Citroën, Je t'aime

Francophile or not, Susan Hayden believes you’ll j’adore the Citroen C4.

The first thing you notice when you get behind the wheel of the Citroën C4 is some crazy-ass suspension. This brand of motor vehicle has long been known for its unique and very quirky hydropneumatic suspension where the car literally – and famously – rose up from the road. The new, sexied-up Citroën is not as dramatic as that, but I couldn’t get over the feeling (I don’t know how better to describe it) of driving on a cloud. You float along, sitting slightly higher than your fellow motorists, and it’s a pretty trippy sensation.

Until you hit the brakes. A week into driving this car, I still find it difficult to brake gently. The brakes are so sensitive that the gentlest application results in a jolty lurch forward. Excellent when the traffic in front of you has backed up and you don’t notice until you’re twenty metres away, but for daily use it makes your drive a tiny bit jarring.

That said, the 2011 Citroën C4 offers its driver a gorgeous feeling of well-being. It’s spacious, with extremely comfortable seats and loads of headroom up front. This is an easy, relaxing car to drive, and its extremely gentle steering and comfortable leather steering-wheel means that, for we South Africans who practically live in our cars, commuting becomes a pleasure.

As any motorcar designed by the creators of Chanel would have to be, the Citroën is super-stylish, and the dashboard and instrument display are uncluttered and chic. The speedometer has large, easy-to-read digits which let you know the exact speed at which you’re travelling, and instead of boring dials the petrol gage and rev counter are funky lumo numbers. And you can fine-tune the aircon to the exact temperature that suits you and your passenger.

So intent are the French on making this car lovely to drive, you can adjust the colour of the instrument display, choose personalised sound alerts, and it comes with nine surround-sound speakers, so your Tori Amos CD sounds better than it ever has. Just don’t press the wrong button because you’ll lose your radio setting and never get it back. I did and, being a stubborn refuser to read manuals of any sort (I think things should be user-friendly enough for someone with moderate intelligence to work them out), it looks like I’ll never be able to enjoy those wonderful speakers again. Which is rather a shame.

While the interior of this car is very easy on the eye, the exterior is not shabby, either, with sleek lines taking it firmly into this century. As hatchbacks go, this one is cool. While I only did my usual zip around the city, its excellent driving position and comfortable seats would make this car fabulous for highway cruising. It rings a polite little warning bell when your front or backseat passengers have ‘forgotten’ to fasten their seatbelts – handy when you’re carting children around and don’t, actually, have eyes in the back of your head.

Fuel-consumption-wise, it’s very economical (after a week of my normal school, work and errands run the petrol gage is still showing half-full. I would have had to fill up my own car by now), and the very large boot means that camping trips which involve kids – and, therefore, silly amounts of stuff – are easy-peasy. Plus, the rear seats fold down opening up some serious space. Need to get that antique chest-of-drawers home? Your C4 will be your best friend.

For an ‘ordinary’ family car, the Citroën has some extraordinary features. For instance, if you fall asleep while driving on the freeway, sensors under the front bumper will detect the moment when you stray into another lane and set off a vibrator in the seat to wake you up.

Also, while the rim of the steering wheel turns, the middle part stays still so all the buttons are always in the same place. Using the steering-wheel you can set the sat nav, organise the cruise control, change the radio station, adjust the volume and answer the phone. Other than the regular alarm and immobiliser, its side windows are made from laminated class. Which makes break-ins virtually impossible.

The speedometer is designed to be readable even in bright sunlight, the double door seals to cut wind noise, and this car has no less than six airbags. Then, there’s the electronic brakeforce distribution, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and emergency braking assistance, all of which have helped the C4 get a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. No small thing when you’re exposing your family to the wild west otherwise known as South Africa’s motorways. Plus, when you turn the wheel, the searchlight-bright xenon bulbs turn, too, illuminating bits of the road that would otherwise be hidden. That dark drive over Ou Kaapse Weg  instantly becomes less scary.

The wipers automatically come on when it rains, and, and with the ‘auto’ setting your lights will turn on all by themselves. For not much money, the owner of this car gets some serious bells and whistles. Oh, and you can insert a little vial of your favourite scent into the aircon (Chanel?) and enjoy not only a cool, but a beautiful-smelling drive. The driver also has a comfortable arm-rest on the left which can be slid into the perfect resting position.

Compared to hatchbacks in the same price range, this car is pretty amazing, having the go-faster goodies of a much more expensive luxury vehicle. One teeny downside: the Citroën has a bit of a reputation for breaking down. This would bother my husband but, being a girl and, anyway, a member of the AA, this abstract possibility pales in comparison to all the features this cool car offers. I mean, air freshener in the aircon? Oui, il es fabuleux!