Striking style vs technical ingenuity

'The Independent' is putting two of the most interesting cars you can buy through their paces. How are they stacking up?
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CITROEN C4

I was keen on running a Citroën C4, not least because it was runner-up in the 2005 Car of the Year contest and my own choice as the winner (although our other long-termer, the Toyota Prius, won the contest).

I opted for the 2.0 VTS version because its three-door styling is striking, and its 180bhp engine promises a spirited drive. With 2,300 miles under its wheels, the C4 has loosened up nicely and feels as frisky as its power suggests it should. The gearchange, sticky into second to start with, has improved too. I'm thoroughly enjoying the C4's grip and its taut, quick responses, but there's little sign of a traditional Citroën ride: it's pretty firm.

Living with the C4 day-to-day has uncovered a few flaws. The doors are very long and pretty thick and heavy, so getting in and out is tricky in a tight space. The waistline rises at the rear to create the dramatic look, but rear passengers can feel hemmed in.

Worst of all are the brakes. They are horribly snatchy when cold, a gentle brush of the pedal bringing on a ridiculously sudden stop. They improve with hard use and become more progressive, but Mrs Simister employs every excuse to avoid driving the C4 the mile to Waitrose because each time she touches the brakes the seatbelt tightens hard against her neck. There really is no need for brakes to be like this, so I'm investigating some alternative front brake-pads. Citroën says it hasn't received any complaints from customers, but if you're driving a C4 like ours, I'd like to hear your views.

John Simister

TOYOTA PRIUS

The trouble with the Toyota Prius is that it's as interesting technically as it is boring to run. The fun comes from sensing how the hybrid mechanicals work, with dash-mounted computer displays showing the flows of power to and from batteries, electric motor, petrol motor and wheels, and all manner of stats. No energy is wasted, you see, and there's the joy of watching that screen as an extra mpg or two is coaxed out of this techno-marvel.

That said, it doesn't seem to matter much whether the Prius is treated gently or thrashed - it always returns about 54mpg. That's good for a car this size, but less than the 65.7mpg on the "combined cycle" that the official figures indicate. It makes quite a difference to the economics of the Prius, given that buyers will need to recoup part of the highish £17,545-plus purchase price through fuel savings. (Do readers agree? Let us know).

The Prius makes most sense in London, where it escapes the £8-a-day congestion charge. A long drive from London to north Norfolk via Leicester proved it a capable and smooth performer across country. Naturally for a Toyota, nothing's gone wrong or fallen off. It can shift if it needs to, but it's just that it's not a hugely involving drive. It brings out the miser in me, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing.

Sean O'Grady

motoring@independent.co.uk

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