March 26, 2013 5:11 PM |
Posted By: Matthew Hayward
Rated 4.0 out of 5.0 by 4 members
I know really shouldn’t compare them. My somewhat retro daily transport, a 1989 Citroen BX 16v, is several generations removed from the brand new DS4 DSport HDi parked along side it, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons – especially given the identical colour scheme, almost equal power figure and the most importantly, the chevrons on the bonnet.
The DS4 is Citroen’s latest Focus-sized offering, based on the more humble C4. Just looking at it in the car park, I was instantly struck by how tall the Citroen appears – almost on par with a Nissan Juke or other compact crossovers – and next to the BX it looks absolutely huge. Opening the door, I was welcomed into the cabin by a very appealing ‘Habana Club’ leather interior, a £590 option on this model.
The company has done relatively well with its well-specced and more premium-feel DS models in the last few years, and there is something to be said for the styling and premium packaging. For someone who has always loved the great classic Citroens, it’s refreshing to see the company gradually regain some of its individuality, even if the engineering is completely conventional, unlike the BX…
Back in the late 1980s, the lightweight and Peugeot-influenced BX was given the full performance car treatment with the introduction of the GTI, and later 16v models. Considering Citroens of old, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would be a big and wallowy cruiser – but compared to a standard BX, the 16v is actually surprisingly firm and a rather tidy handler. The Hydropneumatic suspension still smothers bumpy roads in an unmistakable fashion though.
At the time it was considered a bit of a practical performance bargain, probably comparable to something like an Octavia vRS today. The whole driving experience is completely dominated by the engine – a fire-cracker of a 1.9-litre twin-cam 16v, shared with the Peugeot 405 Mi16. 160bhp doesn’t sound like much today, but when it’s only lugging 1070kg around, it’s more than entertaining enough, managing a sub 8-second 0-60 time and 135mph top speed.
When driven sedately, the 16v somehow seems to make little sense. The interior rattles, the engine feels slightly gutless and the suspension bangs and crashes over low-speed pot-holes. Rev the engine beyond the ‘magic’ 4500rpm however, and the car really wakes up. You have to work hard to keep the car on song, with max power coming near the car’s 7200rpm limiter, but it’s truly rewarding – and easy to see why it often won contemporary road tests.
Driving the DS4 is almost the polar opposite. When driven at eight-tenths and below, it can be piloted briskly and without fuss - soaking up the miles in a totally inoffensive manor. Start pushing harder however, and it makes a little less sense. It feels quick on the road, and the HDI engine gives real punch once on the move, but it never begs to be pushed. The steering and brakes are both well weighted and precise, but you could never call it a true driver’s car. I do think that a much lower and firmer suspension set-up could transform the car, but after Citroen put plans to build the DS4 racing on ice, its unlikely we’ll ever find out.
Looking back on the weekend, the DS4 had proved itself comfortable, capable and on the whole enjoyable. It’s not the most practical car, and the lack of opening rear windows seems unusual, but it performed light family duties with ease. This particular combination of engine and gearbox doesn’t offer much in the way of evo appeal, but the chassis is fairly well resolved. I gave the car back liking it more than I thought I would, and if you want a stylish hatchback, with a great interior and lots of toys, you really can’t go wrong.