Citroen expects the dramatically styled C4 saloon and coupe will propel its New Zealand sales to new heights.
Based on style and imagination alone, the car is bound to turn heads and entice customers into Citroen showrooms.
The local distributor predicts a return to the more heady days of 1993 when the ZX sold in relatively good volume.
Seven C4 variants are going on sale here, with prices starting from $31,990.
The C4 signals a return to traditional Citroen values and is packed with details that are not only impressive but also clever.
Build and paint quality look good, too, for a car that has its own dedicated production line and a planned first year production of 260,000 units.
There are no instrument dials in the conventional sense.
The driver can read the electronic translucent strip display frosted plastic panel in the top centre of the dashboard without taking eyes off the road, and the front seat passenger can also read the data.
With the rear side of the information module open to the windscreen and natural light, the display adjusts its contrast automatically to the light outside the car.
We've yet to try the system at night, but in both bright sunshine and shade, this is the best electronic read-out yet.
In short, it's brilliant - a digital display you can read while still wearing your sunglasses, even when driving into the sun.
A quirky side effect is the bold reading for vehicle speed, which can be read from outside the car.
Like the other information, it reads in reverse, of course - but not if you are looking in your rear view mirror at a C4 that may be following you closely.
A slim-line digital rev counter located atop the steering column also details gear position and status of the auto transmission. As revs approach maximum levels, the screen lighting switches from orange to red.
The driver's airbag, biggest in class, is a spin-off from the unique fixed steering wheel hub.
Because the airbag doesn't turn, it is shaped to your body and offers better protection for head and upper chest.
The steering wheel might look normal but the wheel rim rotates around the hub which houses controls for the computer, stereo and cruise control functions.
Apart from the airbag - which helps to elevate the C4 to a top NCAP crash test rating - the benefits of the fixed hub are dubious. The steering column controls may be fixed but does that make them easier to operate than on a conventional steering wheel?
There's no shortage of front seat legroom and the length of seat travel is generous but accommodation is tighter in the rear.
You lose more headroom in the rear of the three-door coupe and the sedan's 352 litres of load space is only slightly ahead of the coupe's 342 litres.
Though it shares no styling cues, the C4 is mechanically similar to the Peugeot 307. Measuring 4260mm, the C4 sedan is slightly shorter than the coupe and only marginally longer than the Peugeot.
Meanwhile, the 2608mm wheelbase is identical and the 1458mm body height is unsurprisingly 52mm less than 307.
With a heavily facelifted C5 and the fresh-faced C4 replacing the dreary Xsara, Citroen is in good shape for a sales revival.
In 2004 it sold 225 cars locally, but is already looking at selling between 120 and 150 C4s by the end of 2005.
Appropriately, the new Citroen arrives just as the remarkable DS celebrates 50 years since its launch.
A total of 1.45 million DS sedans were made, and the model was so successful it was built for 20 years.
Though the slightly wacky C4 is not as radical as the DS was, it's certainly different - and it's sure to appeal to people who think a car is much more than merely a means of getting from A to B.
On the Road
Agile and fast acting, the C4 is a driver's treat best experienced in the 2.0-litre, 227km/h VTS manual coupe.
It uses the same 130kW, variable valve timing, DOHC engine as the Peugeot 206 GTi 180, and though the firm ride may not be as comfortable as other C4s, handling and roadholding are excellent.
Hammer the car into a corner and it responds beautifully, in a controlled, neutral manner, with minimal body roll. The quick action steering (2.9 turns lock to lock) is precise and has good feel.
With MacPherson struts, lower wishbones and an anti-roll bar up front, and a flexible transverse beam arrangement at the rear, the suspension is conventional enough.
Damping control minimises the balance between comfort and handling, and a pliant ride on all but the VTS will win many friends.
The coupe has a low Cd of 0.28, with the sedan only slightly worse at 0.29. Both are quiet and smooth open road runners, incorporating high levels of refinement.
The VTS hits 100km/h in 8.3 seconds but, like the 206 GTi, the gearing is low and the engine spins at 3200rpm at 100km/h in fifth.
Ironically, the VTS has a five-speed manual gearbox while the 2.0-litre 100kW HDi diesel runs a six-speed manual. The reverse would seem more appropriate.
Still, the superb diesel produces a massive 320Nm of torque which overboosts to 340Nm at 2000 revs and is barely doing any work at 100km/h.
Diesel fans also have the option of the new 1.6-litre HDi developing 80kW at 4000 rpm. The 1.6 petrol version produces the same power, albeit at 5750 revs, but the HDi torque peak at 240Nm (260Nm overboost) knocks the 147Nm of the petrol car into the weeds.
At 11.2 seconds to reach 100km/h, the smaller 110 series diesel (referring to the 110bhp output) may be the slowest-accelerating C4 but it runs quietly and sweetly, while offering the best economy in the range.
In the combined cycle, the 1.6 HDi delivers 4.7 litres/100km (60.1mpg), while the least economical is the 2.0-litre petrol auto at 8.1 litres/100km (34.9mpg).
Both diesels have second-generation injection systems and a variable-geometry turbocharger. No auto diesels are available yet.
What you get
The $31,990 entry-level 1.6 SX manual C4 has ABS anti-skid brakes, electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and emergency braking assistance (EBA), four wheel discs, air-conditioning, six airbags and cruise control - equipment that is carried right through the range.
All have easy-to-lift aluminium bonnets, electric boot locks, front foglights, automatic activation of hazard flashers, height adjustable driver's seat and variable power steering.
The central door-locking includes window closure and guide-me-home headlight operation.
Fully integrated telescopic headlight washers hidden in the front splash shield are found on Exclusive and VTS models.
Those two models also have bi-xenon directional headlights, which swing at 15 degrees when the car is moving.
Citroen says the amount of light almost doubles, and the technology is used for both low and high beams.
Reverse park aid is standard on Exclusive, HDi and VTS. With the exception of the 1.6 petrol which has standard air-conditioning, a dual-zone system is fitted to C4s.
In least powerful 80kW, 16-valve petrol form, the SX manual has 15-inch steel wheels with 195/55 tyres.
An extra $2000 not only buys the four-speed adaptive automatic, but also 16-inch alloy wheels (also fitted to the $37,990 2-litre SX-Pack automatic sedan).
Three of the six C4 models offered in New Zealand come with 17-inch diameter alloy wheels - the top-shelf VTS coupe ($42,990), 2.0-litre HDi turbo diesel ($42,990) and 2.0-litre Exclusive 16 valve auto ($40,990).
Expect a sales battle between two French makes because at $35,990, the 1.6 HDi diesel C4 is exactly the same price as Peugeot's 307 with the identical motor.
The 2.0-litre SX-Pack auto and Exclusive auto have electronic stability control (ESP) which is also included in the other higher grade versions.
The VTS boasts tyre pressure sensors.
One feature we don't get is the lane departure warning system that warns the driver if the car involuntarily crosses any of the road line markings.
An optional glass sunroof retails at $1500, and laminated side windows for better protection against break-ins, accidents and ultraviolet rays are also optional.
Citroen C4 specifications
Engines. Petrol: 1587cc, 16-valve, 80kW at 5750rpm. Peak torque, 147Nm at 4000rpm. 1997cc, 16-valve, 103kW at 6000rpm. Peak torque, 200Nm at 4000rpm. VTS 1997cc: 130kW at 7000rpm. Peak torque, 202Nm at 4750rpm. Diesel: 1560cc, 80kW at 4000rpm. Peak torque, 260Nm at 1750rpm. 1997cc, 100kW at 4000rpm. Peak torque, 340Nm at 2000rpm.
Transmission. Front wheel drive. 5-speed manual: 1.6 HDi, 2.0 VTS. 6-speed manual: 2.0 HDi. 4-speed adaptive auto: 1.6 SX, 2.0 SX, 2.0 Exclusive.
Suspension. Front, MacPherson strut, coil springs. Rear, independent, trailing arms, torsion bars with programmed self-steer geometry.
Brakes. ABS with EBD and EBA. Front, ventilated discs; rear, solid discs.
Dimensions. Length, 4260mm (4273mm coupe). Width, 1769mm. Height: 1458mm. Wheelbase, 2608mm. Front track, 1497mm. Rear track, 1502mm. Kerb weight, 1182kg (1200kg coupe). Fuel tank capacity, 60 litres.