Review and road test of the Citroen C4 (2015 - 2018)
4 MORE SENSIBLE FAMILY HATCH FOLK
By Jonathan Crouch
Back in 2015, Citroen revamped the second generation version of its C4 family hatchback in a bid to offer a more relevant choice in the closely-fought Focus-class C-segment. Refinement and comfort got prioritised over on-the-limit handling. While value pricing and super-low running costs got the nod over fashionable trendiness and cutting-edge electronics. The biggest changes with this updated model though, lay in its rejuvenated engine range, with PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel units offering class-leading power and efficiency that put this car back into class contention in its period.
5dr Family Hatch (Petrol - 1.2 [110hp, 130hp] / Diesel - 1.6 BlueHDi [100hp,120hp])
Thinking of buying a used Focus-class family hatchback from the 2015-2020 period? Well you won't need telling that there's a huge selection of models from which you can choose. If you're sifting through them, then it's very likely that you've not seriously considered this car, Citroen's C4, which was much improved in MK2 model form in 2015. In this article, we'll be exploring why perhaps it might be worth a place on your shopping list.
Let's start with a statistic that might surprise you. The average age of Focus-class family hatchback buyers is 57! Of course, there are plenty of younger people driving round in models of this kind, but they're mainly company drivers with little say in their choice of vehicle. Those who go out and spend their own money on cars within what is often Britain's best selling market segment are mature people. Not the kind, you'd think, who'd want to corner on their door handles. Not that you would know that from the way that motoring magazines and TV ads tell us that performance and handling are all that really matters in this sector. They're wrong of course. Style, quality, space, equipment, low running costs and safety are the more sensible virtues that real world family hatchback buyers really care about. All the things in fact, that seem to have been prioritised here.
Citroen's advantage in this segment lies with the fact that its mainstream models, cars like this C4, don't have to be especially sporty. Buyers who do want that are provided for by parent company PSA Group's more avant garde DS brand, specifically (back at the beginning of this century's second decade) with that marque's comparably-sized DS 4 range. That was why this MK2 C4 was first introduced in 2010 without the requirement for sporty three-door or hot hatch versions. And little need for so many of the futuristic styling flourishes that Citroen thought at the time might have put some older people off the previous model line. Instead, this second generation C4 was launched as a car relentlessly on-message for the real-world preferences of potential buyers in its target market, a model sympathising with their eco-friendliness, easing their credit crunch running cost burdens and offering a beautifully built package that's versatile enough to make many feel that something Mondeo-sized from the next class up would be wilfully extravagant.
It all sounded a sensible enough proposition on paper - and one that perhaps would have initially worked in practice if, back in 2010, the MK2 C4 had been able to offer buyers the brand's more efficient 'PureTech' and 'BlueHDi' Euro6 engine technology and do so with value pricing. Sadly for Citroen, without that, there really wasn't enough to set the second generation C4 apart in its crowded market segment, particularly with rival budget brand models undercutting the car's pricing. Hence the need in 2015 for a rejuvenated second generation C4 line-up with all those Euro6 engine boxes ticked - the car we're going to look at here. It may not have the sophisticated underpinnings of its Peugeot 308 cousin from this period, but it offers all the same efficiency standards, with more affordable pricing as part of the deal. There's also a smarter look than the original version of this design could offer, plus extra equipment and plenty of what Citroen calls 'Creative Technologie'. The car sold until 2018 when it briefly disappeared from the range until an all-new third generation C4 was launched in mid-2020.
What You Get
Citroen claimed the styling of this improved second generation C4 model to be 'fresher' and 'more assertive'. It's certainly neat and contemporary, though may disappoint those who expect a Citroen to look as if it's arrived from twenty years into the future.
The improvements that were made here were subtle and, as usual with facelifted models, centre mainly on the front end where below the clamshell bonnet, revised headlights feature 3D-effect chrome-finished modules and LED light strips to suit the prevailing trend. Otherwise, things remained much as they were when this MK2 design was originally launched in 2010, which in terms of practicality is a very good thing, given that raising the tailgate reveals a substantial 408-litre cargo area. If you need more space, then pushing forward the 60:40 split-folding backrest reveals quite a step in the loading bay - but also a pretty decent level of space, 1,183-litres of fresh air.
Does the large boot compromise space for rear seat passengers? Not significantly. You enter through wide door apertures that offer easy access and inside find yourself seated on a slightly raised rear bench that provides just about enough space for three adults on short to medium-length journeys, assuming that they're on talking terms, and comfortable room for two, who'll have plenty of head, shoulder and legroom on longer trips. Up-front, a sweeping single-piece dashboard and a smart centre console look sufficiently 'of the moment' to disguise the age of this design. You're positioned quite comfortably too, and though the height-adjustable seats don't cosset your lower back as much as they probably should on longer trips (especially without the lumbar adjustment not included on entry-level trim), they do offer decent side support.
What to Look For
Most of the customer problems we came across related to electric faults - things like issues with the navigation and climate systems, so check these thoroughly. Check, for instance, that the Bluetooth pairs reliably with your phone handset, that the pixels on the centre display are all good and double-check that there are no unexplained warning lights on the dashboard. Citroen's infotainment touchscreen software can sometimes cause the monitor to freeze or fail completely. A software reset may solve the problem, but some owners have had to replace the entire unit, which is not a cheap operation. We've also come across complaints about suspension noises and airbag malfunctioning. In isolated cases, there were issues with engine, gearbox and brakes, but the mechanicals here are tried and tested PSA Group parts, so you shouldn't have too many issues.
As with other family hatches, check for child damage inside and alloy wheel scuffs outside. Examine for scuffs and flaking of paint on the bumpers. And of course you'll want a fully stamped up service record. If the model in question is a diesel, ask how it has been used. If only for local work, the 'DPF' 'Diesel Particulate Filter' may have got clogged up, as these need frequent highway journeys in order to self-clean. Other possible problems with the DPF-equipped cars come if the DPF has been shut off part way through its self-cleaning process. That results in contamination of the oil system with fuel, which leads to the oil level rising gradually over time.
(approx based on a 2017 C4 1.2 110hp excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are between £31-£80 depending on brand. A pair of rear brake pads are between £17-£50. A pair of front brake discs start in the £37 bracket. Rears start from around £68. Oil filters cost around £5-£6, air filters cost around £17 and fuel filters cost £3-£10. A radiator sits in the £110 bracket. A headlamp is around £400; a tail lamp around £100.
On the Road
So what do you look for in a car of this kind? Dynamic handling? Pin-sharp cornering precision? Suspension in which you can feel every nuance of the road surface as you drive and adapt yourself accordingly? If these are your priorities, we'd stop viewing right now if we were you. Move right along and get yourself a motoring magazine that'll probably tell you to buy a Ford Focus from this period in this segment, a car with less equipment, a 25% smaller boot, running costs that'll be about 10% higher and an asking price that in direct like-for-like model comparisons could be around 20% more. But hey, a Focus is better to corner on its door handles, so that makes up for all of that. Doesn't it?
If you think it doesn't, then stay with us. We're not alone in bemoaning the fact that for reasons of cost and complexity, small Citroens no longer feature the kind of sophisticated 'magic carpet' hydropneumatic suspension systems they once did. There's unfortunately nothing very novel about the torsion beam rear axle underpinnings of this one, nor (because it's an older design) does it benefit from the PSA Group's light and stiff EMP2 platform, the one used by its more modern cousin, Peugeot's 308. Still, the Citroen engineers did their best to imbue the ingredients they did have with as much of a 'double-chevron' feel as possible, hence the kind of comfortable, absorbent low speed ride you tend to expect from the brand.
Easier for Citroen's development team to deliver within tight cost constraints was exemplary refinement, which the company says was benchmarked against larger, more expensive cars. It's a claim that seems entirely plausible behind the wheel, a place in which downsizers will feel quite at home. Great care was taken to deaden noise intrusion and deliver class-leading levels of quiet, the French designers even going as far as installing an acoustic laminated windscreen with a layer of damping film.
The installation of a completely fresh range of engines into this facelifted post-2015 version of the MK2 model helped in this regard too, the PSA Group's Euro6 'PureTech' petrol and 'BlueHDi' diesel technology entirely replacing the aging petrol VTi and diesel e-HDi units this second generation C4 model was originally launched with. Low mileage folk need to inspect the turbocharged PureTech petrol units first, both small - but punchy, just three cylinders and 1.2-litres in size but delivering all the performance and pulling power you'd normally expect from a 1.6. You get a choice of either 110bhp or 130bhp outputs.
Buyers looking at the BlueHDi diesel models get a choice of three 1.6-litre four cylinder engines, developing either 100, 120 or 150bhp. Whatever their choice of fuel, urban-based folk could look for an example fitted with Citroen's EAT6 automatic gearbox and in this guise, the car prioritises the easy, relaxed gait that suits it best. There are certainly more dynamically-adept choices you could make in this segment but this C4 adopts a quieter, more relaxed and arguably more sensible approach to family hatchback motoring. You might actually really like it.
Here's a car that goes its own way, wilfully unsporty by fashionable measurement, yet ruthlessly efficient at getting the important things right - the huge boot, the class-leading running cost efficiency. It's also well built, decently equipped and impressively refined. And, despite all of this, it's one of the most affordable used car choices you can make from the 2015-2020 period in this segment, with pricing able to embarrass makers like Ford, Renault and Vauxhall and undercut all but the very cheapest budget brands.
For all that, it's not a model the car magazines will tell you to prioritise in your search for a used Focus-class family hatch of this kind. Even so, if you're a typical buyer, it's one that'll probably suit you a lot better than they expect. Try one - and you'll see what we mean.
Citroen C4 (2015 - 2018) review by Jonathan Crouch