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Citroën's family hatchback has grown up – and lost a bit of its charm in the process. Can its hydraulic suspension and new seats make up for that?

Our Verdict

Citroen C4 Cactus 2018 first drive review hero front

The Citroen C4 Cactus has downgraded its airbumps, but gained new suspension and engine. Can that turn it into a true rival to the VW Golf and Peugeot 308?

  • First Drive

    Citroën C4 Cactus 2018 UK review

    Citroën's family hatchback has grown up – and lost a bit of its charm in the process. Can its hydraulic suspension and new seats make up for that?

What is it?

Usually when a car is described as “grown-up” or “mature”, it’s intended as something of a compliment; a way of emphasising a vehicle’s distinct sense of purpose, well-roundedness or refinement.

But in the case of the latest Citroën C4 Cactus, driven here for the first time on UK roads, those sorts of adjectives - although relatively accurate - do the car a bit of a disservice. 

You see, the original C4 Cactus, launched back in 2014, was always a bit of an oddball - certainly in the way it looked. The wacky design stood out, turned heads and added a bit of verve into a segment of the car market that at times could be rather dreary.

That mould-breaking aesthetic contributed to Citroën selling around 30,000 of the things in the UK after it first rocked up on the scene.

This new model, though, billed by Citroën as a “mid-life product evolution”, loses some of the original’s visual charm, favouring a more reserved and - you guessed it - grown-up look.

The prominent Airbumps that originally divided opinion have been moved to a more discreet location, and the abundance of black plastic cladding that gave it its rufty-tufty, off-road-style appeal has been reduced in favour of a cleaner, arguably more premium image.

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It’s not that it looks bad – it doesn’t – it’s just that it's lost a bit of the charm that made its predecessor unique and likeable.

But we’re not just here to discuss looks: we’re here to find out how the C4 Cactus deals with the UK’s notoriously battered roads - especially now it has Citroën’s ‘Progressive Hydraulic Cushions’ suspension and Advanced Comfort seats.

We’re driving the top-of-the range Puretech 130 Flair edition here, which pairs a turbocharged, 128bhp three-cylinder petrol engine with a six-speed manual transmission to send its power to the front wheels.

What's it like?

That engine is one of the C4 Cactus’ most likeable features. Its 170lb ft of torque is available from just 1750rpm courtesy of its turbocharger, meaning there’s a good deal of low-down shove to get you up to speed in a timely manner.

There’s an endearing three-cylinder soundtrack that accompanies any bursts of acceleration, too, which doesn’t become aurally unpleasant as you reach the upper climbs of the rev-band. Overall, it’s a refined and characterful powerplant that’s barely audible once you’ve settled down to a cruise.

This is a good thing, because cruising is where the C4 Cactus is most in its element. Citroën wasted no time in conveying the idea that this is a car developed with comfort in mind, and the driving experience is largely in line with that goal. The Advanced Comfort seats are akin to a well-cushioned armchair in that they’re large, flat and very soft. Then there’s the trick new suspension.

It works by adding a pair of hydraulic stops on each suspension unit, replacing the mechanical bump stops that are usually found alongside the standard springs and shock absorbers. Where the mechanical stops normally absorb and then return energy created during a large impact as rebound, the hydraulic stops instead absorb and then dissipate this energy as heat, theoretically making for a less jarring ride.

It sounds impressive, and for the most part it works well. Around town and on the motorway, the Citroën soaks most imperfections in the road up without breaking a sweat, while its ride remains composed.

Fast, bumpier country roads can undo this a touch, though, with that softer, more forgiving set-up giving way to vertical body travel over undulations and lean through corners. Added to overly light, vague steering and a woolly, imprecise manual gearchange, the C4 Cactus isn’t a car that wows with its dynamic abilities, but then that was never really part of its remit.

The interior, meanwhile, is a bit of a mixed bag. You can tell that a good deal of emphasis has been placed on making the cabin look trendy, with its minimalistic layout and glovebox design that’s reminiscent of an old-school portmanteau - although a closer look will reveal plenty of scratchy plastics that don't match the best cars in this class.

While its panoramic glass roof might make the cabin feel light and airy, those in the back will find head room is severely impeded by it.

Rear leg room isn’t great, either, owing to those chunkier front seats.

Should I buy one?

If you’re after a family hatchback that’s involving to drive, you’d be better off with a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus. Dynamic excitement just isn’t what the C4 Cactus is about.

If, however, you want something that can waft you around town or up the motorway in comfort, then the C4 Cactus is at least worth a test drive. With prices starting at £17,965 for the most basic model, it’s reasonably well-priced too.

You’d be wise to go for the lower-powered Puretech 110 engine, though; not only is it £800 cheaper than the Puretech 130, a quick test drive revealed the difference in performance is negligible. 

Citroën C4 Cactus Puretech 130 Flair

Price £20,665 Engine Three-cylinder, 1199cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 128bhp at 5500rpm Torque 170lb ft at 1750rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1045kg 0-62mph 8.7sec Top speed 117mph Economy 58.9mpg CO2, tax band 110g/km, 21% Rivals Peugeot 308, VW Golf, Ford Focus

Join the debate


13 March 2018

...since the two major minuses (carried over from the last-gen. Cactus) are simply forgotten: the lack of a rev counter and the compass-opening of the rear windows !

For these two omissions I would have been fired at once, dear Simon ! (when I was writing for Motorpresse Romania -- yeah, in the far wild East, but not a so primitive zone as some may consider it...)

Anyway, I used to drive the previous model for an entire year in 2016 (1.2 Puretech Turbo 110 hp EAT6) and it was already comfortable, the automatic gearbox being way better in town than the vague manual gearchange (had one of these also at the firm and I can tell you that the hiccups of the engine were also less noticeable at low revs with the EAT6, which I clearly recommend.)

Conclusion: it’s a very light car with good performance / economy, but dynamically not at all on the warm-hatch territory (8.7 s for  the 0-62 mph sprint is respectable, though, for the new 128 bhp version.)

Some bizarre styling cues and equipment omissions may affect its success though, as it was the case with the former (airbumps-ornated) Cactus. 

-- Old fart with petrol in veins, so off the e-cars grid literally --

14 March 2018


The original "Air Bump" Citroen CACTUS (2014) - although named "C4 CACTUS" - was based on the more rudimentary, cheaper, more simple PF1 platform "chassis" (mechanical components), of the smaller Citroen "C3" conventional hatch-back.  

With the ride height of the normal "C3" slightly elevated to provide greater ground clearance; and, with the addition of certain rugged "off-road" nuances to the exterior styling (including the "Air Bumps"); the Citroen "C4 CACTUS" exuded sufficient SUV connotations to become a popular vehicle.

"That mould-breaking aesthetic contributed to Citroën selling around 30,000 of the things in the UK after it first rocked up on the scene" (Simon Davis AUTOCAR 12 March 2018).

The revisions to the Citroen "C4 CACTUS" for the 2018 model year, are intended to bring the style of the vehicle more in line with the rest of the models within the "main stream" range of Citroen vehicles.  The distinctive "Air Bumps" are gone. The exterior styling - particularly the front - are redolent of the rest of the "main stream" range of Citroen vehicles.

The Citroen company’s global boss Linda Jackson, did recently say that the company "would not become a hostage to the Air Bumps"

Although the simple rectangular instrument box directly in front of the driver are still very evocative of the instruments within the iconic "2CV", the rest of the 2018 "C4 CACTUS" has been upgraded and remodeled - particularly the door-cards, center consul, and seat construction/upholstery.

The 2018 "C4 CACTUS" has been so changed, and so refined, that it is understood it will now  REPLACE  the slightly larger Citroen "C4" conventional hatch-back, within the range of Citroen vehicles. Other than the outline silhouette of the "C4 CACTUS" (and, that simple rectangular instrument box directly in front of the driver), the 2018 "C4 CACTUS" bears little - or no - resemblance to the original, now established, popular vehicle.

It is suggested that Citroen may have made a mistake in abandoning the niche market segment it created and successfully exploited with the original "Air Bump" Citroen CACTUS (2014) !!

There is nothing inherently wrong in replacing the existing, former, slightly larger (and therefore comparatively more expensive to produce), PF2 Platform, Citroen "C4" conventional hatch-back, with the more simple PF1 platform 2018 "C4 CACTUS".

However, it is somewhat disingenuous and confusing to still append the "CACTUS" name to the more sophisticated 2018 model. It would be more appropriate to simply refer to - and market - the new vehicle as the Citroen "C4".

That would enable Citroen to continue to indulge the now established 30,000 UK clientele of the original "Air Bump" Citroen "C4 CACTUS".

It is suggested that to identify that vehicle more clearly, and to differentiate it from the rest of the "main stream" range of Citroen vehicles, that the CONTINUEING model should be now simply referred to as "CACTUS", and abandon the prefix "C4".

15 March 2018

Pushing the C4 Cactus directly into the competitive space occupied by the Golf/ Astra/ Focus/ 308 is suicide.  The platform and fundamentals, which are unchanged, was never designed for this task.  The car is too small, unsophisticated and the interior plastics below the line of the travel-trunk-like dashtop/ glovebox are very visibly cheap.  Compare it to even say an Octavia and it's outclassed.  Add in the massive price rise (when launched the Cactus's pricing started with a £12,... and now does not start until a £17,...) and it has no chance.  This is a shame as the effort that has gone into the new bump-stops and squishy seats will be wasted.  I predict that there will not be another Cactus and Citroen could even end up abandonning this segment entirely.  BTW, I hope I am wrong about all of this as I am a Citroeniste at heart.

The car-buying public gets what it deserves, unfortunately ...

13 March 2018

5 door FAMILY hatchback for £21k is fine but then penny pinching by not having rear wind down windows isn't. Makes you wonder if there's any other cutbacks, which is a shame as otherwise it's a fine car with a quick'ish petrol engine.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

13 March 2018

We've only seen tests of the top model so far, and the price of it puts it in mid-spec Golf territory. But really the range as a whole, for size and price etc. is between Polo and Golf. So it's a hard one to compare. Citroën's fault for positioning it wrong, you might say. But it makes the tests come out a bit unfavourable in general. Compare with smaller rivals and it might be a different story. The new suspension and seats and refinement need proper comparison tests. I'd like to see an imaginatively set up group test to see how things really stack up.

13 March 2018

One point that you don't mention is that the C4 doesn't have the bloated width of many cars in the Golf/Focus class, and thus will appeal to buyers who are constrained by narrow garages or driveways, but still need more room than you would get in a supermini.

However, I understand it lacks a rev counter, which will be a major drawback for many drivers, especially given that with a small petrol turbo it's often important to get it on the sweet spot in the rev range.

I regard a panoramic sunroof as a waste of time and would much prefer it without one.

13 March 2018 lacks a rev counter...

I'd forgotten that - one of my few peeves with it. I'd far rather have a rev counter than the irritating "change up" arrow that sits where the rev counter should be. 

The other annoyance (on my early-ish car) is that the rear seatback doesn't split to fold.

David W

13 March 2018

I'm always surprised by how much vitriol is generated by the rear windows.  Even when I had small children, the number of times on which it was essential to open the rear windows was close to nil.  Almost every car has aircon now, and keeping kids hands and arms inside the car is a bonus.

It has always struck me as the sensible approach to penny pinching - lose the things that people don't really need and keep the aircon, satnav, bluetooth, DAB, reversing camera, etc etc

David W

13 March 2018

I only have passengers in the back a few times a year so it really wouldn't bother me. Get rid of the panoramic sunroof, Citroën, and add a rev counter, and I might seriously consider it.


13 March 2018
What's wrong with a bit if role and vertical movement over bumps? Isn't that more appropriate for the road than rock hard suspension that is more uncomfortable more of the time and possibly dangerous over a bumpy road? It's a Citroen after all! If I were a car journalist I'd relish something a bit different. Driving the class median must get a bit tedious after a while...


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