Is it an SUV, a hatchback, or a coupe? Ryan Bubear drives the Citroën DS4 THP 200 Sport...
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If an amorous kangaroo were to somehow mate with a grizzly bear, the resulting offspring would quite likely be considered something of a mongrel, if not mind-bogglingly terrifying. Indeed, the combination would not be pretty at all.
But "pretty" is exactly the word that comes to mind when first laying eyes on the Citroën DS4's ample rear end, shapely profile and sculpted front-end. You see, unlike our genetically freakish petting zoo horror (just imagine all that furious furriness hopping along), the DS4 manages to marry a set of seemingly incongruous styling elements, and not come out looking like it was beaten with a massive ugly stick.
The French manufacturer's daring designers were faced with the daunting task of blending a set of near-incompatible styling cues — from high-riding SUV all the way to sporty coupe — to create a vehicle that still boasted the practicality of a large hatchback. A 4.3-metre-long automotive equivalent of Frankenstein's monster, you say? Well, surprisingly, no. Somehow they managed to make the DS4 enormously aesthetically appealing, if a touch eccentric.
The DS4 is the second model in Citroën's upmarket sub-brand, and like the DS3 before it, goes about challenging conventions in a way only the French can. Although it is based on the C4, the DS4 is not merely a humdrum hatch in an expensive suit, sporting some shiny cufflinks. No, it is a comprehensive reworking. In fact, of all the body panels, only the bonnet is shared between the two models.
An SUV, coupe or hatch?
The DS4's raised ride height gives it an almost SUV-like stance, while at first glance its flowing lines could easily see it mistaken for a coupe. Yes, it is initially a bit confusing to the senses. But while something like the outlandish Nissan Juke — with which the DS4 shares a certain quirkiness — relies on a shock factor to get attention out on the road, this car draws you in with its sultry shape and stunning detail.
That said, certain sacrifices have been made in the quest for jaw-dropping looks. The rear doors — which have their handles craftily hidden in the frames — are decidedly small, and make entering the rear passenger space quite a chore for those of us with longish frames. And, bizarrely, the rear windows do not open. At all. The rear doors end in frighteningly sharp points, while the coupe-like lines also cut into space on the back bench.
Luggage space also takes a bit of a hit, but is still a VW Golf-rivalling 360-odd litres, while rear visibility is slightly compromised, although this last shortcoming is at least partly taken care of by parking sensors and a blind spot alert system. Yes, the DS4 surrenders a touch of practicality, but it gains plenty of style in the process.
Understated LED daytime running lights curl around the front fog lights — they're not as in-your-face as the DS3's "fang-like" equivalents — while the rear light clusters also get the daytime running treatment.
So, what's under the bonnet? Well, the DS4 makes use of a few different versions of the proven 1.6-litre petrol engine developed in conjunction with BMW — and shared with the DS3, Mini and a number of Peugeots — as well as a two-litre diesel unit. All models are covered by a five-year or 100 000km service plan and a three-year or 100 000km manufacturer's warranty.
We had the range-topping THP 200 Sport (which runs on tasty 18-inch alloys) on test. This turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol unit is an absolute gem, and punches well above its weight, pumping out 147kW at 5800rpm and a useful 275Nm at just 1700rpm. Its sporty character is boosted by a delightfully throaty — although artificially enhanced, I was disappointed to find out — exhaust note that fills the cabin when the right pedal is firmly depressed. The 0-100km/h sprint is taken care of in just 7.9 seconds — a number not that far short of hot hatch territory — and the top speed is quoted as 235km/h.
The THP 200 Sport gets a slick six-speed manual gearbox that makes cog-swapping a pleasurable pastime, although with all that torque on tap, constant shifting is not really required. Citroën claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.4 litres per 100km (and a CO2 figure of 149g per km), but the lure of both power and sound means that such a number is likely to be achieved only by the most disciplined among us. So, a rather heavy foot resulted in our figure settling at 9.3. Disciplined, we admittedly were not. Expect a real-world, everyday figure of somewhere in the high sevens or low eights.
The suspension is quite a bit stiffer than the C4's — the DS range is marketed as somewhat sportier, after all — but the ride is still generally quite agreeable. Hit a significantly rough spot of tarmac though, especially at speed, and plenty of jarring can be felt through the lightly weighted steering. Body roll is not as prevalent as expected, and considering the raised ride height, the DS4 performs admirably through the bends.
Inside, switchgear from the C4 dominates, which is no bad thing at all. Full leather boosts the premium feel, and the front heated seats feature electric lumbar adjustment, as well as a peculiar massage function. A panoramic windscreen — with sliding blinds — gives passengers a decent view, while the flat-bottomed multi-functional steering wheel has more buttons than our esteemed president has wives and girlfriends. Yes, that many.
An electric parking brake replaces the conventional handbrake, and takes some getting used to for those accustomed to the orthodox method of hill-holding. However, once one ceases instinctively reaching for the phantom handbrake, the system works a treat, and is ably aided by a predictable hill assist function. A speed limiter and cruise control come as standard, with the latter programmable while the vehicle is stationary — a simple yet handy feature.
The instrument cluster is attractive, although the dials are not the easiest to read at a quick glance in bright light — except for the oversized digital speedometer, that is. The panel's lighting and even the text colour are adjustable, and the indicator tone (and other audible warnings) can be customised with a choice of four polyphonic themes.
The list of standard features is a long one — and fortunately most items appear right across the range — including auto wipers, auto headlights, a six-speaker sound system, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary ports, automatic dual-zone air-con, on-board trip computer, cornering lights, and as many safety acronyms as you care to shake a stick at.
The detail on the DS4 is another of its strong points, with splashes of chrome (the shiny strip on the rear apron is highly effective) contrasting with gloss black inserts and dark window tints. The interior door handles are embossed, and the DS logo is featured on the kick-plates as well as the B-pillar. LED kerb-lights mounted under the side-mirrors are a classy touch. Even the front headrests get a new-fangled design. Yes, plenty of thought has gone into the small things.
The Citroën DS4 THP 200 Sport has a likeable character, and comes across as elegant without seeming like it's trying too hard. It's full of gadgets, features a peach of an engine, and offers a certain exclusivity that's pretty difficult to find these days. Sure, practicality isn't first on its list of best qualities. But if you want practicality, buy a lifeless C-segment box-on-wheels.
If you want something distinctive, something out of the ordinary, have a look at the DS4. It may be genetically off-the-wall, but strangely enough, it's all the more attractive for it.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.