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The car formerly known as the Citroen DS4 has always suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. Part hatchback, part coupe, part crossover, nobody was ever sure what the DS4 was supposed to be. A car in danger of being a jack of all trades and master of none.

Free from the shackles of Citroen, the newly-formed DS Automobiles is on a mission to establish itself as a credible alternative to the premium players within its relevant sectors. Step forward the DS 4, which, in effort to provide some much needed clarity, is now available in two flavours.

Flavour one: a premium hatchback, positioned to go head-to-head with the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Audi A3 and Volvo V40. Flavour two: the newly-created DS 4 Crossback, complete with increased ride height and wannabe SUV credentials. You can read the review of this car here.

With the DS 4 coupe-hatchback, the big news is a 20mm drop in ride height compared to the previous Citroen DS4. This is, in part, an effort to distinguish it from the Crossback, which sits a full 30mm higher than the standard DS 4.

But this is essentially a cosmetic exercise – an attempt to extend the lifespan of a car introduced in 2011 and based on the humble Citroen C4. So there’s a new grille, new LED headlights, scrolling directional indicators, lots of chrome and a panoramic windscreen.

All very nice, but is it enough to enable the new DS 4 to be considered alongside its German rivals?

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2015 DS 4 THP 210 Prestige: On the road

In authentic Ferrero Rocher style, DS really spoilt us by laying on the flagship THP 210 petrol engine. No efficient diesel engine for the ambassador, even if the oil-burners will account for the majority of sales in the UK.

It’s the first time the 208hp petrol engine has been used in a DS model and, on paper at least, it transforms the DS 4 into a hot hatch wannabe. Only the DS 4 is more of a warm hatch. Not that this is necessarily a problem, given the car’s target audience.

The power peaks at 6,000rpm, but 210lb ft of torque is available from 1,750rpm to 4,000rpm, so the DS 4 pulls strongly in any gear. Third, fourth, even fifth, you’ll find little problem powering out of a B-road corner, no matter what gear you’re in.

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Which means it’s possible to have some proper fun in the DS 4. On some admittedly smooth French roads, the new DS 4 rewarded our pre-dawn start with some soft-focus enjoyment. The ride is noticeably better than before, even on the standard-fit 18-inch alloy wheels of the Prestige trim level.

It’s not silky smooth, but the way in which the DS 4 transmits imperfections in the road gives you greater confidence than before. The DS 4 also has a tendency to roll through the bends, although there’s a tremendous amount of grip. It all feels very old school French.

Sadly, the steering is a real disappointment. It’s strangely heavy at low speeds, although this doesn’t translate to a nice weight when travelling at speed. The response is immediate, but there’s no feel and the weight is, at best, variable.

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In keeping with the soft-focus, warm hatch vibe, the DS 4 has a throaty if muted soundtrack, encouraging you to press on during a spirited drive. Sadly, there’s a little too much wind and road noise at high speeds. Curiously, we also noticed some occasional vibration through the steering wheel and pedals.

2015 DS 4 THP 210 Prestige: On the inside

If the DS 4 is to compete with its German rivals, this is one area where it needs to excel. First impressions are actually very good.

Our top trim test car featured the optional Criollo leather pack, which adds leather to the top of the dashboard, arm rests and centre console. At £1,500, this is an expensive but essential upgrade, as it hides the hard plastics within the cabin. DS will proudly tell you that it takes eight hours to create each pack.

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Sadly, no amount of leather can disguise the rather cheap-feeling buttons below the 7-inch touchscreen. It’s also a shame the buttons are not placed either side of the screen, as you’ll find in say the C4 Cactus.

That said, the DS 4 is the first car within the PSA Group to feature Apple CarPlay, which continues to impress.

As before, the DS 4 is very much a car focused on the front seats, because rear space is disappointing. Getting in and out of through the awkwardly-shaped rear doors is hard and once there the low roofline restricts the amount of headroom. Legroom is also limited, leaving the rear of the cabin feeling claustrophobic. This feeling isn’t helped by the fixed rear windows, which cannot be opened.

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Throw into the mix the high boot lip and you’ll realise this is a hatchback designed for those who don’t mind sacrificing practicality in the name of style. That said, there’s a useful 380 litres of boot space, 60:40 split folding rear seats and a ski hatch in the Prestige model.

2015 DS 4 THP 210 Prestige: Running costs

Face it, you’re not going to order the all singing, all dancing THP 210 engine if running costs are your primary concern.

The CO2 emissions of 138g/km means it sticks out like a sore thumb on the spec sheet, with the diesel engines ranging from 100g/km to 115g/km. Fuel economy is a claimed 47.9mpg on a combined cycle.

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Prices start from £19,495 for the PureTech engine in Elegance trim, with our test car weighing in at £22,995. DS will encourage you to treat yourself to a range of ‘avant-garde’ and expensive options, such as the new two-tone paint, which DS claims is a sector first.

2015 DS 4 THP 210 Prestige: Verdict

The new DS 4 is undeniably much improved. The cosmetic overhaul means it’s more attractive to look at, taking it further away from the look of the Citroen C4. It’s also more rewarding to drive, feels more refined and is more reflective of what DS is hoping to achieve in the long term.

And that’s the key. The new DS 4 feels every inch a stop-gap on the way to bigger things. It’s a mere starter while we wait for a more lavish main course.

You’ll find more fulfilling options on the premium hatchback menu, but the DS 4 makes for an interesting choice should the chef encourage you to taste something different.

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2015 DS 4 THP 210 Prestige: Specifications

Model tested: DS 4 THP 210 Prestige

Price: £22,995 plus options

Power: 208hp

Torque: 210lb ft

0-62mph: 7.8 seconds

Top speed: 146mph

Fuel economy: 47.9mpg

CO2 emissions: 138g/km

More on Motoring Research:

DS 4 Crossback BlueHDi 180 review: 2015 first drive

Frankfurt exclusive: no sales projections for Citroen’s DS brand