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The C4 Cactus is still a stand-out design that's comfortable and efficient, but a recent facelift repositioned it as a budget hatchback

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 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 family hatchbacks, it’s still fun to hustle down a country road. The three-cylinder engines provide more punch than their power outputs might suggest, too.

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Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 110 S&S manual Feel

There aren't many cars like the Citroen C4 Cactus currently on sale. When it was first introduced in 2014, it was positioned as a crossover to rival the likes of the Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur.

However, after the C3 Aircross was introduced to the range and the C4 hatchback was dropped, the C4 Cactus was redesigned and repositioned as a value for money hatchback. As a result, the Cactus is now marketed as a quirky alternative for buyers looking for something different from the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra norm.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Volkswagen Golf vs Vauxhall Astra

One thing that hasn't changed is the individual design that the C4 Cactus is famous for. The long, narrow body, raised suspension and black wheelarch extensions all remain, but the original C4 Cactus's Airbumps along the side were toned down, while roof rails are now only an option, which helps to tone down the car's SUV looks.

Inside, there are the same quirky touches from the original C4 Cactus. This includes pop-out rear windows, asymmetric air vents on the dashboard, a top-opening glovebox and minimal buttons on the dashboard. In addition, the revised C4 Cactus has added split-folding rear seats and a new suspension system designed to deliver the kind of comfortable ride that older Citroens were famous for.

Only two trims are offered on the C4 Cactus - Feel and Flair - and both of them are reasonably well equipped. All cars feature the comfort suspension, alloy wheels, air conditioning, comfort seats and touchscreen infotainment, while Flair cars add dark tinted rear windows, a panoramic sunroof and bigger alloy wheels among its extra kit.

There are four engines offered in the C4 Cactus, two petrol and two diesel. The petrols are the 1.2 PureTech three cylinder in 110hp and 130hp forms, while the diesels are based on the 1.5 BlueHDi, and badged 100hp or 120hp. All cars are front-wheel drive with a five-speed manual gearbox, except the 120hp diesel, which has Citroen's EAT6 six-speed auto. This can also be added to the 110hp PureTech. One hangover from its time being offered as a crossover is Citroen's Grip Control system. This gives the C4 Cactus a modicum of off-road ability by altering the traction control for different surfaces, and also adds Goodyear 4 season tyres.

Prices range from around £18,500 to £23,000, and whichever C4 Cactus you choose, you're getting an unconventional looking but spacious family car with some neat interior touches and a comfortable ride.

Engines, performance and drive

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

On the road, the C4 Cactus is a rela cruiser. The new clever suspension tech means that the car wafts over all manner of road surfaces. It’s a far more comfortable car because of it. The trade off for this is that the C4 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, 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 pair of small-capacity petrol and diesel engines, with the diesels catered for by the recently introduced four-cylinder 1.5 BlueHDi. It comes in 100hp and 120hp auto guises, and both provide reasonable performance thanks to the C4 Cactus’ low kerbweight. Citroen claims 0-62mph times of 10.0 and 8.7 seconds respectively.

For petrol power, you have the 1.2 PureTech three-cylinder turbo unit. It comes in 100hp and 130hp guises, which have 0-62mph times of 9.2 and 8.1 seconds respectively. Adding the EAT6 auto to the 110hp engine has no effect on the 0-62mph time.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

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

The Citroen C4 Cactus is a value for money choice. So while prices start from around £18,000 - which is similar to a Ford Focus - you get a lot more kit for your cash. And with the most expensive model coming in at around £23,000, there are no astranomical amounts to find to get behind the wheel.

Citroen claims that the C4 Cactus will cost around 20 per cent less to run than a traditional family hatchback, too. It doesn’t explain its calculations fully, but the lack of weight will surely help.

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 such as tyres and brake pads in the long run.

With the arrival of the 1.5 BlueHDi diesel, the Citroen C4 Cactus is fully compliant with the latest WLTP fuel economy tests. That means official economy figures aren't quite as good as they used to be, but you're more likely to match them in real-world driving. The most fuel-efficient C4 Cactus is the BlueHDi 100hp diesel, which achieves 70.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 97g/km. The more powerful 120hp diesel with the six-speed EAT6 auto also manages 70.6mpg, but emissions are higher at 102g/km.

The PureTech petrol range is also pretty efficient on paper. The 110hp version manages 61.4mpg and 106g/km emissions, while the 130hp version returns 56.5mpg and emissions of 113g/km. Add the EAT6 auto box to the PureTech 130, and economy drops to 55.4mpg and emissions rise to 117g/km, which is still pretty reasonable.

All C4 Cactus models come with a 50-litre fuel tank, and using official economy figures means all models can manage more than 600 miles on a full tank.

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 falls into Group 14, while the highest spec model is in Group 20.

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 unlike anything else on the road: Raised suspension, a low roof, long wheelbase and rounded nose give it a shape that falls somewhere between a crossover and a hatchback.

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 Cactus’s striking design and contrasting areas.

Inside, the C4 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, and the driving position is low so the C4 Cactus doesn’t feel as tall from behind the wheel as the suspension suggests. In the back Citroen has ditched the single-piece folding rear bench of the earlier cars and replaced it with split-folding, 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 in 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, while Bluetooth music streaming and Citroen Multicity Connect, which is a 3G and GPS-enabled app-hub are included. 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 some 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 at this price 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 maximise space on offer without compromising safety.

Size

At 4,170mm long and 1,714mm wide, the C4 Cactus has the same basic area as a conventional hatchback. However, the Citroen is 1,480mm tall thanks to its raised suspension, so it has different proportions to hatchback rivals.

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 leg and shoulder room, too.

The biggest compromise in the rear is the lack of wind-up windows – instead, they 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, and while it's fixed in place with no sun shade, it has a reflective finish to help prevent the cabin from overheating. 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 slightly less than you get in 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 a 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, tyre pressure monitors 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 petrol engines are used across the Citroen range, and the 1.5 BlueHDi is a unit that's being added to a wide range of models, so will have been extensively tested to ensure its reliability. 

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.

One 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 simpler 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

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.

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: 
26 Oct, 2018
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