In an effort to make it more exclusive and desirable, the DS make now stands separate from Citroen as a whole, and the DS 4 hatchback is the brand's answer to premium mid-sized family cars like the Volkswagen Golf and BMW 1 Series.
In choosing the name DS, Citroen hopes to remind buyers of the famously comfortable and technologically advanced DS model from that was produced from the fifties until the seventies. In truth, today's DS 4 doesn’t match the car that inspired its name, but its unique looks and plush interior may appeal to some style-conscious buyers.
The DS4 has a slightly raised ride height compared to traditional family hatchbacks like the Audi A3 and Volvo V40, but it can’t match the practicality or ease of access that attracts buyers to compact SUVs like the Nissan Qashqai. Because it straddles the family hatchback and compact SUV classes, the DS 4 – inevitably – invites comparison to both types of car. Unfortunately, it can’t quite replicate the driving experience of a Ford Focus or the usability of a Renault Kadjar.
DS 4 buyers can choose from three petrol and three diesel engines. The cheapest (and most efficient) petrol is the PureTech 130, which has a competitive 0-62mph time of 9.9 seconds, but manages to return 55.4mpg economy and emits 119g/km of CO2 for an annual road tax bill of just £30 – impressive for a petrol engine.
At the other end of the petrol scale is the powerful 208bhp THP 210, but this is more expensive to buy and tax, and the drop in fuel economy (it returns 47.9mpg) isn’t matched by enough of a rise in performance (it goes from 0-62 in 8.4 seconds) to make it worthwhile.
A diesel-engined DS 4 is more expensive to buy, but if you cover a lot of miles, the BlueHDi 150 offers an excellent blend of performance and economy. It's road-tax-exempt thanks to low CO2 emissions and will return 72.4mpg, yet it's capable of going from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds – more than enough to keep pace with modern traffic. The less powerful BlueHDi 120 is marginally more economical, but it's a fair bit slower than the BlueHDi 150 and not that much cheaper.
While the performance and economy of the DS 4 are impressive, its driving experience leaves a little more to be desired. The suspension is too firm, meaning poor road surfaces and potholes cause the car to crash and bounce uncomfortably, while the steering doesn’t provide enough feedback, denting driver enjoyment further.
The interior of the DS 4 can’t match the class and quality of a Volkswagen Golf's, but it's a pleasant place to sit thanks to an appealing design and some high-quality materials. Practicality is less impressive, however: the DS 4 feels somewhat cramped – particularly in the back – and the fact that the rear windows don’t open will deter many buyers. While the deep windscreen extends into the roofline, giving a sense of light and spaciousness, this can’t make up for the overall lack of interior space.
Trim choices for the DS 4 are refreshingly simple: you can choose from either Elegance or Prestige versions. The entry-level Elegance is well equipped, with air-conditioning, alloy wheels and cruise control, while the Prestige has larger alloy wheels, bright xenon headlights and a reversing camera as standard.
There are some question marks over the DS 4's reliability: Citroen as a brand doesn’t have a great reputation in this area, borne out by a 20th place (out of 32 manufacturers) result in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. Before it became known simply as the DS 4, the Citroen DS 4 also did poorly in our Driver Power survey, coming 123rd out of 200 cars.
Fortunately, there are no such concerns over safety: the DS 4 was awarded the full five stars in its Euro NCAP crash-tests, with a host of airbags, ISOFIX child-seat mounting points and standard electronic stability control helping to make it a particularly safe car.