My affection towards French cars is well documented, mainly because they usually have something quirky about them.
They may not be best looking or even the best driving machines, but there's something about the arrogance with which the French design their cars that always makes me smile. It's as if they notice what is lacking in a specific segment of the automotive market and then go out of their way to create something that would fill the gap. Sometimes, they just create it anyway.
While both Renault and Peugeot have created some fabulously strange-looking things over the years, it's Citroën that has consistently taken automotive design to new levels and, in the process, created some of the world's most iconic motoring memories. Take the small 2CV for example, that did wonders for personal mobility back in the ___. And let's not forget the magnificent DS models, which were produced from 1955 to 1975. These cars were revolutionary not only in design and intent, but also in terms of technological innovation.
To rekindle the flame of passion many people once had for the Citroën brand, the French marque not only looked into the future, but also into their illustrious past, for some inspiration. Yes, creating an all-new 2CV could have worked, but it would have been quite kitsch. The retro-look may have worked for the MINI and the Fiat 500, but just look at Volkswagen's Beetle – catch 22. Instead Citroën decided to revive the DS moniker, paying homage to a car that had an eye-catching interior, stylish interior and excellent dynamics. Last year saw the release of the brilliant DS3, which was an SA COTY finalist, followed up this month with the brand new DS4.
First unveiled to the public at the Paris Motor Show in 2010, the DS4 immediately grabbed attention for its coupe-like styling and raised body. It is in fact a four-door hatchback, but thanks to painstaking design, the rear door handles have been hidden in the frame to create a seamless coupe profile. It appears at once sporty, but with its higher stance also has a decidedly utilitarian look, giving customers who want that something different the best of both worlds. The prominent wheelarches place the focus wholly on the large wheels and exquisitely designed alloy rims, complemented by equally arresting LED lights at the front and rear that give the DS4 a unique light signature at night.
Inside you will find space for five adults, with three-full-sized seats in the rear. The luggage compartment offers a spacious 370 litres and a host of other clever storage solutions. Intricate detailing abounds throughout the cabin, ranging from tasteful chrome touches to extremely high-quality leather for the seats. A large panoramic windscreen is standard and offers up to 45 degrees of upward vision, giving occupants at the front outstanding visibility while creating a light, airy interior. The cockpit is driver focused, as in the DS3, with a sculpted dashboard comprising superbly soft materials. The aluminium pedals, embossed leather door handles and ambient interior lighting provides further attention to detail.
Owners can furthermore personalise their car's interior, as the DS4 is available with a choice of three leather combinations, including a two-tone option. The range-topping models can also be ordered with a "bracelet" design on the seats that hints at the links on the strap of an expensive watch – it's truly magnificent. The DS4 has also been given a generous helping of Citroën's "Créative Technologie" in terms of its equipment, including an audio system with processing software to deliver high quality, authentic sound evenly throughout the cabin, massaging front seats with electric lumbar adjustment and automatic climate control with three air flow rates.
The DS4 isn't skimpy when it comes to safety features either, and include a blind spot and tyre pressure monitoring system, (optional) static cornering lights, dual-function xenon steering lights that can swivel by up to 15 degrees (also optional), intelligent traction control, hill start assist, a programmable cruise control and speed limiter as well as a parking space gap measurement system and electric safety brake.
Powering the DS4 is a choice of petrol and diesel engines, each with the familiar French VTi, THP and HDi nomenclatures. The same basic 1.6-litre petrol engine, developed in conjunction with the BMW Group, is offered in two power output versions, namely as the 88kW normally-aspirated VTi 120 (the 120 referring to the engine's horsepower) and the 147kW THP 200. The sole diesel derivative, the 163kW HDI 160, offers a delicious 340Nm of torque. This engine boasts a combined cycle consumption of just 5.1-litres/100km while emitting 134g/km of CO2.
The two VTi 120 models – Style and Style Pack – use five speed manual gearboxes to transmit the power to the front wheels, while the THP 200 and HDi 160 models are fitted with a six-speed manual transmission. The electro-hydraulic steering system has had its response sharpened for the DS4, while the suspension has been stiffened to contribute to the dynamic experience. Braking efficiency of the high performance THP 200 model has been boosted with the fitment of 340mm ventilated discs up front and 290mm discs at the rear.
Our launch route included an extensive combination of different driving conditions, ranging from congested city traffic to sweeping open roads. The bulk of my time behind the steering wheel was spent in the HDI 160 Sport and I was again impressed with the engine's responsiveness and frugality. I drove the THP 200 Sport next and was equally impressed, but couldn't fathom why one would logically prefer the petrol model to the diesel. I tested the normally aspirated C4 VTI 120 earlier this year and hated it, so it will definitely not make my list of recommended engines for the DS4 either.
Prices range from R254 900 for the VTi 120 Style and R272 900 for the VTi 120 Style Pack to R319 900 for both the THP 200 Sport and the HDI 160 Sport. These prices include a 5-year/100 000km service plan and 3-year/100 000 km manufacturer's warranty, which can be extended to 5-years/100 000km at extra cost.
Many of my colleagues expressed a slight disappointment because it didn't have the same sporty demeanour than the DS3, but what they failed to realize is that the DS4 is not supposed to be a larger version of the DS3. It's a car with a completely different purpose. As with most French cars, the DS4 is not perfect. It is however beautiful to look at, drives well and oozes style which, in combination with the excellent THP and HDi engines, make it something unique and special. It's a car for non-conformists and individuals with their own style. I get it, and I like it. A lot.
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