Product Type: CitroŽn cars
Newest Review: ... is a slight pain. The main display (speed, fuel, temp etc) is located in the centre of the dashboard, set back towards the windscreen ... more
Great car. Shame it's a CitroŽn.
Member Name: rdobbie
Date: 16/04/06, updated on 24/07/06 (23499 review reads)
Advantages: Steering, brakes, soundproofing, overall driving experience, cruise control as standard
Disadvantages: CitroŽn customer care, hard suspension, storage space issues, rear visibility, electronic overkill
I've had two C4s of the same spec now. Let's get this bit over with at the beginning. The first one was a late-reg 54 plate purchased new at the back end of February 2005. It was a lemon. A disaster zone on four wheels. To put it simply, it had a recurring fault which neither the CitroŽn dealer (Caledonia of Chester) or CitroŽn UK had the faintest idea how to fix. It was a very frightening and dangerous fault. On random occasions the engine would start revving of its own accord. The accelerator pedal lost all relationship to the engine. The RAC were called out five times, and they couldn't find the cause of the problem. They kept towing me back to the CitroŽn dealer. On most of these occasions I was left stranded as the dealer wouldn't give me a courtesy car and CitroŽn UK would only give me a hire car for one day, yes ONE DAY, despite the C4 being in the hands of the dealer for over three weeks on one occasion.
The dealer would keep getting their mechanic to give the car a spin round the car park, then telling me they could find no problem. They totally ignored me when I said the problem only happened when the engine was HOT after 30 minutes' driving. Every time this happened my patience ebbed away, until the fourth breakdown occurred just minutes after a long argument in which the dealer said there was definitely nothing wrong with the car, and I rejected the car under the Sale of Goods Act. They'd had ample opportunity to fix it and had proved themselves to be completely incapable of even identifying the fault, let alone fixing it. Eventually I took the scary but ultimately fruitful step of suing the dealer for the cost of a like-for-like replacement, and they settled out of court. This was after weeks of argument with a manufacturer and dealer that truly hated their customers and treated them like something they had scraped off the bottom of their shoe.
The Golden Rule here is that CitroŽn, and its dealers, are famously hellish to deal with if anything goes wrong under warranty. Don't just take my word for it - read the motoring press. CitroŽn and its network of dealers will leave you high and dry with no alternative transport while your car is off the road, often for weeks on end. When you phone the dealer they'll say they can't diagnose the problem and they'll pass the buck to CitroŽn UK. When you phone CitroŽn UK, they'll say the matter is between you and the retailer (this is strictly true) and offer no help whatsoever. You have been warned.
------ AND NOW FOR THE ACTUAL REVIEW OF THE CITROňN C4 ------
The notoriously bad reputation of CitroŽn aftersales is a great shame for all motorists. Because CitroŽn design some cracking motors, and the C4 is a particularly excellent car (when it works). And it's revolutionary in terms of bringing technology to the mass market. Understandably many people will never experience the joy of driving a CitroŽn because they're too fearful of getting the legendary runaround when things go wrong.
Despite its sporty trademark appearance my CitroŽn C4 1.4 VT coupť (the same as the one in the little picture above) is the cheapest C4 variant at only £9,695 brand new on the road (without metallic paint). Putting aside all the slightly questionable Korean offerings, it's by far the cheapest new car in its class. Whether or not that represents good value is something I'll let you be the judge of.
I've now had my second C4, an 05 plate, since January 2006 and covered 5,000 miles including some long hauls. Luckily I've had no problems this time around.
The 3-door coupť (the one they feature in the famous robot TV ad) has a highly distinctive low level split rear windscreen like the Toyota Prius. The split in the two panes of glass does impinge slightly on rear view visibility, but not to the point of sheer distraction. The dividing bar is at the height where you'd expect the headlights of the car behind you to be viewed in your mirror. It's a minor setback but something you quickly adapt to. In fact the door mirrors are the biggest cause of visibility problems as their field of vision is far too narrow: you have to readjust them for reverse parking in order to see the proximity of the rear wheels to the kerb, and then restore their position again for normal driving. This is made easier, though, by an electric 'joystick' control on the driver's door.
There is a real lack of storage space in the front of the car, and this bothers me a lot. The glove box is tiny (and taken up entirely by my sat nav when I'm not using it), the door bins are mediocre and, er, that's it, besides a couple of holes in the dash that won't hold anything more than a pack of fags. Your clutter tends to end up sliding around on the floor which is not a good thing. The all round practicality of the 3-door C4 is quite poor, really. While the boot space is reasonable, the actual load space when you fold down the rear seats is very restricted due to the squashed rear end shape. This also gives back seat passengers a lack of headroom. I'd definitely advise on the 5-door, with its bigger but less sporty rear end, if you have a family or need the load space.
The driving position is great, however, with an extremely spacious cabin for front seat passengers, and a supportive height-adjustable driver's seat and steering wheel adjustments for rake and reach, offering plenty of possible positions. The windscreen is panoramic and set a long way from the dash, more akin to that of an MPV than a medium family car, with large wipers that have anchor points on the outside, clearing the whole screen with minimal interruption to visibility. I have found the wide pillars at either side of the windscreen to block out far too much of the driver's view when turning around bends and roundabouts. This isn't so much bad design as a consequence of building an ultra-safe "cage" environment for crash protection purposes, but I do question the trade-off of decreasing driver visibility in order to enhance crash protection. Still, the C4 got a maximum 5 stars in the EuroNCAP crash tests, so at least youíre more likely to survive that crash caused by the oncoming car that you couldnít see.
The C4ís information displays are probably unlike anything youíve ever experienced before. The rev counter is an illuminated LCD graphic which appears above the steering wheel, and whose colour changes from orange to red when you over-rev. The speedometer is simply two (very large) digital numerals that appear on a console, slap-bang on the top middle of the dashboard. These are easily viewable in any light, and are combined with a digital fuel gauge that shows how many miles you can drive before refuelling (although this figure is wildly inaccurate as it depends on a fuel economy that is constantly being recalculated according to your speed). A third digital display, in the centre of the dash, acts as a multifunction computer, governing the radio/CD player, the date/time, outside temperature, telling you which door is open, and letting you set various preferences. It's a fairly simple system to navigate your way around using the iPod-style interface. Despite the three separate LCD display consoles, the information is logically laid out and is easy to live with once you get beyond the initial culture shock of this car not having any traditional dials. The C4's factory fitted radio/CD player and speaker system produces fantastic sound at high volume, although surprisingly for a car so packed with new technology, the radio isn't one of the new digital DAB breed.
CitroŽn have come up with a blinder on the C4 with the revolutionary (excuse the pun) fixed hub steering wheel. Only the outer rim revolves Ė this means the central airbag is always in the 12 o'clock position (a world first in car design). So simple, yet so clever. Why didn't all car manufacturers do this years ago? Another triumph is the cruise control which comes as standard even on the base model. This is the one thing I love most about the C4 as it makes long motorway journeys a breeze. Once over 40mph you can set the car to maintain a constant speed with one click, and then accelerate and decelerate with the up/down buttons which are well positioned on the central steering wheel hub. This means your right foot can take a well earned rest (although it should always be within reach of the brake pedal in case of emergencies). If you wish you can also set a maximum speed (presumably in case you don't trust the person you've put in charge of driving). The wheel-mounted buttons also control basic functions on the radio/CD player. The designers let themselves down, though, with a cheap plastic steering wheel that has a nasty and very dated finish. I've masked mine with a steering wheel cover made from vulcanised rubber because I hated the feel of it. The rest of the cabin materials and overall build quality feel decent, though: it's just that wretched steering wheel that feels like something that came out of a Christmas cracker. It's a massive contrast to the ultra-chic gear knob with its polished chrome fascia.
While the cruise control has to be the ultimate boon for long distance drivers, I'm irritated that the C4's computer wizardry tries to take on board TOO MUCH of the thinking process, often cutting the driver out of the loop entirely. For example, you can't listen to music if you're parked somewhere for more than 20 minutes without the engine turned on Ė "Economy Mode" kicks in, which paralyses all of the car's electrics (they should have just called it "Stone Cold Dead Mode"). OK, this is to prevent idiots from flattening their batteries, but the designers never considered the needs of motorists using the EuroTunnel who need to sit in their car for 35 minutes, who would quite like to have use of the radio and electrics, but aren't allowed (by law) to have the engine running. It's really crap, as well, if you sit in lay-bys or go camping and want to have the car's radio on without the engine. The term "Economy Mode" seems paradoxical since you are forced to turn the engine on and waste petrol if you want things to work. (I've asked at two CitroŽn dealers and apparently you can't disable Economy Mode). While on this subject, an infuriating bleep attempts to deafen you if someone in the car doesn't have their seat belt fastened. Sometimes you'll have legitimate reason not to be wearing a belt, if you're driving very slowly in a car park or on private land, and you'll feel it's your own judgement call and none of the car's business.
All models in the range have a remote central locking key fob which features a button to turn the car's headlamps on and off. It's great for showing off with, even if it won't make the car dance like a robot. I broke my key fob (technically my fault although it was extremely brittle, and shouldn't have shattered so easily). It's not like the old days where you go to the local key cutter and pay a few quid. Now you have to go to a CitroŽn dealer and pay them to not only supply a new key fob but to programme it to work with your car. Total cost £160. Trebles all round at CitroŽn HQ. Suddenly their real motives behind all this electronic gadgetry become so clear.
So how about the driving experience? Well it's superb, actually. The soundproofing gives your ears an above-average degree of protection from road and engine noise. The road holding blew me away when I first threw my C4 around some twisting country lanes: it grips the road like it's on rails. The 1.4 litre 16 valve engine is extremely punchy and rewarding. The gearbox is precise and very easy on the left hand, and the clutch is easy to master smoothly. For a base model of a mid-priced family hatchback to feel so sporty and invigorating is quite remarkable. And this is what I adore about the C4: it's got FRENCH FLAIR that you'll never find in a Ford Focus or VW Golf. It makes every trip a delight. The power steering is tight and responsive, providing just the right level of feedback whether on a motorway or trying to manoeuvre into a tight parking space. My only minor grumble would be the stiff, sporty suspension which would be wonderful in a perfect world of high quality road surfaces, but given the appalling state of Britain's roads, every pothole sends a violent jolt through the whole car, and I wonder just how long the C4's suspension is going to hold out against the daily assault course of roads in my area which are like something from a third world African state.
The C4's braking system is outstanding and was judged to be the best in its class by Auto Express magazine. The brakes employ a computerised brake-force distribution system (EBD) which senses the urgency in your foot and applies the stoppers with the appropriate amount of power. They're also Anti-Lock (ABS), and mine have certainly saved the life (or at least multiple fractures) of one lunatic pedestrian who decided to run out in front of me without looking.
Economy wise, the 1.4 16v petrol engine has given me an average of 42mpg, but my driving style is probably more frugal than most (I change to 4th at 30mph, and 5th at 40mph on the flat). The service intervals are an impressive 20,000 miles which make the C4 a relatively economical car to run.
Overall the C4 is beautiful to look at and beautiful to drive. Despite all my anguish at the hands of the dealer and manufacturer, I still love the car. It's deliciously modern and groundbreaking in so many ways. It has a few little niggles in the design department, but which car doesn't? The real tragedy is that this car is let down by what is surely the most inept and uncaring aftersales support of any car manufacturer (have I mentioned that yet?).
Long term? Well, CitroŽn are still languishing a very long way from the top of the reliability tables although the C4 shows some promise in bucking that trend, having gained an impressive 30 places against its predecessor the Xsara in Auto Expressís Driver Power Top 100 survey 2006 (it also wiped the floor with the Peugeot 307, the Renault Megane and the new shape Vauxhall Astra). Depreciation is heavy on all CitroŽns, thanks to the cut-throat special offers on new models. But since you saved a few extra grand in the first place, itís all relative in West Virginia, tiger.
If you're looking for something with that extra bit of reassurance, don't touch the C4 - get a Golf or Focus and keep your cardigan on. But if you like being a little bit risky, the C4 has got far bigger rewards to offer.
I'd have given this car 4 stars without hesitation but I've knocked 1 star off because of the CitroŽn aftersales experience. Therefore if you're considering buying a used C4 that's approaching the end of its warranty you can ignore this rating as it's largely irrelevant.
Summary: Never a dull moment...
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