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Citroen Hopes C4 Technology, Good Ideas Will Capture Sales
Handsome C4 Enters Tough Sector Brimming With Great Cars
Speedo Display, Speed Limiter, Lane Warning To Name But A Few
Not Quite an Orgasmatron, But Getting There
Rating: **** out of 5
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershirex
In Charlotte Gray, a movie about a brave young British women spying in Vichy France, theres a scene when the Gestapo show up in a black 1930s Traction Avant Citroen.
It just reminded me that whenever I see this old Citroen, I muse about buying one. Whenever I see old black-and-white 1960s movies set in France, I have the same feeling if a wonderful looking Citroen DS hoves into view. That says a lot about the glory that was once Citroen. Unfortunately, that went south somewhere between then and now, probably never to be revived.
The new Citroen C4 is no match for these wondrous products from the past, but with its plethora of high technology gizmos, the car may well set off some excitement among car buyers.
Modern cars are so well built and engineered that they have almost become commodities. Look at the small family car sector. Theres the Renault Megane, Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall/Opel Astra, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Peugeot 307, Mazda3, Honda Civic, and as from November, the Citroen C4. Not a lemon in sight.
Each of these cars, and more besides, are marvellous examples of modern engineering and design. You could make an unassailable case to buy each and everyone. They are dynamic, well made, and look good.
You could try and differentiate them on quality. That would have been easy, say, 5 years ago when VW was the leader of the pack. Now thats not really true.
Maybe depreciation would sort the winners from the losers? That might make it tougher for the likes of Renault, Citroen and Peugeot. But keen prices might win back the initiative for the French manufacturers.
And theres style. Sure, the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla look a bit bland, but thats more than compensated for by reports from organisations like J.D.Power, which show Japanese cars lead the way in durability and reliability.
So Citroen has come up with the new C4. Even if it turns out to be the equal of the competition, it needs to be really something to win over buyers.
Thats where the gizmos come in.
To be fair, gizmos suggest vacuous gimmicks that seek to draw attention, but dont do anything useful, and thats not the case with the C4. Rather, I should say Citroen has introduced a series of high-technology ideas to set the C4 apart, which are very useful and desirable as well. My favourite is the translucent digital speedo display, which is sited in the centre and top of the dashboard. This produces perfectly readable digital numbers in all light, including bright sunshine, thanks to technology that adjusts to the light. I can attest to the efficacy of this while driving on a sunny morning around Melton Mowbray with the sun low on the horizon and pointing straight into my eyes. A regular Speedo would have been unreadable, but the C4s came through loud and clear.
Fascist, Police State
Another useful bit of kit in these speed-camera plagued times is the speed limiter. A quick flick of a couple of switches and you can make sure the car doesnt exceed the prevailing speed limit, or whatever number above that you feel will not trigger mindless, fascist, police state reaction. In case of emergency, you can override the limiter by flooring the accelerator. The speed-limiter first appeared in Renaults luxury market pretender the Vel Satis, and Citroens recently face-lifted C5 also has one. A must-have I would say.
Then theres the Lane Departure Warning System, which uses sensors to detect if the car is drifting across lanes because of driver tiredness or loss of concentration. The system, which also appears with the C5, sets off a vibrator-like device in the drivers seat when the car crosses a white-line, and has the pleasant secondary effect of inspiring muted noises of feminine pleasure as well, at least it did with the female co-driver on the press road-test. Its not quite the Orgasmatron, which Jane Fonda occupied so memorably in the move Barbarella, but this device is impressive.
French Car Crime Must Be Bad
Just to show that Citroens designers are really racking their brains to come up with helpful ideas, there is a plastic strip which protrudes from the bottom, front edge of the passenger door. When the door is closed, this strip covers the switch which opens the bonnet, and will thwart car thieves who might seek to break in, open the bonnet and hot-wire the engine into life. It also makes me think that car crime levels in France must be really bad, if they are so serious about combating this.
The C4 has laminated glass side windows, which make breaking and entering much more difficult, and the interior quieter. Regular glass shatters with one blow; laminated glass is much more difficult to penetrate, and will thwart the thief who hopes to smash, grab something valuable he can see, and hotfoot it in a couple of seconds.
Other useful ideas include a steering wheel with a fixed centre, which allows for more switches to be placed closer to the driver, and a bigger and better airbag. Theres a plastic, folding boot partition which creates four separate compartments; cruise control, directional headlights, a built-in-air freshener with a choice of 9 different scents, parking sensors, rain sensitive wipers and a tyre pressure detector.
Oh, and as maximum revs are approached the rev-counter flows red. I have to admit that this is a bit vacuous.
With the exception of the rev-counter, this is an awesome set of options, which no doubt the rest of the competition will be forced to match.
The C4 replaces the late and unlamented Xsara. This was truly a throwback to a different age, being bland and poorly built. The C4 is so much better. It drives well and has striking good looks, building on and stretching the egg-like shape of the cute little C3. The front shows off the new chrome double chevron grille to maximum effect. The hatchback rear slopes attractively. Theres a three-door version as well, and instead of just eliminating 2 doors and calling it a coupe, Citroen has actually designed a separate coupe version with a different body shape back from where the front doors end. This coupe design though is a bit more controversial. The slopping roof comes to an abrupt end, rather Ford Anglia like, and the rear window angles back on itself slightly. I found the design to be a bit over-the-top; no I really mean ugly.
There are 1.4, 1.6 or 2.0 litre petrol engines to choose from, and 2 1.6 diesels and a 2.0 litre. I prefer the 2.0 litre diesel, which is also used in the Ford Focus. Ford buys some its diesels from Peugeot-Citroen. This 2.0 litre HDi motor is a gem, giving all the acceleration you need and quiet, high speed cruising.
C4 is a small family car to be reckoned with. But dont expect it to star in the remake of Charlotte Grey in 50 years time.
Neil Winton November 28, 2004
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