aid. At first we thought this system would actually park the car for you in a parallel park situation, but in fact, it's simply a button you can press which measures a space you're driving past and tells you whether the car will fit in it. Whether your parking skills are up to getting it in said space is another matter entirely.
We took the DS4 the length of country, from London to Glasgow via Leeds and Edinburgh, and it really turns heads on the road. The 160bhp diesel engine with 6-speed gearbox were a fantastic combination on a trip like this - quiet and refined - it means you can overtake with real confidence on A-roads and it cruises extremely quietly on the motorway.
For something that’s a little taller than normal, the DS4 didn’t roll in corners either, it just seemed to grip and go, and those 18-inch wheels didn’t wreck the ride, much to our surprise.
You can get a lower-powered diesel or one of three petrol engines too, but this higher-powered diesel makes great sense because you get relatively low company car tax benefit-in-kind thanks to a 134g/km rating for CO2. And despite doing our usual lead-footed efforts, we averaged 43mpg.
Considering the controversy Citroen caused when it reintroduced the DS nameplate, it's ironic that we find ourselves warming to the DS4 for the same reasons that the company’s products has always been famous – it’s the different, unusual and in places idiosyncratic choice.
Would you rather buy something predictable, premium and (ultimately) made in Germany, or are you ready for something a little different? Your answer to that question will dictate your view of the DS4 and we’d expect (and understand) most of you to plump for the former. Which is tough, because Citroen wants the DS range to be perceived as premium, and has priced it to suit. When you check the price, just remember that most of the kit standard here you’ll be paying extra for on a BMW, Audi or Merc.
But if you are in the minority that’s bored of the mainstream choice, or just fancy something different entirely, this really could be for you. And the most impressive aspect of the DS4 is that, for all it's niche-busting, bling-tastic design, it’s a very impressive and in many ways sensible car. It’s one of those cars which, when it arrived, we suspected we’d come to see as a novelty that made less sense the more time you spent with it. But in reality, the opposite was true – the more time we spent with it, the more sense it made and the greater appeal it had. So if you fancy a change from the norm, we'd encourage you to try one, just perhaps not in my-little-pony white.