Saturday, February 20, 2010

Leading the French Automotive Revolution

Isn't interesting how things come full circle? Take for example the latest Citroen C4, the dramatic and stylish replacement for the uninspired mid-range Xsara and ZX models. After almost a decade and a half of Peugeot ownership, and the efforts to increase market share by making conventionally-styled cars, Citroen finally realised that the brand really needed to return to the defiant, innovative spirit that characterised models such as a DS, GS and CX from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Leading the French Automotive RevolutionThere used to be a joke in the 80s and 90s that each new Citroen model had to have a larger double chevron badge than the earlier models because it was increasingly difficult to tell Citroens apart from Peugeots and Renaults. Well, with the C4, this is definitely not the case, even if the double chevron has become larger and incorporated on the grille; this will be the new identity for all future Citroen models. Grille apart, the C4 has bold arching lines, making it look like a stretched and more dynamic C3. From the up turned headlamps in front, to the sloping rear, the C4 looks distinctive and unique, but also well proportioned and stylish. Even while standing still, its mild cab forward stance gives it a thrusting, forward motion. There is no mistaking this new Citroen for another brand of car.

Leading the French Automotive RevolutionOn the inside as well, the C4 recalls the futuristic dashboards of Citroens' passed. The futuristic digital instrument binnacle is a floating pod located in the middle of a symmetrical dashboard. The speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, as well as the distance-to-empty reading for fuel, are all displayed in this singular LCD panel, and it is impressively easy to read. More than just a conventional digital display, the panel is actually translucent, and it changes colour according to the amount of light falling on it.

Leading the French Automotive RevolutionThe tachometer, gear selection and warning lights are mounted in a separate pod directly in front of the driver, and the entire assembly moves up and down when the steering is adjusted. Instead of having a red-line, the tachometer display itself changes to red when the engine is over-revved.

Leading the French Automotive Revolution

Perhaps of the most radical aspect of the C4's dashboard is the steering boss. Instead of turning with the wheel, it remains in place. This means the switches mounted on it (cruise control on the left and in-car hi-fi on the right) don't move, and are actually easier to use this way. Having a fixed steering boss also allowed for the mounting of a larger two stage airbag for the driver. Like all innovative designs, one must ask why nobody thought of it any earlier? It is refreshing that Citroen is designing interesting dashboards again through intelligent re-thinking and questioning of the status quo, and not just for the sake of being different.

But unique looks aside, the C4 is also a great drive - the throttle is lively and responsive, and the steering feels positive and tactile, on top of being a wonderfully innovative design. Citroens have always been involving and good to drive, but with the C4, they once again have the distinctive looks to match. Sure, Alfa Romeos sound better, Hondas are more free-revving and the Mini has a sharper steering, but the C4 drives as though its suspension, engine and chassis are perfectly choreographed, each component playing its part so that the whole ensemble gives an outstanding and well-rounded performance.

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