Citroën C4 – French playboy with knobs on!

Due to an unfortunate incident that has befallen us, the Daewoo Leganza that has been handed down to us by my mother is probably on its way to the auction house where it will fetch bugger all. The good news is, the write off has paid us out a reasonable sum of money to fund “our” new second hand car. We searched, researched while pondering long and hard about the car that we wanted to own. Yes I know of the existence of Mazda 3′, Ford Focus’s and Toyota Corolla’s but the parameters of our search didn’t yield the results that we wanted. The Mazda 3 would have been an ideal car but it was out of price range, we wanted a vehicle that was no more than 2-3 years old and under 50,000 kilometres, a 4 cylinder car that was fuel efficient and lastly something with a bit of character and road presence. It obviously would not have the same presence as a Ferrari or an Aston Martin but at least it won’t look the same as the ten billion Corolla’s on the road. The Ford Focus was the other top candidate, it was affordable, it looked mildly exciting but mostly because I had Colin McRae’s influence in mind. The run of the mill hatchback from Focus is quite simple, some features are lacking which you would need to pay extra for i.e. cruise controls, power windows for the back etc. We were almost set on the focus until I laid eyes on this car…

With all that being said, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a French car without reading Jeremy Clarkson’s review.

I have some donkeys. The small one that looks like a cow is called Eddie. The quiet grey one that doesn’t do much, except bite the hand that feeds it, is called Geoffrey, after the chancellor that did for Mrs Thatcher. And then there’s the beautiful one: she’s called Kristin Scott Donkey.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Ms Scott Thomas. I’ve seen The English Patient 20 times, except for the bathroom scene of course. I’ve seen that so often the DVD’s got a hole in it.

As I’m sure we all know, Kristin lost both her father and her stepfather in air crashes. She went to Paris to study drama and still lives there today with her obstetrician husband, François Olivennes — a man for whom I’ve felt nothing but hatred. Until now. Because the crush is over.

In a recent newspaper interview Kristin laid into Britain, saying it was stuck in the 1950s, that everyone who goes to hospital dies, and that we’re all fat, acquisitive television addicts.

Now I’m sorry but no one ever emigrates because of the success they’ve enjoyed at home. No one ever says, “Well I have a happy home life, I’m rich and I have many friends . . . so I’m off”. The only reason anyone has for going to live in another country is because they’ve cocked everything up in their own. So their views are bound to be jaundiced.

Everyone you see planting olive groves on those endless “new life abroad” programmes is inevitably a sad and lonely individual who thinks their homeland is to blame for everything that’s gone wrong in their empty, shallow, friend-free, halitosis-ridden lives.

This is why Australians are all such chippy bastards. Because every single one of them is descended from someone who, at some point, made a complete and utter hash of their entire life. This means they all have a failure gene in their make-up.

Of course, I also think that Britain is a nation of inarticulate, pugilistic slobs. I agree with Kristin, completely, but I’m allowed to say this because I live here. I’m also allowed to say that I much prefer France. I like France so much, in fact, that I’d like to demonstrate the point publicly, by buying a French car.

Of course, a French car is built by disgruntled and uninterested Algerians in a factory with a floor made out of mud, so it’s not going to last very long. But then it’s a statement more than a car really. I mean, a French car shows other road users that you loathe Tony Blair, that you disapprove of his stance in Iraq and that you prefer a quail’s egg to a burger any day of the week.

The problem is that while the French are very good at mushrooms and shooting pigs, they’ve been in an automotive oxbow lake since about 1959. Now, though, we have the Citroën C4.

You’ll no doubt have seen this on your television, turning into a robot and dancing. Well, in real life the car can’t do that. But it can do pretty well everything else. It may be the same size as a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra but it costs less, and it can do far, far more.

For instance, if you nod off while driving down the motorway, sensors under the front bumper will detect the moment when you stray into another lane and set off a vibrator in the seat to wake you up. My wife liked this feature so much she drove all the way to London last week on the hard shoulder.

Then there’s the steering wheel. The rim turns but the middle bit stays still so all the buttons are always in the same place, and my, what a lot of buttons there are. You can set the sat nav, organise the cruise control, change the radio station, adjust the volume and answer the phone. There are so many buttons, in fact, that you’ll almost certainly stray out of your lane while trying to find the right one.

Don’t worry, though, because if you don’t want a Meg Ryan moment there’s even a button to turn the Rabbit off.

Now. Have you ever inadvertently pulled the bonnet catch while driving along? No, neither have I, but that hasn’t stopped Citroën fitting a flap to make sure you can’t, unless the passenger door is wide open.

I bet you have worried, however, that your car will be broken into. Well the C4 has an alarm and an immobiliser as you’d expect, but in addition its side windows are made from laminated glass. It’s not bulletproof, but it’s the next best thing.

Next up, we have the air-conditioning system, which comes with a little flap into which you can insert a tailor-made capsule full of your favourite air freshener. That beats hanging a Christmas tree that smells of lavatory cleaner from your rear-view mirror.

At this point I should draw your attention to the digital speedometer that is designed to ensure it’s readable even in bright sunlight, the double door seals to cut wind noise, the nine speakers, the six airbags and the 280-watt amplifier. And then there’s the electronic brakeforce distribution, the antilock brakes, the electronic stability control and the emergency braking assistance, all of which have helped the C4 get a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

I should remind you at this point that I’m not reviewing a £100,000 S-class Mercedes. I’m writing about a normal, everyday family hatchback; a family hatchback that’s an orgasmatron with swivelly headlamps. Yup, when you turn the bit of the wheel that does actually turn, the searchlight-bright xenon bulbs turn, too, illuminating bits of the road that would otherwise be hidden.

Of course, the old DS had this feature about 200 years ago, but it didn’t have front and rear parking sensors, or wipers that come on when it rains, or lights that come on when it’s dark, or tyres that let you know when they have developed a leak.

It’s not often that I’m stunned by any car, leave alone a family hatchback. But the C4’s equipment package genuinely had me reeling in open-mouthed disbelief.

And now you’re expecting the but. The moment when the whole pack of cartes comes crashing down.

Well, sorry, but the five-door version is elegant and the three-door is properly striking. And I must say the 2 litre VTS coupé I drove went, handled and stopped with much aplomb and vigour. It wasn’t as much fun as a Golf GTI because it felt heavy. But then it would, with all that stuff weighing it down.

If you don’t fancy the hot version, don’t despair because there are 22 models on offer, including four trim levels, five different petrol engines and a choice of three diesels. You’ve got to be able to find something you like in there.

You’ll certainly be able to find something you can afford because even the VTS rocket ship is listed at £17,195. That’s a full £2,000 less than a Golf GTI and that on its own is a good enough reason to ignore the VW. But then you have the £1,100 cashback deal that Citroën is offering at the moment. Factor that in and the price falls to just £16,095. And that . . . that is truly incredible value.


Model: Citroën C4 VTS coupé
Engine type: Four-cylinder, 1997cc
Power: 180bhp @ 7000rpm
Torque: 149 lb ft @ 4750rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel/CO2: 33.6mpg / 200g/km
Insurance: Group 15
Acceleration: 0-60mph: 8.3sec
Top speed: 140mph
Price: £17,195
Verdict: C’est magnifique!
Rating: Four stars

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