ROAD TEST: Citroën DS4 HDi 160 Sport
One thing's for sure - the person that hauls a Citroën DS4 off the showroom floor is not a segment buyer. You're not someone who's specifically looking for a hot hatch or an MPV or SUV or even a combination of the three.
Instead, the diva or slick dude that buys one of these saw it somewhere and thought “wow, that's really hot - I want one.”
And it was probably seen in the flesh because pictures don't do this car justice. In fact, my test unit (a turbodiesel Sport) proved to be one of the biggest head-turners I've driven in a long time with virtually everyone I came across raving about how stylish it is.
Blingy the DS4 certainly is, but not in a tacky kind of way. Think of it as a Louis Vuitton handbag on wheels. It's French, it turns heads and it oozes class in just about every visual detail.
In fact its striking (and chrome bathed) design was good enough to have it honoured as the Most Beautiful Car of the Year by a pole of more than 60 000 motoring enthusiasts in 62 countries back in 2010.
It's imposing yet elegant and the style continues on the inside with a sporty dashboard clad in classy materials and, of course, there's more chrome detailing than I care to mention and mood lighting is in place for just in case you're not romantic enough to impress that date.
Buyers can also choose from three leather combinations and our test car came with a rather funky 'bracelet' design on the seats that resembles the links on the strap of a larney watch.
But is it all style and no substance?
Sure - if we're talking practicality. It might be cosy enough for those perched up front but rear legroom is rather cramped by Golf-segment standards and the 370-litre boot may just struggle to swallow a kugel's Hyde Park shopping spree.
While it does have rear doors (door handles are concealed in the next to the windows) the back windows do not open. That's not something that ever bothered me, but many of the people I discussed the car with were not comfortable with the idea.
At least the occupants have a good view, thanks to a panoramic windscreen that extends into the roof and which can be returned to normal via a shifting panel when driving into the sun.
This car might be priced well into hot hatch territory, but the turbodiesel model I drove isn't one by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, among the most powerful diesels in the hatchback class, its 2-litre mill credited with 120kW and 340Nm. It's pretty economical too, with an official average consumption figure of 5.1 litres per 100km - which you'll have to add a few litres to in real-world driving.
The engine is punchy and responsive from anywhere in the rev range and turbo lag is not something that features in its vocabulary.
But it's far more of an effortless cruiser designed for lapping up the sun on the boulevards of St Tropez than it is a dynamic twisty-mountain-pass pulveriser. While it's certainly stable through the bends, it's hardly an agile device and the steering lacks feel and feedback. Luckily, and despite a fairly stiff suspension set-up, the ride is acceptably cushy.
If a stylish, comfortable and economical fashion statement is what you're after and you're willing to pay a bit extra to show how stylish you are, then the DS4 HDi will be a desirable contender in your headspace. But you'll be buying it with your heart, not your head.
Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI AT (103kW) - R327 535
BMW 120d 5-door (135kW) R325 171
Citroën DS4 HDi 160 Sport (120kW) - R325 900
Lexus CT 200h S (100kW) - R355 400
VW Golf 2.0 TDI Highline (103kW) - R315 800
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