I’m one of those people who’s always liked the French. Their lack of sentimentality, and hence lack of diplomacy has always rubbed me up the right way. I was on the Paris Metro once and being a bit lost, was waiting in line at an info kiosk to ask for some assistance. In front of me was an American Family. The American Family. The American Family with fanny packs and fat where other people from other nations don’t have fat.
AMERICAN FATHER (I won’t say American Dad, because that’s a great show): ”Where’s the Arch of Triumph? Excuse me. Do you know where the Arch of TRY-UMPH is?”
The Frenchman behind the glass just gave a wonderful Gallic shrug. I loved his reaction even more because I had just come from outside and the Arc D’Triomph was literally meters to the left up on the pavement. But he wouldn’t budge, he just shrugged and I loved it.
What irritated me the most was that the American made absolutely no attempt at “hello” in ANY language, never mind French, and just launched a terrible attempt at pronouncing their most important landmark.
I approached the glass after the Americans wandered off muttering, and after a very bad Bon jour asked if I may proceed in English. “Of course,” said the same guy who minutes earlier had been Jean-Pierre Le’Shrug. He gave me directions in perfect English merely because I had made an effort – in his country – to converse with him. Like any nation, the French want you to understand them. To acknowledge them on their own terms.
So I was prepared to love the new Citroen C4 on its own terms. I was ready to be enveloped in its Frenchness. I was ready to be smitten by the utterly daft, peculiar beings they can be. I was ready to love it. And at first I did. Sitting in it, everything worked, but was a bit…off.
The gear lever looks like the top of a wine opener. Fittingly, because the man who made the gearbox was drunk and on leave apparently when he designed it via fax from a vineyard. But more on that in a minute. The level of luxury in here is truly exemplary. There’s a French suaveness about it all. The seats massage you, the display is brilliant and everything seems to work like it should. It’s like learning the Parisien Underground. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
So far so good. I was feeling fully fluent in French. Then I began to drive it, and this car doesn’t speak “DRIVE”. As in the part of the gearbox that makes the car go forwards consistently.
I nudged the wine opener backwards into A for Automatique I assume (you nudge it forward for reverse obviously) and the car really got moving with a hint of wheelspin. Not bad… and then it felt like someone had half pulled the handbrake up as it wheezed its way into second. Satellites don’t have this much delay. It seriously felt like the car had tried to stop. It’s unnerving.
Remembering my French lessons, I automatiquelly assumed it was me making a hash of things. I was quite obviously squeezing mayonnaise out of a tube onto a delicate croissant layered with roast beef from a tin in front of Sarkozy’s wife while explaining why Zidane was shit and always had been.
This sort of thing had happened with my driving style before. How can I put this. I sometimes drive cars wrong. I drive Cadillacs like they’re speedboats at first and then realise how cool they are when you drive them like you’ve had three strokes, for instance. Right, time for a new driving approach. I’ll feather the accelerator, nice and smooth, none of this robot racing right foot and…second gear…clang! I felt like the airbags should’ve deployed. It’s like you’ve driven into a shed. Not one sturdy enough to stop you, but enough to let you know it was there.
It’s appalling this gearbox, truly appaling. I tried and tried and then eventually felt something I’ve never experienced before: Motion Sickness. I’ve eaten left over cold pizza with a hangover on a yacht while people threw up around me from sea sickness and I scoffed at their weakness, but I actually felt ill after driving around in the C4 for a while.
Citroen claim it’s not an automatic and it’s not a manual; it’s something else. Right. All they’ve achieved is making both types of gearbox worse. Infinitely worse. It seems in typical Citroen fashion they’ve blown the R&D budget on things like multi coloured LCD displays (you can choose from 8 hues of blue) and varying sounds made by your indicator instead of on things like the bloody gearbox.
Citroen’s eccentricity used to be reserved for design and that used to make them charming and cultish. The C4 with it’s ESG auto/manual or whatever is not just annoying, it is quite literally the first auto I’ve felt was constantly about to stall, and that’s a real pity because the rest of it is everything a Citroen should be. Thank goodness you can still have a good old manual.