New autobox makes Citroen hatch smoother, more nippy and more fun
DS4 gets nearer to perfection Good styling and a wide array of premium features are among the pleasing aspects of the new Citroen DS4 -- PHOTO: CITROEN

The latest variant of Citroen's DS4 hatch is proof that good things do come to those who wait.

When the DS4 - a well-built, tall, sexy hatch - was introduced here in February, it had two choices of transmission.

There was a six-speed manual and a six-speed robotised manual, neither of which was particularly popular. The robotised manual was a tad jerky, a perculiarity of such gearboxes. And the manual, well, who drives manuals these days?

Now, Citroen has replaced the robotised manual with a traditional six-speed autobox. And what an improvement it has made to the car.

First, gear changes are smoother, although not as smooth as some of the twin-clutch transmissions made popular by Volkswagen.

Second, the car has become more efficient - with no energy and power lost to the lurching movement of its predecessor. As a result, it is decidedly quicker, clocking an 8.8-second century sprint that shaves one whole second off the previous mark.

Power to the wheels has also gone up from 155bhp to 161bhp, while peak torque availability is from 1,400rpm, compared to 1,600rpm before.

All these make for a car that is really quite a joy at the wheel. It is very nippy and does not have much trouble keeping up with the faster cars on the road.

And it gets the job done with little fanfare - no screaming engine or bassy exhaust note. It cruises along quietly and gathers speed unobtrusively.

The DS4 seems to respond best if you are gentle on the throttle at first, increasing pedal pressure only when the car is well on its way.

If you kick down the pedal hard at the lights, it often hesitates for a split second before powering away.

As much of an improvement as it is over the previous car, it can do with a slightly more responsive throttle, more seamless gear changes and perhaps an engine tuned up to produce even more horses.

There is no reason why the car cannot do 0-100kmh in eight seconds flat. Some models from Mini, equipped with the same power plant and weighing not much lighter, clock the sprint in under eight.

Of course this is just greed talking. The DS4 is already pretty accomplished with the new gearbox. Under all but the most dire circumstances, you will find the car quite adequate.

On top of its newfound verve, the DS4 continues to please with its top-notch build quality, high equipment level, premium materials and leading edge styling.

The car is a biggish hatch, with a silhouette that is slightly larger than a Volkswagen Golf's. But inside, it appears far larger, with more head, elbow and legroom than what you would expect of a compact.

Its boot is decently sized as well, but its sunken floor makes retrieving heavy objects a bit dicey for older folks.

Then again, perhaps the car is targeted at the younger set. It strikes a somewhat bold profile, with its prominent grille and chrome tailpipes incorporated into the rear bumper assembly.

It has door-mounted wing mirrors and rear door handles that are optically fused with the C-pillar - nice touches.

Its interior is just as impressive. The cabin is aesthetically and ergonomically laid out, with a cockpit that is modern and sporty. You see an array of digital dials, and more bells and whistles than what you would expect of a car in its price segment.

The DS4 pleases with its wide array of premium features too. The hill-hold function, which allows the car to stay on a gradient without you activating the brakes, is great.

More mature drivers will, however, miss Citroen's hallmark hydropneumatic suspension, which gave the cars of old superior ride and handling. But like I said, the DS4 is targeted at younger buyers.

For those who want a manual, it is still offered. And with a carbon emission of 149g/km, it qualifies for a tax rebate of $5,000 under the new scheme that kicks in next month.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer might want to address a teeny-weeny thing that can be a big irritant on rainy days - sticky wipers. The test-car's wipers squeak like a tortured rat. Not a fundamental flaw, but one that gets on your nerves nonetheless.

Hopefully, we do not have to wait too long for that to be fixed.

Specs

CITROEN DS4 AT6

Price: $166,988 with COE

Engine: 1,598cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual override
Power: 161bhp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 240Nm at 1,400rpm
0-100kmh: 8.8 seconds
Top speed: 212kmh
Fuel consumption: 7.7 litres/100km
Agent: Cycle & Carriage France