Citroen C4 Cactus review

Our Rating 
4
4.0/5.0
2014 model
By jumbo-bg Test TeamComments

Stand-out design plus comfort and efficiency make the Citroen C4 Cactus an appealing mini-SUV option

For 
Comfortable ride, interesting design, fairly priced
Against 
Erratic auto gearbox, patchy material quality, irritating infotainment

The Citroen C4 Cactus represents a return to the past for the French manufacturer, offering unusual quirks that give it real appeal amongst its more run of the mill opposition. It’s the kind of fun and funky car for which the company was once famous.

In the past, Citroens were always soft and soothing, and with the C4 Cactus compact SUV the focus has been placed very much on comfort. It’s rela to drive and, although it doesn’t handle quite as sharply as some other supermini-based SUVs, it’s still fun to hustle down a country road. The three-cylinder engines provide more punch than their power outputs might suggest, too.

The C4 Cactus is priced attractively, but some of the interior plastics feel a bit low rent. There’s no option of 4x4, either, so despite its interesting looks, the Cactus isn’t as adventurous as you might think.

Our Choice 
Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 110 S&S manual Feel

The popular Citroen C4 Cactus is the French manufacturer’s take on the supermini-sized SUV segment, where it rivals cars like the Nissan Juke, Kia Stonic and SEAT Arona.

While those rivals are certainly fashionable, the Cactus C4 stands out amongst them for styling that pushes the boundaries a little further. A facelift in 2018 might have toned down the design - particularly the more subtle arrangement of the ‘Airbumps’ that made the original so quirky - but the overall look remains different enough to be eye-catching. The new look takes inspiration from the C3, with a new chrome strip and badge arrangement, tweaked headlights, and LED daytime running lights.

However, those styling changes aren’t as significant as the revised model’s mechanical tweaks. The main changes centre around the suspension, with comfort in mind. The new system features an extra set of hydraulic dampers on each corner.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Volkswagen Golf vs Vauxhall Astra

Effectively doing away with conventional bump stops, it allowed Citroen’s engineers to reduce the spring rates to give the Cactus a pillowy soft ride without fear of bottoming out over bumps. It’s not quite as ingenious as the hydropneumatic system pioneered by the iconic DS, but it means that the Cactus offers something unique - and useful - in a competitive class.

The drive for comfort doesn’t end with the suspension either. A new seat construction makes use of different foam materials applied in varying layers, to make them squidgy yet more supportive than before. This, plus increased sound insulation, improves overall refinement.

While the C4 Cactus boasts rugged styling, it’s not an off-roader. The car is based on the platform of the Citroen C3 supermini, which is front-wheel drive only. That big boxy body ensures plenty of practicality though, and where the Cactus does excel is in fuel economy and comfort.

It may be surprising to learn the C4 Cactus weighs 200kgs less than the C4 hatch, and this advantage means it can offer strong performance from a range of relatively small capacity engines. The lightweight construction also means the Cactus feels decently agile on the road.

The Feel trim offers 16-inch alloys, air conditioning, cruise control, 7-inch touchscreen, DAB digital radio and LED daytime running lights. The Flair adds 17-inch wheels, dark tinted rear windows, front armrest, automatic air conditioning, automatic lights, rain-sensing wipers, reversing camera, sat nav and an audio upgrade. Finally, the Flair Edition offers a panoramic sunroof and black leather seats.

Go for the most efficient engine in the range – the 99bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi turbodiesel – and Citroen claims up to 78.5mpg is possible, along with 94g/km CO2 emissions, meaning free road tax. An automatic option is available on the mid-range PureTech 82 petrol model, but all other versions get a five-speed manual gearbox – except for the BlueHDi, which can be bought with a six-speed auto.

Engines, performance and drive

4
There aren’t many engine choices, but they do the job. The smooth ride is class-leading

On the road, the C4 Cactus is a rela cruiser. The new clever suspension tech means that the C4 wafts over all manner of road surfaces. It’s by far and away the most comfortable car in its class. The tradeoff for this is that the Cactus does generate pronounced roll through the corners, and there’s more pitch and dive under acceleration and braking than in its rivals.

There’s decent grip though, so while not conventionally sporty to drive, it remains enjoyable. Improvements in sound insulation, combined with that ride, means that the Cactus is an accomplished motorway cruiser, too.

The manual gearbox was a let-down in earlier Cactus models, but the facelift has brought a noticeable improvement. It’s still not the sweetest shifting car in its class - turn to the Honda HR-V for that - but much of the old car’s sloppy, vague feel has gone.

The ratios, however, remain quite widely spaced, so you have to do quite a lot of forward planning to avoid finding yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong time. This can take some hard work from the engines, which in the diesel models results in a slightly unpleasant gruff sound. However, the C4 Cactus has sharp brakes, and stops well – again, helped by the the Citroen’s low weight.

Engines

The C4 Cactus is offered with a range of small-capacity petrol and diesel engines, and topping the black pump’s side of the range is the four-cylinder 1.6 BlueHDi. It delivers 99bhp and 250Nm of torque, which doesn’t sound like much, but provides reasonable performance thanks to the Cactus’ low weight. We’ve managed to sprint from 0-60mph in 11.3 seconds during our tests, although Citroen claims 10.7 seconds for 0-62mph is possible, along with a top speed of 114mph.

The rest of the line-up comprises three-cylinder petrol engines. Power outputs start from 81bhp in the entry-level PureTech 82 version, which offers 118nm of torque and accelerates from 0-62mph in 13.1 seconds. The 128bhp PureTech 130 version of the three-cylinder petrol (fitted with stop/start tech) claims 0-62mph in just 8.7 seconds.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4.2
The Citroen C4 Cactus claims strong fuel economy and low CO2 emissions, although depreciation could be heavy

Citroen claims that the C4 Cactus will cost around 20 per cent less to run than a traditional family hatchback – although it doesn’t explain its calculations fully, despite its inflated body over the C3, the lack of weight will surely help here.

It’s talking primarily about fuel economy, but the Airbump panels could potentially save you money on having small bodywork scratches and bumps repaired, while the low weight won’t just help at the pumps, but is likely to bring lower bills for consumables like tyres and brake pads in the long run.

The most fuel-efficient C4 Cactus is the BlueHDi 100 diesel, which uses achieves a deeply impressive 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions of just 94g/km. The petrol engines aren’t far behind on economy, though, with even the most powerful PureTech 130 three-cylinder turbo claiming 58.9mpg and 100g/km.

The 81bhp PureTech 82 is the most frugal of the petrol engines; in Feel spec with stop/start and an automatic transmission, it promises up to 65.7mpg and 98g/km of CO2.The entry-level PureTech 75 Touch claims 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 105g/km.

To make the C4 Cactus more accessible to buyers, Citroen offers a number of all-inclusive purchase packages. These combine a finance payment, insurance and servicing costs into a single monthly figure.

Insurance groups

There’s quite a spread of insurance groups across the C4 Cactus line-up. The cheapest model to insure is the Feel Edition. Aimed at younger drivers, this trim gets funky styling add-ons above the regualr feel, but is offered with the least powerful PureTech 82 petrol engine. As a result, it earns a group 9 rating. The rest of the Cactus range varies falls between groups 15 and 18.

Equivalent versions of the Nissan Juke deliver similar performance, but the bulk of its range falls into marginally lower insurance groups than the equivalent C4 Cactus.

Depreciation

Citroen doesn’t have a marvellous record on depreciation, and don’t expect the C4 Cactus to buck the trend – at least not by much. While a standard C4 hatchback could lose as much as 70 per cent of its value over three years, the Cactus is likely to shed two-thirds of its new price, with engine and trim level making this only marginally better or worse.

Interior, design and technology

4.6
Eye-popping exterior design and touchscreen controls on the inside mean the C4 Cactus has plenty of style

One thing’s for sure, the C4 Cactus is a car that embraces the Citroen brand’s quirky past, and its proportions are starkly different to its class rivals’. While the raised suspension is similar, the low roof, long wheelbase and rounded nose give this car a unique look.

The front end takes some inspiration from the C3, with high-set LED running lights integrated into the outer edges of the front grille, while the main headlamp units sit just below. Further back, the curvy wheelarches feature plastic extensions, and behind this the sides of the car incorporate one of its big talking points – the Airbump panels.

On the facelifted model, these have moved from their previous prime spot, across the middle of the doors, to their lower edges. While not as conspicuous - or as squidgy - as before, they still offer useful protection from potential car park dings and paint scrapes.

While the new airbumps aren’t offered in the same range of colours as the old ones, on top spec Flair models they’re available with a choice of coloured highlights which break up the large swage of black plastic.

The airbumps have disappeared at the rear, too. As a result, it looks a little more plain than before. Other design highlights include the substantial - albeit optional - roof bars, while the black contrast door pillars and mirrors add a touch of class.

Those C-pillars appear thick from the outside, although they don’t actually spoil over-the-shoulder visibility. A variety of shades are on offer, with buyers able to personalise their cars to a fair extent. You can go for a subdued colour or a vibrant finish to show off the Citroen’s unusual design elements and, in fact, the brighter the better, as it picks out the C4’s striking design and contrasting areas.

Inside, the Cactus takes inspiration from the upmarket DS range, and features a stylish layout that has a premium feel. There are asymmetric air vents on the centre console, a top-opening glovebox, luggage handle-inspired door pulls, a seven-inch touchscreen and a smart-looking oblong readout ahead of the driver.

The seats are wonderful, although the driving position is surprisingly low so the Cactus doesn’t feel like a crossover at the wheel. In the back Citroen has ditched the single-piece folding rear bench of the earlier cars, while the touchscreens that control the heating, infotainment and other vehicle functions mean the interior feels far from basic.

Some of the plastics used lower down in the cabin look cheap, but everything you touch frequently – steering wheel, gearlever and door pulls, for instance – has a high-quality feel. You get all the essentials, too, such as climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a DAB radio.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

All C4 Cactus models feature a seven-inch touchscreen, which combines all secondary control functions for the radio and climate control into one space. It’s not the best system on the market, with slightly slow response times and the need to switch away from the nav or media menus just to tweak the climate control can become tiresome. The graphics look clear and colourful, though.

The system includes a standard digital radio, and once you’ve moved up beyond the entry-level model you can enjoy Bluetooth music streaming and Citroen Multicity Connect, which is a 3G and GPS-enabled app-hub. The Flair comes with the Navigation and Hi-Fi Pack, which includes a six-speaker stereo, 16GB Jukebox and ARKAMYS amplifier.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

3.8
The C4 Cactus is a fairly roomy car, but other crossover rivals have more storage and boot space

Inside, the C4 Cactus feels fresh and modern, but that hasn’t come at the expense of passenger space.

The driving position is more than spacious enough, but some people may find the pedals too closely spaced. The updated model addresses two criticisms of the old car: the steering wheel now offers reach adjustment, and the seats feature variable lumbar support.

In fact, the updated seats are fantastic. New seat materials ensure the driver and front passenger have loads of support. They’re the most comfortable you’ll find in this class by some margin.

The top-hinged glovebox provides 8.5 litres of storage and the lid won’t bang your passenger’s legs when it’s opened. It’s also pretty big, partly because the passenger airbag has been moved into the roof of the cabin to cleverly maximises space on offer without compromising safety.

Size

At 4,157mm long and 1,946mm wide, the C4 Cactus is quite similar in size to the Nissan Juke. However, the Citroen is 18cm wider, at 1,946mm, which pays dividends for passenger space.

The Cactus is also a little lower, at 1,480mm to the Juke’s 1,570mm, but it doesn’t feel any tighter in terms of headroom. Compared to many cars in its class, the C4 Cactus is well packaged.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

The low roofline doesn’t hurt headroom, with enough space in the back for taller adults, while there’s plenty of room for lower limbs, too, as the wheelbase is longer than some of the car’s crossover rivals’.

The biggest compromise in the rear is the lack of wind-up windows – instead, the only pop out at the rear a few centimetres. It means back seat passengers might find things a little stuffy, although they do get spacious door storage bins as a result. The panoramic sunroof option eats into headroom a bit, but definitely improves the airflow in the back on hot days. Isofix child seat mounting points are standard in the rear, but fitting a child seat is tricky because they're quite hard to reach from behind the seat cushions and the doors don’t open as wide as in some rivals.

Boot

The C4 Cactus was initially fitted with a one-piece rear bench, but 60:40 split folding rear seats were added at the facelift and are now standard across the range. The boot has a 358-litre capacity with the rear seats in place, which is more than you get in from a Nissan Juke and slightly smaller than a Volkswagen Golf.

Fold the seats flat, and this rises to a maximum of 1,170 litres. The load lip is quite high though, and this setup means you have to trade carrying rear passengers for luggage if you’ve got larger items on board. There’s also exposed metal in the boot which could scratch if you’re carrying harder, bulkier items.

Reliability and Safety

3.6
Citroen reliability appears to be improving, but the C4 Cactus only has an average four-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests

Citroen’s vision for the C4 Cactus was to remove anything that wasn’t entirely necessary; by offering pop-out rear windows, fewer buttons on the dash and no adjustability for the gearbox, steering and engine mapping, the company felt there was less that could go wrong.

Even so, the crossover offers most of the kit you’d expect from a thoroughly modern family car. Automated parking, a reversing camera, hill start assist, six airbags, a tyre pressure monitor and cruise control all feature, so there’s still scope for gremlins to take hold. 

While the C4 Cactus is still a relatively new model, it shares a lot of running gear with other Citroens. It sits on an extended version of the platform that underpins the Citroen C3 supermini and the upmarket DS 3 hatchback, while the standard touchscreen is similar to the one found in the 308 hatch from sister brand Peugeot.

The new petrol engines are used across the Citroen range, and the BlueHDi is based on existing diesel technology, so it should be reliable. 

The company has been trying hard to shake off its reputation for poor build quality and patchy reliability, but the C4 Cactus finished third from bottom in our Driver Power 2017 satisfaction survey. Similarly, Citroen finished second to last on the list of best manufacturers, with only Dacia finishing below the French brand.

Another byproduct of cutting 200kg from the kerbweight compared to the C4 hatch is that consumables such as the brake pads and tyres should function better for longer.

Unfortunately, by producing a more simple car, Citroen has achieved a disappointing result in Euro NCAP crash tests. The C4 Cactus scored only four out of five stars in the independent assessments, with a low rating in the safety assist category – the Nissan Juke fares much better in this regard. 

Still, the rest of the Citroen’s standard safety kit is well up to the class benchmark, and includes six airbags, stability control and cruise control with a programmable speed limiter.

Warranty

The C4 Cactus comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. This isn’t much to shout about when Kia offers a seven-year/100,000-mile package, while the likes of Hyundai and Toyota provide five years’ cover with their new cars. But the Nissan Juke offers a similar warranty from new.

Servicing

Citroen servicing is usually pretty cost-effective, and the C4 Cactus shouldn’t prove an exception being based on the firm’s supermini underneath. Dealers offer interest-free payment plans, too, so you can get two or three years’ worth of maintenance with fixed monthly instalments. 

Last updated: 9 Jul, 2018
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