Review: The Engaging Citroen C4 Cactus

As a rule I am generally averse to cars being named after other things. You might recall the Ford Probe which sounded somehow… invasive. Then there’s the Dodge Swinger which has too many connotations to contemplate. Obviously there are always exceptions to rules as demonstrated by the Porsche Cayman and now, there’s the Citroen Cactus.

When first hearing that name being bandied about I felt that Citroen had to be kidding but for some reason I can’t quite grasp the name absolutely works. The Citroen C4 Cactus then, is like a breath of fresh air blowing over the ubiquity of your average euro-box. Sure, it has its faults – none of them serious – but overall this is a bright, modern 21st Century car.

The exterior

Whilst retaining a family resemblance, the Cactus has a look all of its own. It has the now famous thermoplastic polyurethane ‘airbumps’ on the body sides, a feature I continue to be unsure about although having been side-scraped in a supermarket car park I can see the point. I’m not so sure about the longevity though. They are supposed to be maintenance free but I wonder what they’ll look like in a couple of years and how an owner would keep them looking fresh. Also, I don’t see manufacturers rushing to emulate the idea in some way. There’s no doubt that they are novel though and, if it saves a few quid on repairs, then why not?w3The looks are quirky and appealing. Even after my week with the car it still made me smile. It’s a hatchback that will also appeal to the ‘crossover’ market. In top-of-the-range Flair trim the featured car sported roof rails and wing mirrors in contrast to the purple metallic paint. I would never, ever specify purple as a colour for a car and yet – it works. It looks great. Citroen are not noted for ‘playing safe’ with design and thank goodness for that. I especially liked the 17” ‘Cross’ diamond-cut alloys. In Flair trim, the Citroen C4 Cactus comes with sensors and a very clear rear camera so parking is straightforward.

Under the bonnet

The Cactus came with Citroen’s 1.6L Blue HDi 100hp engine and it’s a good ‘un. Punchy and strong, it will never set any records in the traffic light sprint but on the road it cracks on nicely. Citroen claim around 78mpg for this motor but in the real world – and with yours truly behind the wheel – we only saw over 50mpg but it was consistent. I reckon that’s pretty good, especially when you link it with CO² at a lowly and tax-busting 89g/km. Great stuff.Given the fun nature of the car I think I would go for the slightly livelier 110hp petrol engine. There are two less powerful versions of this engine on offer plus a 92hp diesel, but that comes with an ETG6 ‘automated manual’ gearbox about which I have reservations. I’m not going to comment at length on this as I haven’t driven it but other commentators have been less than enthusiastic. It isn’t the same as a CVT gearbox – which I loathe – but it seems to have similarities in driving, so they say. If you fancy an auto, then make sure you take a thorough test drive first. Personally I’d stick with the five-speed manual which works well. In fact the only issue I have with the gearing is the fact that it’s only got the five ratios. With this strong diesel engine I kept automatically reaching for a sixth gear that wasn’t there.

On the inside

There are three trim levels to choose from: Touch, Feel and Flair; each group adding features. All versions of the Cactus come with a digital speedometer and a large touchscreen display, which combine to make the dashboard look very smart and modern. Adding to the appeal are nice touches like the straps to close the doors and the ‘luggage effect’ glove box. Functions like climate control, radio, Bluetooth and so on, are handled through the touchscreen so there’s a minimum of buttons. It all works well and is simple to use although the Bluetooth tried to drive me crazy when trying to stream some music. I eventually cracked it however and the sound quality was good. There are plenty of options to choose from (there’s a detailed spec sheet below) but it’s worth mentioning the ‘eMyWay’ Sat-nav, which is very good and the option of an emergency and assistance system.The materials on the dashboard disappointed and that’s a shame because I like the interior a lot and found the manually adjustable part-leather (on this model) seats to be comfortable, if a little soft. Sadly, the oblate steering wheel adjusts only for height and not reach so the driving position may be found wanting by people of differing proportions (he said with an eye on being totally non-judgemental and inclusive). There’s plenty of space up front and two adults will fit comfortably enough in the back. The optional panoramic glass roof cuts down a tad on headroom but don’t let that stop you specifying it because it’s a must-have. The interior though is refreshingly different and I approve overall.Around the back

The boot’s not bad although not huge but it is well shaped and will take a decent load. The car comes as standard with the dreaded puncture repair kit but for a modest £75 you can have a space-saver spare instead. A must, I think. Rear seats fold as usual for extra load-carrying potential.Verdict

Amazingly, I haven’t yet seen too many of these cars around and it is hard to understand why. The suspension is a little soft for my tastes but most will disagree with me, I expect. The 1.6L diesel is great although my choice would be for the 1.2L 110 PureTech petrol engine. This range-topping model costs £20,445 but has plenty of kit for the money. On the road the car feels balanced and sure-footed at speed, and cruises well. The Citroen C4 Cactus has an engaging character that offers up a truly different choice.

Geoff Maxted