Making cars delightful again : Citroën can do it!

Car manufacturers are facing many challenges… each dealing with them in their own way. At Citroën, electrification means serenity and affordability. The brand is putting back the focus on comfort, user- friendliness and an nice and easy on-board experience.

The Citroën C4 is a medium-sized saloon with SUV tendencies. It offers a high level of comfort and decent fit and finish finish. Its comfort is in keeping with the brand’s tradition, without having the rocking boat feeling some of its predecessors were famous for. The electric version has 100 kW, 260 Nm of torque and a 150 km/h top speed.

Back in the 1970s the French road safety campaign was already hammering home the message that “speed is out of fashion”. Today’s traffic jams, speed cameras and other devices designed to annoy drivers’ life in every conceivable way could lead to think that owning and using a car are a real nightmare.  Citroën sees things differently and  wants to “make the car delightful again”. The most important thing is not the destination but the journey. Therefore, the car must be as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Right now, all this is achieved through electric power.

Externally, it takes a trained eye to realise this is an electric and not a internal combustion engine version. The Ë-C4 is quite tall and has a number of finely worked details, such as the rear lights.

Challenges and opportunities

Premium brands are moving downmarket and seduce ever more mainstream manufacturers’ customers. This trend combines with an electrification process, which, in a way, is increasingly erasing the various brand’s technical peculiarities, making product differentiation more and more difficult. Citroën offers individual electric mobility solutions that are bang up to date while remaining affordable. The French manufacturer adds its traditional values of comfort and relaxed attitude.

The boot has a regular shape and its sill makes it easy to put all sorts of things in.

Tradition and innovation

For more than a hundred years, Citroën’s trademark has been innovation and boasting a refreshingly different perception of the car as a moving object. Some carmakers create new niches, add equipment (that is sometimes or often unnecessary), or develop ludicrously powerful hybrid or electric versions… At Citroën, lateral thinking is the way to go: from now on, the brand wants to remain a freedom provider through mobility products and services. The brand’s switch to electric vehicles is felt by insiders as an opportunity to evolve and reinvent itself. In the light of its heritage and history, Citroen is undoubtedly one of the mainstream carmakers with the greatest scope for innovation. This movement was initiated several years ago, under Linda Jackson’s management. Vincent Cobée replaced her recently and he is on the same path:  no use in copying what was made before! The brand’s history is an inspiration to answer new challenges in a sustainable way. For example, the new C3 is going back to basics, even though it is no 4.0 version of the Visa or the AX.

The signature of the electric versions is displayed in blue on the bodywork, from the double chevron to this stylised “E”.

Electric range

Obviously, Citroën could not ignore the switch to hybrid and electric engines. Being part of the Stellantis group is a huge advantage : it allows the brand to benefit from economies of scale, enabling to sell its cars at attractive prices, meaning as many people as possible can afford an electric (or hybrid)  Citroen. The electric range’s new logo is still the distinctive Citroen one, now coloured in blue. Most of the models’ names are now preceded by an ‘Ë’. The Ami, which we recently tested, is a perfect example of the brand’s affordability. The Citroen- FNAC partnership is really significant: on the one hand, Citroën wants to give more people access to electric mobility while on the other hand the FNAC always promoted affordable access to cultural products… and that inevitably involves mobility, too. Both companies could only sign up a partnership deal! We could even say that mobility is life, despite all the rabid environmentalists who would like us to return to the Stone Age. One thing is for sure, though. In the future, mobility, and more particularly, individual mobility, will become increasingly expensive… and ever less affordable. Therefore, Citroen is taking steps to dispel preconceived ideas about the cost of electric mobility. The brand’s ambition is to offer 30% electric cars in its range by 2025 and 70% by 2030. Today’s electric range starts from €7,690 for the Ami, an Ë-C4 is available from €28,780; an Ë- Berlingo from €32,610 and the Ë-Spacetourer from €43,800.

The Berlingo is available with five or seven seats. Its regular shape provides a huge interior space. The battery (located under the floor) doesn’t rob interior space. Equipped with the “Modutop” glass roof, it is full of storage space that children love on long journeys. The electric version has a maximum speed of 135 km/h, which could be problematic in some circumstances.

The various models benefit from Citroën advanced comfort features that improve passengers comfort with driving aids and various connected services. However, it remains to be seen if a large number of buyers will take the plunge. Even if the e-Mehari did not convince, it seems things have changed… At the time of writing, the brand has already over eleven thousand Ami on order. It is the best selling car in its segment in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain and Belgium. As a reminder, the Ami has a range of 75 km and can be fully recharged in three hours on a household socket. Its 6kW motor allows it to reach 45 km/h, turning it into an ideal city car. The batteries have an 8-year warranty (or 160,000 km) and should keep up to 70% capacity throughout their life. Recovering 80% of the range requires 30 to 45 minutes (on a 100 kW rapid terminal) or 5 hours using an 11 kW three-phase Wallbox; 7.5 hours with a 7.4 kW single-phase Wallbox and… 15 hours on a regular household socket.

The Berlingo’s instrument panel is now digital and allows you to monitor electricity consumption.

Three different sizes to cater for all families

Along the Ami, Citroën’s electric range includes three models based on the Group’s EMP2 platform: the Ë- C4; the Ë- Berlingo (five- and seven-seater) and the Ë- Spacetourer which can accommodate up to nine passengers. These vehicles share the same 100 kW engine delivering a 260 Nm torque, mated to an EAT 8 automatic gearbox with three driving modes. These can be selected through a switch located on the right-hand side of the gearbox lever. “The “Eco” mode increases range, while limiting power to 60 kW and torque to 190 Nm.  The “Normal” mode provides you with 80 kW and 210 Nm, while the “Power” one releases 100 kW and 260 Nm to move heavy things around, for example. On the other side of the embossed finish “gearstick”, a switch allows to select the “Brake” mode: it automatically recharges the battery during braking or deceleration. While increasing the car’s range, it reduces the strain on the brake pads at the same time. The Ë-C4 has a top speed of 150 km/h and its 50 kWh battery is good for a 350 km range (WLTP). The Ë-Berlingo reaches a top speed of 135 km/h, with a 280 km range (WLTP). The Ë-Spacetourer is available in two versions: one featuring a 50 kWh battery, allowing a 230 km range or a 75 kWh battery increasing the range to 330 km. However, top speed is 130 km/h in both cases.

The Ë- C4 central screen is rather intuitive and easy to use, once you’ve learned how it works. The satnav is precise.

It is even possible to visualise energy flows and regulates the ongoing or programmed (through the “My Citroën” app) charge using the dashboard central screen, as well as monitoring the available range. Via the “Free2move” app, it is possible to locate and access more than 200,000 charging points throughout Europe. It also indicates whether the selected ones are compatible with the car and available as well. This application allows you to plan trips using the most appropriate routes according to the remaining range and the type of socket fitted to the car. It even allows the driver to manage the vehicle’s power consumption. Driving aids are standard across the range, ranging from lane keeping assistance, blind spot detection to parking aid and emergency braking assistance. The Berlingo minivan third generation was launched back in 2018 and more than 240,000 have been sold so far. It was first introduced in 1996 and more than two million units have been produced since. All over Europe, it is the second best-selling vehicle in its class, according to Citroen. Surveys have shown that Berlingo drivers travel 13,500 km per year, on average. This is about 40 km per day, with a mix of 37% urban, 44% highway and 16% motorway use. This means an electric version should prove attractive for a majority of users. The interior and load spaces are identical to those of an ICE version. The battery is located under the floor, thus lowering the centre of gravity. The clever Modutop features a glass roof and allows 167 litres of storage in no less than 26 spaces.

Charging time varies according to the type of terminal used : from 30 minutes to recover 80% of autonomy on a fast terminal to… 15 hours on a regular domestic socket.

Behind the wheel

A couple of weeks ago, we briefly tested Citroën’s electric range on various roads, from city to motorway. First of all, we took the wheel of the Ë-C4. The car does its job with total ease.  The Citroën comfort experience is real; thanks to the progressive hydraulic bump stops. The seats are comfortable and even offer good lateral support when cornering. Aesthetics are a matter of personal taste but there is no doubt that this is a credible electric proposition in the segment, offered at relatively accessible prices. The same applies to the Ë Berlingo and Ë Spacetourer.  The driving experience is fairly comparable to that of their ICE counterparts. There is no noticeable overweight, lazy front end or blurry steering, which is great.

Citroën’s ambition is to make its cars even more attractive, emphasising their comfort and a Zen, relaxed and casual attitude once travelling in them. Even backseat passengers will enjoy the ride.

Given the short duration of the test, we were obviously unable to check the range. The respective RRPs are € 32.000 and € 43.000 € (for the Ë Berlingo and Ë Spacetourer) and that’s quite a lot of money. Of course, in France, state grants soften the bill.  Another surprise was their top speed: 135 km/h for the Berlingo and just 130 km/h for the Ë Spacetourer.  Given the speed limits, this is obviously enough but… would it be wise to venture out onto an autobahn? In certain situations, going faster than another vehicle travelling at the legal limit could save lives and avoid accidents. Even if Citroën’s electric range is cohesive and is a good answer to many buyers’ expectations, when it comes to making a choice, it is important to weigh up all the elements in order to make a well-considered choice. (Text & pictures: Dimitri Urbain)

Like the Ë Berlingo, the Ë Space Tourer is based on a commercial vehicle. Though being compact on the outside, interior space is huge. Seven to nine passengers can travel in it in total comfort. Fit and finish are very good, far from being plain utilitarian. The battery is available in two versions : 50 or 75 kWh, allowing and a range of 230 or 330 km, respectively. Its top speed is 130 km/h flat and prices start from €43,800.

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