TEST DRIVE: 2021 Citroen e-C4 – Comfort above anything else

Citroen has long established itself in the automotive realm as an innovator, especially when it comes to suspension setups. Remember the DS and its revolutionary suspension setup? That was only the beginning as history would have it, today’s offerings from Citroen being just as focused on comfort as ever. And to some extent, they really pulled off some amazing tricks.

Citroen is also a company with a long history behind it and, over time, the French proved to be quite open to new ideas and a lot less conservative than the Germans, for example. Whenever they thought the tide was turning in a certain direction, they quickly adapted. Today, the world seems hellbent on buying taller riding cars and the PSA group as a whole (and now Stellantis) was fast to adapt.

The C4 History

If you look back on the history of the C4 you’ll notice that the model had different shapes over the years. The first ever Citroen C4 was launched nearly 100 years ago, in 1928, and was just a run of the mill car, like the many others you could see on the roads in those days. The design was heavily influenced by the American brothers sold overseas. In the early 2000s, the C4 name was revived and it took the shape of a hatchback that was meant to battle the ever popular Volkswagen Golf. Then we got an MPV with the same name, followed by a crossover that introduced us to the Cactus philosophy. Basically, it had air pockets on the doors to protect the car from idiots in the parking lots. Quite a good idea in retrospect.

Late last year, Citroen decided to unveil the new generation C4. The car is built atop the EMP modular platform which means quite a lot more than you’d think. Sure, the underpinnings of the C4 are shared with a plethora of other models in the PSA group’s offerings, from the 208 to the 2008 and Corsa. But there are certain advantages to it as well, such as a modular approach towards the kind of propulsion system used under the sheet metal.

To be more precise, the EMP platform allows PSA to build cars using either internal combustion engines or electric ones, depending on the preference or the market demand. Basically, you can buy a Citroen C4 today with either a petrol, diesel or purely electric drivetrain. If you choose the latter, you’re going to get the e-C4.

The design of the cars remains the same, no matter what kind of powertrain you get under the hood. It will be virtually impossible to set the cars apart if you don’t check for tailpipes at the back or the blue ‘E’ symbol attached in various parts of the cars. And when it comes to design, things are as subjective as ever.

The first Electric C4

The E-C4 comes with a huge Citroen badge on the front fascia, dressed up in chrome as we’ve been getting used to. To the sides of the badge you’ll find V-shaped daytime running lights powered by LEDs which, if you squint, form an X in the middle. The lower part of the fascia has huge headlights on each side, which can be fitted with adaptive LED technology that actually works really well. It’s definitely not a design for anyone but it gets the job done in two aspects: you can instantly tell this is Citroen and it follows the design rulebook of the French manufacturer.

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The side profile makes this crossover look a bit like a Coupe SUV. It has a sloping roofline towards the back that does remind me of the Citroen GS to some extent, as the French company intended in the first place. The doors extend all the way to the bottom of the sills so you won’t ruin your pants in case the car gets dirty. Round the back, the taillights have a complicated design as well, forming an LED-lid X shape too, with a split tailgate dominating the rear fascia. 

Simple, But Effective Interior

Step inside and the same feeling awaits: you can tell this car is a Citroen from the first moment you sit in it. The seats are very comfortable, with 1.5 centimeters of foam added into their lining, for your pleasure. Their design is similar to what you may find in the other Citroen offerings, like the C3 and C5. The dashboard is simple and includes a massive single unit in the middle, housing the infotainment screen and some controls.

Right under the screen you’ll find the HVAC controls which are still analogue. Thank God! Using them is easy and straightforward, without being too distracting. The infotainment screen has a decent resolution and is big enough for most of your needs. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you’ll be set for any function you may need. It is a wired connection though and you do need a Type-C cable to use it. There’s also a Type-A USB connector located under the HVAC controls to the side of the wireless charging pad, but it can’t be used for connecting your phone to the car’s system.

The instrument cluster is digital and on the really small side of things. For some people that may be annoying but you can get HUD in these cars in which case, the instrument cluster becomes rather useless. Unlike in ICE models, you don’t need to check the rev counter or oil pressure or even temperature gauge. Therefore, the fact that it was so small didn’t really bother me.

What did bother me was the plastic quality in most places. The dashboard and half of the door panels are wrapped in poor-quality plastic and feel really bad to the touch. Soft-touch plastics would’ve gone a long way towards making this interior feel better. I know this isn’t a premium car and, considering the expensive batteries it has on board, some corners had to be cut. Of course, a different plastic choice – I’m not asking for leather here – would’ve made a huge difference.

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As a matter of fact, that’s my only gripe with the interior. I was even impressed by the amount of room you get in the back. You can literally fit four adults inside without any sort of compromise on their comfort.

136 Horsepower And 173 Miles Range

Since I mentioned comfort, let’s dig into the technical side of things. Just like the rest of the electric cars built on this platform, the Citroen e-C4 has some very predictable numbers to boast. Under the ‘hood’ you’ll find and electric motor powering the front axle alone, good for 136 PS and 260 Nm of torque in total. This motor is fed via a 50 kWh battery (45 kWh usable) stored in the floor, using a solution that has been adopted by every manufacturer out there today. The reason why batteries are stored in-between the axles and under the occupants is rather obvious: this is where you get the most room and it keeps the center of gravity low.

In most cases, when talking about cars using a modular ICE-EV platform, the EV versions normally come with a couple of drawbacks. The biggest one you’ll notice is in the ride harshness. Due to the large battery packs these cars have to carry around, suspensions have to be reinforced to cope with the added weight. In the case of the e-C4, compared to a petrol-powered model, the extra weight adds up to about 300 kilos. And normally, that would make the ride jittery and extra harsh.

Not in this case though.

I had the chance of sampling the normal C4 too, and while I did find it to be very comfortable, it did seem to be bouncing around on certain surfaces. That made the whole car feel a bit unsure and unstable. Not in the e-C4 though. The electric variant felt well planted, surefooted and incredibly comfortable. The suspension felt quiet and refined, just like you would expect from a Citroen. To be fair, it was one of the best passive setups I have ever experienced and that says quite a lot about the e-C4.

And it’s all thanks to the new, so-called Citroen Progressive Hydraulic Cushions. Basically, while conventional suspension systems have a shock absorber, spring and mechanical bump-stops at each corner, the Citroen system adds two hydraulic stops – one for compression, the other for decompression. The suspension works in two stages depending on the stresses applied.

For light compression and decompression, the spring and shock absorber control vertical movements together with no assistance required from the hydraulic stops. However, the presence of the hydraulic stops means the engineers have greater freedom to tune the setup to achieve the fabled “magic carpet ride” effect, which gives the impression that the car is gliding over uneven ground.

With major impacts, the spring and shock absorber work together with the hydraulic compression or decompression stops, which gradually slow the movement to avoid jolts at the end of the range. Unlike a traditional mechanical stop, which absorbs energy, but then returns part of it as a shock, the hydraulic stop absorbs and dissipates this energy.

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Not The Fastest EV Out There

But what about the performance? Well, the e-C4 wasn’t designed to break any land-speed records. It’s zippy around town, thanks to the instant electric torque, but flat out from standstill it will do 100 km/h (62 mph) in 9.7 seconds. That’s decent but nowhere near what some people might expect. Then again, the whole character of the car isn’t sporty in any way. 

The e-C4 is more of an urban machine, meant to be comfortable and offer a great mix for everyday usability. Try to push it hard and it will start to understeer, the front axle will lose traction under hard acceleration and you’ll be met with a lot of body lean in all directions. So you’re better off keeping things in the ‘chill’ zone.

But what about the range? Well, during my time with the car, I couldn’t get close to the official range figures posted by Citroen online. According to their estimates, courtesy of the WLTP testing cycle, the e-C4 should have a range of 217 miles with a full charge. Around town, I saw an average of 280 km (173 miles) and the weather was rather warm. I didn’t have to use the AC but the car was fitted with winter tires which were not exactly the most efficient choice.

Go outside the city limits and the range might pick up if you keep the speed in check. At an average speed of about 45 mph (72 km/h), the most I could squeeze out of the car was 320 km (200 miles) which was pretty darn close to the claimed figures. Hop onto the highway though and you’ll soon see those numbers die down and reach 200 km (124 miles) at most, at an average speed of 130 km/h (81 mph). Considering the car has a single-speed transmission and its top speed is 150 km/h, it’s pretty obvious this is no highway cruiser.

Should You Buy One?

Luckily, the people from Citroen made a good call and decided to offer the e-C4 the possibility to make it up to you, even if you’re considering longer trips with it. That’s because you can recharge it at 100 kW DC chargers which means you can get it up to 80 percent again in about 30 minutes. Of course, you can use slower chargers too and the charging time will increase accordingly, depending on your use case.

Should you buy one, then? That depends on what you’re looking for. The Citroen e-C4 is definitely one of the best riding cars I’ve ever driven and it simply puts to shame most other electric models of this size on the market right now. If you can look past the cheap plastic inside, the mediocre range and if you’re just in the market for a funky-looking city car, the e-C4 might just be the one for you.

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