French motor manufacturers are best known for the flair of their car design and the design-elements that are traceable throughout their product range. In the case of Peugeot, think of the over-sized front air-intake on the latest 1007, 307, 407 (and forthcoming 207). Renault calls itself a ‘Createur D’Automobiles’ and not just mere ‘designers’ or manufacturers – yet their ‘look’ can also be traced through the entire range from Clio to Espace.

When it comes to a heritage of truly interesting automotive design and cars that are sometimes downright quirky, one need look no further than Citroën. Their spunky little C2 is probably one of the best-looking small cars on the road, and the newer C4 is definitely giving established names like Golf, Astra and Corrola/ RunX a run for their money. Launched with two distinctive body designs, the Coupe is the flashier of the two. It’s however the ‘sedan’ – which looks more like a hatchback – in 1.6-litre turbo-diesel guise that recently received a nod from the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists, making it the seventh nominee for the 2006 South African Car of the Year.

So what makes the Citroën C4 such a special car? It all starts with the exterior design. In ‘sedan’-form it features five doors, a long bonnet, and Citroën’s trademark new “boomerang”-headlamps. All this equates to a look that is immediately sporty (even for a ‘family’-car) and superbly modern. It’s not easy to miss a C4 in the traffic! However, its brilliant exterior design is not only there for general aesthetics. Combined with the aero-style undertray, the C4 has one of the best drag co-efficients in the business, (a mere 0.29), that proves that Citroën knows what a huge impact good aerodynamics have on general performance. Active and passive safety features on the C4 are excellent, with six body shape-optimised airbags fitted, and the long bonnet designed to ease the possible impact on a pedestrian. The C4 is fitted with impact absorbers on the upper and lower part of the front end, and a relatively soft aluminium construction that has a centre-perforated inner panel to absorb energy more effectively.

By creating two distinct body shapes Citroën caters for customers with different needs. Since the sedan is aimed more at the family market, it goes without saying that interior space is also amongst the best in its class. Citroën leads the way in interior design, with the C4’s stand-out feature being the fixed-position steering wheel boss (the bit in the middle). The steering wheel still goes round like any other steering wheel but the boss stays in its place, the benefits being that the remote control features for the sound system, for example, stay in a set place to ease handling, making it a brilliant new passive safety innovation. The C4 is fitted with all the features one can expect from a car in this segment, including air-conditioning, a scented air-freshener (available in nine fragrances), electric windows and mirrors, multi-way adjustable front seats, remote-controlled doors with deadlocks, an un-pickable electric boot-lid, anti-theft nuts on the alloy wheels and an engine immobilizer. There is also cruise control, a speed limiter, parking distance sensors, automatic lights-on sensors and windscreen wipers and tire pressure monitors.

The C4 1.6 HDi is fitted with a 1.6-litre common-rail diesel engine that produces 83kW of power and 240Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. The engine also has an over-boost function that increases the available torque to 260Nm at 1750Nm, a function that increases the fuel-injection rate so that the car has super-fast acceleration when the control-unit detects that you’ve floored the accelerator – a very handy extra when over-taking! The lightweight engine and superb aerodynamics also result in very nippy performance, with the C4 accelerating from 0-100km/h in 10,3 seconds with a top speed of 192 km/h. Fuel consumption is predictably good and you should be able to get about 5 litres per 100km.

The car is fitted with a MacPherson-type suspension at the front and a flexible transverse beam at the back, resulting in both impeccable ride and handling characteristics. The C4 has anti-lock brakes that are ventilated in the front and come with electronically controlled fluid pressure distribution as well as ABS, electronic brake pressure distribution and emergency braking assistance, a nifty feature that automatically switches on the car’s hazard lights under extreme braking conditions. Electronic stability control and traction control is also standard, as is variable-assistance power steering, where the level of assistance is linked to the vehicle’s speed and the angle of the steering wheel. Finishing of the general appeal of the C4 is a set of elegant 6-inch allow wheels.

The Citroën C4 1.6 HDI retails for R198 980 and offers quite a bit of class and individuality in a segment where many cars tend to share the same design characteristics. While cars like the Volkswagen Golf use the MPV-like high body design, the C4 looks sleek and sporty even in ‘sedan’-form. It has presence that not many other vehicles can boast and adds a French flair to its surroundings.

To put it very simply, the C4 excels in just about every aspect: it has the attention-grabbing looks many people demand, it’s got class-leading interior space, a nippy engine that is not only fast but also fuel efficient, offers a multitude of safety-features and even a couple of brand new innovations that make the car stand out. In this competition it has to battle with the new Ford Focus; but I believe that while they have very similar features, the Citroën package is much more appealing. The Citroën C4 1.6HDI is one of my Top 3 choices for the 2006 South African Car of the Year.

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