BY BRIAN BYRNE
THERE'S a common thing about new cars. When they are presented to customers, or to us in the motoring media, they all come wrapped in hyperbole. The substance of it can differ, whether trumpeting innovation, connectivity, engineering excellence, economy, or whatever. But ‘class leading’ or ‘state of the art’ are regularly the added epithets.
The truth is, it is very hard these days for brands and their individual models to be actually better than their competitors, such is the state of development in design, powertrain, and safety right across the automotive industry. That’s going to become even more the case as electric cars reach an ever-stronger proportion of car sales. There’s not as much difference between EV powertrains as there can be in the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) ones, depending on whether they derive from performance or economy standpoints. And driver assistance systems are now ubiquitous, by regulation or Euro NCAP crash-test requirements, so you can own a Rolls Royce or a Dacia and probably have the same chance of surviving a severe impact incident.
Of course, there’s a quantum of difference between the comfort and perceived quality across those two brand extremes. This is where the future of car choice is already here. The days of sound and fury as a buyer attraction are going, or gone — indeed, the powertrains on even low-end electric cars offer what used to be hot-hatch acceleration, without the audial fuss.
The directors of the Citroen brand saw this coming some time ago. Anticipating that competition even from their companion brands within the Stellantis group — Peugeot, DS, Opel, et al — was going to require something special, they fell back on attributes they knew a lot about from their heritage: Comfort and style.
Which is where the e-C4 X I’m writing about this week sits squarely. The style, albeit with a few quirks in detail without which it wouldn’t be Citroen, is in my perception an elegance with edge among a compact hatch segment where sameness can too easily become a norm. You can quibble about the complicated frontage, or raise your eyebrows at the rear lights. Whatever. They are but eccentricities. The proportions are good, the presence is solid. And nobody who knows anything at all about their car brands will wonder what are you driving.
Inside is the same kind of individuality. Strong design on the centre stack under the infotainment screen. A steering wheel squeezed both top and bottom, to different extents. But a strong emphasis on practicality, especially with the climate controls. Which is especially nice given that Citroen were the first brand where they put everything into those dratted stroke and scroll touchscreens — I complained about that from the very first launch. I continued complaining. Now they have gone back to knobs and switches.
That liftback design offers a coupe exterior perspective but doesn't compromise on interior space in any way, so rear seat passengers have as much head space as those in front. And the style also gives a quite ginormous boot.
My review car was the electric version, but petrol and diesel versions have recently arrived. The 136hp output and a rated range of 360km may both seem light but it is the experience of most EV owners nowadays that with home charging, that lower figure is more than adequate for almost all daily use. It also strikes an efficiency balance in overall vehicle weight.
The drive is on a par with other electrics in its space, which are all very good in this respect. But it is in the comfort stakes that the Citroen strides out way ahead of that growing pack. It is where the brand shows that, in this characteristic, what they claim is not hyperbole. It's real. A proprietary suspension tech that really does work, and some smarts applied to seat design are the complementary elements here that prove to be more than their sum.
Citroen as a brand these days claims its comfort role with a capital C. With the e-C4 X it is the latest promise fulfilled. You can also expect it in the petrol and diesel versions.