So you live in a large town or city and you've a small family. You car must be spacious but not too large. It must be economical and easy to drive in traffic. And it wouldn't hurt if it was that little bit different. After shortlisting a number of cars, we added Citroen's automatic C4 HDi EGS to our long term test fleet. How has it fared?
I know it wouldn't be the same for everyone but in most cars, most of the time, I prefer a manual gearbox. Shifting the cogs yourself just offers so much more control and, no matter how loudly the car makers trumpet their latest self-shifting technology, it's control that even the best automatic systems can't quite replicate. That said, a select few have come tantalisingly close to achieving that shining gearbox ideal - `the control of a manual with the convenience of an automatic'. Citroen are as near to this as anyone at the sub-£20,000 price point with the EGS gearbox on our long term C4. Over the last few months, this mild-mannered hatch has had a good go at claiming another self-shifting convert.
There's no doubt that automatic cars, and in this I include the various models with clutchless manual gearboxes, are easier to drive. There's one less pedal to worry about for a start. The problem is the drawbacks associated with casting out the clutch - the laboured response, the dim-witted selection of the wrong gear at the wrong moment, the fuel consumption and performance penalties. If the joys of a traffic-free twisty back road leave you cold and you don't mind repeatedly waiting out that split second pause between your input and the car's response, you'll probably prefer an automatic. Otherwise, you'll probably treat them with a healthy degree of suspicion. Our Citroen C4 is equipped with the Electonic Gearbox System and it does an annoyingly disarming job of ironing out the traditional self-shifter bugbears. Initially, and particularly if you climb behind the wheel with a few negative preconceptions about automatics swimming around your head, it seems to be just more of the same. It lurches when you accelerate hard in fully automatic mode and manual shifts made with the wheel-mounted paddle shifters seem clumsily unrewarding. Persevere, however, and as you adapt your driving style to the gearbox, it's possible to make increasingly smooth progress. Even when pressing on, flipping away at the paddles at the right moment and with a little lift off the throttle can result in some nifty shifting from the computer-controlled gearbox. Better still, a C4 1.6 HDi with the EGS is actually 6% more fuel efficient that one without it. What's not to like?
"â€¦as you adapt your driving style to the gearbox, it's possible to make increasingly smooth progress"
The fact that the C4 EGS can be relatively adept while being hurried along a country lane, with a little practice on the driver's part, is credit to Citroen because this isn't where self-shifting gearboxes are supposed to shine. It's their ease of use in urban driving conditions where the traffic's stacked nose to tail and drivers of manual cars are forced to stomp their clutch foot like George W Bush at a hoedown that makes autos so appealing. Sure enough, the C4 is even better in this environment where it's able to take some of the annoyance out of a half hour spent creeping along in a mammoth tailback. The C4 affords good visibility and turns tightly to help you wriggle out of tight spots in the traffic. When you need to accelerate hard to get out into that gap in the traffic flow, it responds quite briskly. The brakes are a little too brisk and until you get used to them, even the gentlest deceleration can become an emergency stop. When cruising, it seems refreshingly sure of itself and resists the urge to shuffle around through the gears when you encounter an incline. All in all, if there's an automatic gearbox to make fans of manual cars reappraise their position this could be it. Inside the C4, it doesn't look or feel like your average family hatchback but get over the initial visual complexity and all the things you really need are where you'd expect to find them. One possible exception is the main display which sits atop the fascia resembling the Lords cricket ground media centre. Peer beneath the hooded binnacle and rather than the Test Match Special team comparing notes on the day's fruit cake, you'll find essentials like your current speed, fuel reserves and engine temperature as well as various warning lights. The display works well in all light levels but some of the digits are a little small to pick-out at a glance. The thing with the C4 is that there are lots of gadgets that you can get with the car. Our reasonably plush VTR+ model features scented air-conditioning, an automatic speed limiter and cruise control but you can also specify the lane departure warning system, which vibrates your seat to wake you up if you cross a white line without indicating, Satellite navigation and other desirables that up the button count further. The lower-spec C4s that most people buy don't have anything like as much kit and so the controls are far simpler to fathom. On a practical front, out C4 long termed has performed well. The stereo controls on the fixed-hub steering wheel are a winner as far as our testers are concerned as is the sliding armrest in between the front seats that can be adjusted to your favourite position and lifts up to reveal a handy storage bin. The rear door openings could be wider to facilitate easier access and taller passengers in the back will find their legs bunched up a bit but there's plenty of headroom and a very capacious boot with a low loading lip. The seating material on out VTR+ is a strange netting fabric that has proven a little difficult to clean and the imitation carbon fibre plastic on the centre console isn't of the best quality. Otherwise, the materials and construction do more than pass muster. The Citroen EGS gearbox is a bit of a slow burner but once you get to grips with it, there's real depth to its abilities. As well as the convenience you expect from an automatic it does a commendable job of mimicking the responses and control you get with a manual. It's not quite there yet but it comes seriously close. Ultimately, the C4 is family car and for many families the EGS gearbox will be preferable. I'd probably still get the manual given the choice but I'm definitely coming round to Citroen's way of thinking.
Facts At A Glance
CAR: Citroen C4 1.6 HDi EGS range
PRICES: £16,695-£17,495 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUP: 6
CO2 EMISSIONS: 120/km
PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 11.2s / Max Speed 119mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 63mpg (combined)
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: six airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA.
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: [Coupe] Length/Width/Height 4274/1769/1458mm