I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt I was a rally driver again, entered in the Castrol Rally of old in a Citroen. And it was big-time stuff, with a car competitive enough to put me up there among the leaders.
I'm not sure if the dream had been brought on by 120 km or so of fast winding roads in the Western Cape in Citroen's new C4 2.0 CTS Coupe screamer, or my impending entry in the Cape's famous Cycle Tour. Or maybe something I ate!
Either way, as dreams do, this one morphed and modified itself to the point where I was left wandering about looking for the car without any shoes on - and then I woke up.
I lay awake and thought about Citroen's bold new entry into the hot hatch market.
At 135 kW and with a top speed of 227 km/h it's certainly got the legs to run with the Toyota RunX RSi or the two upcoming GTI and GSi entries from Volkswagen and Opel respectively - albeit slightly down on power, and without the advantage all the others have of a six-speed manual gearbox.
Where the Citroen DOES score, however, is on better aerodynamics, which is especially useful in both achieving a higher top speed, and keeping fuel consumption down.
And as Citroens have done since the DS hit the market in the 'Sixties, the C4 is top of the class, with a co-efficient of drag of just 0.28 for the three-door coupe, 0.29 for the five-door.
What's more, it's not been made possible by weird styling that leaves no room in the back and impossible rear-view vision - instead the C4, in both coupe and five-door guises, has lots of room inside, and rear-view vision in the coupe is probably the best of any car on the market!
In fact, Citroen claims the C4 offers best in class front and rear elbow room and rear legroom in the segment.
And there are a lot of other areas where the coupe gets gold stars.
Firstly, it's the ONLY car in its segment to offer directional xenon headlights - that means they shine around corners - as standard.
It also has 17 inch alloy wheels as standard.
It has leather upholstery as standard.
It has dual zone climate control air-conditioning as standard.
It has a full-size spare wheel (now there's a novelty these days) while still embracing a BIG boot.
It has tyre pressure monitors.
It has park assist at the rear as standard.
And it has a CD shuttle located between the seats, where it's easy to get at, linked to a superb front-loader radio/CD with six speakers.
It has the latest generation electronic stability control (ESP) with ASR (also fitted on the diesel).
And most importantly of all, it LOOKS just like a million dollar rally car!
Of course, let's not forget about the C4 five-door.
This one is aimed at a more family-oriented market, but it still comes with lots of features it also shares with the coupe.
Current top scorer (35 out of 37) five stars in its segment in Euro NCAP
ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist
Cruise control and speed limiter
16 inch alloy wheels with 205/55 R16 tyres
A multi-function steering wheel with a fixed hub
Electric windows and mirrors
Height-adjustable driver's seat
An integrated front-loader radio/CD with remote controls
Rain sensor wipers
60/40 split rear seat
Trip computer (including fuel consumption and distance to refuel).
Remote keyless entry
Auto door locking once moving
Air conditioning as standard (climate controlled on the Coupe).
Electronic headlamp leveling
2 year/60 000 km maintenance plan (optional, for R10 000 extra, on the CTS).
There are four models on offer:
Citroen C4 1.6i 5-speed manual R 174 995
Citroen C4 1.6i 4-speed automatic R194 995
Citroen C4 1.6 HDi 5-speed manual (turbo-diesel) R194 995
Citroen C4 2.0 CTS Coupe 5-speed manual R249 995
But the C4 is not just about features. In fact, I would go so far as to say its strongest characteristic is its styling - which is about as far removed from the out-of-date look of its predecessor, the Xsara, as you can get.
Firstly, there's the new trademark Citroen grille, first seen in SA on the recently launched C5.
It's visually strong, featuring full-width chromed chevrons as an over-stated part of the grille itself, and the boomerang-shaped lights which extend up to the vehicle wings.
Both body types have a strongly flowing fastback shape with the flag-shaped rearview mirrors on the front doors prominent on the sides.
And there's a bold tail with strong tail-lights, and, on the coupe, a big high-mounted spoiler with very large rear window that "splits" - part of it is on the sloping tail-gate and part of it in horizontal portion, so rear vision is just great.
Citroen says styling has been characterised by "decisive architectural choices".
It summarises the difference between the two as follows:
A saloon of fluid, dynamic lines with strong curves,
A coupé of longer, sharper lines with a plunging tail line.
Although the C4 Saloon and the C4 Coupé have very different styling, they share the same interior space.
They have the same dimensions, viewed from the side, with a wheelbase of 2.61 metres and a height of 1.46 metres. Only their length differs slightly (by 1.3 cm) owing to the style of the rear bumper.
Both models have a very clean dashboard design, with the dominant feature the main instruments placed right in front of the driver.
Totally digital, there's a revcounter in a wide sweeping arc shape that is set just above the steering column. A feature of the revcounter is that the background glows a bright red when it's time to change gear, and just before the engine cut-off. But you have to be quick!
Above that there's the main instrument panel which sees a large digital speed readout, fuel and temperature gauges as vertical bar graphs, odometer and trip meter, plus other information such as fuel consumption which can be called up at will.
Unlike previous Citroen models, the brightness of the instruments is automatically altered to account for outside light sources, so the speedo can never be "washed out" by strong sunlight from the side, for instance.
The dashboard is trimmed with a high-quality plastic that is soft to the touch, while the Coupe gets real aluminium trim panel on the centre console.
Unique to the C4 is the fixed centre of the steering wheel which contains the main comfort functions and driving aids. The centre of the wheel no longer turns with the rim, so the controls are always in the same place.
Having a fixed hub also means Citroen could use a special airbag that is shaped to offer more protection to the driver's lower body as well as the chest area.
On the 5-door models there are controls for the audio functions and the speed control/speed limiter; the CTS also gives access to the multi-function computer and other options, such as a blacked-out computer screen for night driving.
A unique feature is an integrated scented air freshener, styled to match the dashboard design, and which offers a choice of nine fragrances. Refills will be about R20 a shot and a cartridge last about two months.
All egines have double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and a motor-driven throttle, controlled electrically by the engine control unit.
They are all linked to a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 1.6 16V engine is also available with an automatic 4-speed sequential gearbox.
The 1.6i 16V engine develops 80 kW at 5 800 r/min and maximum torque of 147 Nm at 4 000 r/min. Highly responsive from the lowest engine speeds, this engine offers torque of 132 Nm, 90% of maximum, from 2 000 r/min.
Claimed top speed is 194 km/h with 0-100 km/h in 10.6 seconds, and EEC combined fuel consumption of 7.1 litres/100 km.
The 2.0i 16V VTS engine makes 135 kW at 7 000 r/min with 202 Nm of torque at 4 750 r/min. Claimed top speed is 227 km/h with 0-100 km/h in 8.3 seconds and a combined fuel consumption of 8.4 litres/100 km.
The 1.6 HDi turbo-diesel engine boasts power of 83 kW at 4 000 r/min, supplying maximum torque of 240 Nm at 1 750 r/min. Torque can be increased to 260 Nm at 1 750 r/min on the three highest gears, thanks to the overboost function.
For strong bursts of acceleration, the overboost function kicks in, delivering up to 20 Nm of additional torque by increasing the fuel injection rate.
On the road this translates to excellent overtaking and the peace of mind of that extra "boost" when you need it.
Top speed is claimed to be 192 km/h, with 0-100 km/h in 11.2 seconds, and it's ultra-frugal, with a combined cycle consumption of a mere 4.7 litres/100 km.
On the road
The most noticeable thing - or not - is the almost total absence of wind noise, courtesy of those advanced aerodynamics.
I drove the CTS first, and I was extremely impressed by the strong acceleration, right from the first thrust on the accelerator, and around to the revcounter's 7 000 r/min "red flash".
Mid-range torque was better than expected, although I would have preferred a sixth gear at the top end.
Road manners were excellent, and the car is not nearly as harsh as any of its competitors in terms of ride quality, while handling is superb, with the ESP set at high levels so you can enter corners very fast and hard without electronic intervention.
Grip is sensational, and so is braking, with big ventilated discs up front, and solid ones at the back.
All C4 versions use a McPherson type suspension at the front and flexible transverse beam at the rear.
The 5-door is a horse of another colour.
This time the accent is more on comfort than grip, so you find a bit more body roll, and little less sharpness. However, it's still right up with the norm - better than a Corolla, not quite as good as Golf.
But well up to the standards of most drivers, and safe as houses.
Obviously the 1.6 petrol engine is not nearly as powerful as that on the CTS, but it's a strong and willing unit that rewards smooth drivers with it's "get-up-and-go" as well as its ability to pull hard from low revs.
The diesel, on the other hand, is about as flexible as they come. Although not as powerful as, say, the 2-litre Golf unit, it's also a hell of a lot less expensive, while still retaining the sort of power output normally associated with petrol units.
The styling of the C4 is dramatic, and bold, and as such won't appeal to much of our conservatively-oriented motoring public.
However, those who do take the bold step of buying one will be rewarded by a superbly built and well specced-car that stands out from the crowd.
It has lots of innovations, it's the safest car in its class (and one of the safest on the road) and it's quick, economical, and roomy.