For a while, it seemed like “crossover” was becoming a dirty word. People wanted personal transport, with individual characteristics – not vehicles that combined a hodge-podge of several clichés in an often unsuccessful automotive fruit salad.
Yet we’re seeing a rebirth of the genre, and the good news is they’re getting better at it. So good, in fact, that the combo car is becoming an individual, personalised model in its own right – like Citroën’s new DS4.
Besides being the second model in the standalone premium DS range, Citroën says the DS4 marries the convenience of a hatchback and the dynamics and styling of a coupé with the driving position of an SUV.
How well does the marketingspeak match the reality?
Firstly, the coupé sales pitch looks like an exaggeration. It’s sleek, with muscular wheelarch “haunches” and that trendy looks-like-a-2-door concealed rear doorhandle styling – but it’s no coupé. Though access isn’t as convenient as an SUV’s – particularly those angled rear doors with their wickedly sharp top corner – seating position and comfort are excellent. The car is a proper 5-seater with a decent 370 dm3 boot, and a panoramic windscreen adds even more airiness to the spacious interior.
There’s plenty of desirable stuff as standard on the top-of-the-range models we got to experience. Lashings of leather, discreet chrome surrounds (hey there, Audi!) and luxury touches such as the across-the-range provision of a massage function in the front seats. In addition to all that, you actually have the opportunity of personalising your wheels – in a modest way, of course. Choose leather options, recolour your instruments at the press of a button, and configure the DS4’s alerts and reminders to sing out warning chimes in varius polyphonic sounds… the car as cellphone?
Once you actually start handling the merchandise, the look, feel and perceived quality of the finishes and controls start creating an elegant, refined ambience. On the move, that feeling is underscored by the superb ride comfort. It’s good eough to be a deal-clincher.
The direct injection turbodiesel’s effortless torque delivery makes it a kilometre-gobbler of note. It’s refined in normal driving, albeit with some thrashiness that intrudes under hard acceleration, and on balance we preferred it to the high-output petrol engine. The 147 kW THP felt lacklustre in the low to mid range, though once the turbo got going things happened rather quickly. (A membrane in the intake system is designed to create a raspy, sporty sound under hard acceleration – but only for the occupants, says Citroën. The sound is said to be inaudible to outsiders.)
Citroën is also following the trend of naming its derivatives by power output, rather than by engine capacity – though oddly the outputs are measured in very un-French horsepower and not kilowatts. Thus the entry level model is the 120 (90 kW) and the top model is the 200 (147 kW).
The unusually comprehensive range of safety features in this category include blind spot and tyre pressure monitoring, optional static or swivelling cornering lights, intelligent traction control, hill assist, programmable cruise control and speed limiter, and a parking space gap measurement system.
The 1,6-litre petrol engine developed in conjunction with the BMW Group comes in either a normally aspirated 89 kW or turbocharged THP 147kW; the HDi 2-litre turbodiesel produces 120kW and 340 N.m while consuming 5,1 litres/100 km on the combined cycle. Transmissions are manual – 5-speed on the VTi models and 6-speed on the others.
Prices: from R254 900 to R319 900, including a 5-year/100 000 km service plan and 3-year/100 000 km warranty.