- Entry-level car lacks equipment
Andy Goodwin reviews the new Citroen C4 Cactus, discovering a quirky crossover with bags of personality in the process.
Those of a certain age will remember Citroen as a brand of innovation. The 2CV got post-war France moving again and the DS not only looked like a car from the future, its designers invented the swivelling headlamp and self-levelling suspension. In recent years it has been all too easy to forget Citroen’s glory days, but, perhaps they are back?
If you want a small family car, the £13,000 C4 Cactus offers something different. Not content with building a Golf-clone, Citroen has stunned us with an attractive crossover whose bubble wrap-inspired Airbumps fend off errant shopping trolleys and car doors. Halleluiah. And that’s not all it can do…
The Cactus looks so fresh, so 2014, there’s nothing else quite like it. Tall doors and shallow windows give it an appearance of being bigger than it really is, with a shorter overall length than a Volkswagen Golf. It is also expected to rival crossovers like the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur.
The interior is no less interesting with a low-slung dashboard, squishy arm-chair front seats and seven-inch touchscreen replacing most traditional buttons and switches. Weight saving has been a real priority, so there’s no roller blind for the optional panoramic sunroof (instead the glass is treated to block out heat), the simple rear bench folds but doesn’t split and the rear windows simply pop-out like a 1990s hatchback.
When so many manufacturers are fixated on telling us their everyday cars are ‘sporty’, Citroen has instead created a car to be as user-friendly as possible. Plastic Airbump cladding is such a good idea in congested British car parks, and some customers will probably buy the car on this basis alone. Anyone who has experienced the annoyance and cost of having their brand new car dinged will know why.
Its 358-litre boot beats the Focus and is near-as-damnit Golf-sized, easily exceeding the Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur and Juke for space and ease-of-access. Rear legroom and headroom are good for the class and roof bars are standard on all but the entry-level trim.
Performance & handling
We think it’s fair to say this isn’t where the most money has been spent. That’s not to say the Cactus is in any way terrible or dangerous to drive, it simply gets you from A to B with the minimum of fuss. The fact Citroen chose to hold its launch in Amsterdam (a city better suiting to cycling than driving) probably tells you all you need to know.
Comfort has been the priority and the soft suspension allows for comfortable cruising, only getting caught out by particularly sharp-edged bumps. Swerve to avoid a careless two-wheeled commuter and body-roll is at least fairly minimal and its tyres offer plenty of grip. But, if it’s a sporty drive you’re after, buy a Focus or Golf.
Under the chevron-badged bonnet there’s a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with either 74, 81 or 108bhp. It might be small, but it feels well-suited to the Cactus as it’s a quiet and smooth engine, which has no problem pulling the car along thanks to weighing around 200kg less than a Nissan Juke. While petrol power would be our first choice, the 91 or 99bhp 1.6-litre diesel is also fairly quiet and punchy.
Economy & environment
Affordable motoring was one of Citroen’s main targets for the Cactus, and it has done an admiral job. Its weight-saving measures are anything but half-hearted, even its windscreen washer jets have been made more efficient, allowing the tank for screen wash to be made half as big.
The 99bhp diesel engine can return 91.1mpg and emits 82g/km of CO2, beating the Golf BlueMotion and Toyota Auris Hybrid. Even petrol models can manage 61.4mpg. Citroen’s unique Airbump technology should cut down on minor repairs and insurance groups are expected to be very low for the class.
Equipment & value
A happy side-effect of making the dashboard so free from buttons is that even the entry-level Touch trim has a seven-inch central touchscreen fitted as standard, but without sat-nav. However, with no alloys or air-con few will opt for this stripped-back version, and being cynical, the main reason it exists is to give Citroen its appealing £12,990 starting price.
The Feel edition will be more popular, with alloys, air-con and roof rails, while Flair adds features including a reversing camera and sat-nav. The standard no-cost colour is luminous Hello Yellow, while other colour options are a reasonable £250 with just one pearlescent colour being around £700. Our only gripes are a lack of useful cup holders in the front and the single passenger air-vent.
With a Euro NCAP crash test due in September, we don’t have the full results just yet, but Citroen told us the Cactus has been designed to accomplish a five-star result and tested in-house to meet these criteria. One interesting feature is the roof-mounted passenger airbag, relocated because of the low dashboard design, and a world first.
You’ve probably guessed we like the Cactus, and that’s because it’s just the sort of car Citroen should be building. We don’t want this quirky manufacturer to turn out soulless econo-boxes like it did during the 1990s and 2000s, we want original cars which boast charm and innovation. The C4 Cactus has both these in spades and also gets on with being a practical, family-friendly and stylish car.
So, if you find the idea of funky paintwork, sofa-inspired seats and Airbump pads more appealing than a silver Golf with a brisk zero to 60mph time, you’d better get down your Citroen dealer.