From £12,5307
Refreshing, right-sized budget family hatchback has just enough performance and polish to maintain its allure

Our Verdict

Citroën C4 Cactus

Gallic quirkiness meets pragmatism in the new crossover hatchback

What is it?

The new C4 Cactus five-door hatchback may be the future of the Citroën brand, but it’s also a car with unmistakable historical resonance. Though its recent past may not be peppered with examples, the French car-maker has got notable older precedent when it comes to launching cars like this.

The Cactus comes from a place of rational pragmatism, fused with the kind imaginative freedom that only the double chevron seems to know. It is right-sized, lightweight, modestly endowed, cleverly packaged (stop me if you can tell where I’m going with this…) comfort-orientated, bargain-priced, bold and innovative-looking yet conventional under the skin.

Citroën would never saddle a new car with the kind of pressure that such an association would endow, but we’re certainly free enough to observe that the French firm has given us the closest thing to a 2CV here since, well, the 2CV.

But is the Cactus’s execution as inspired as its conception? A few weeks ago, our first drive in the car made promising reading. In the weeks to come, a full road test will complete the pronouncement. But here and now is our chance for some first impressions of the car on British roads, and with the steering wheel on the correct side of the cabin.

What's it like?

Even in dark grey, about as stealthy as a ground-level flying saucer. It's a curious-looking thing at first, but you warm to its quirky features as you learn about the function behind their form.

The ‘Airbump’ plastic cladding on the bumpers and doors is there to prevent scratches and dings in the bodywork, for example. It works too – although not extending it to the trailing edge of the rear passenger doors seems a bit of a shame.

The interior is certainly spacious, and a good deal more than you’d expect when told that this car is built on PSA’s supermini platform. The wheelbase is the same as a normal C4’s, so legroom is quite respectable. Headroom in the front is excellent, in the rear not so great. But then when was the last time you needed to seat a tall adult in the back of your five-door hatchback? In the Cactus’s pragmatic world, taller occupants sit up front – simple as that.

Pity, then, that if the driver happens to be tall, he’ll find the Cactus’s pedals a little too close for comfort and the steering column bereft of reach adjustment. And yet he’ll still appreciate a cabin packaged very cleverly indeed, with a low scuttle and fascia, big storage cubbies, a good-sized digital speedometer and broad, comfortable seats.

To drive, the Cactus doesn’t have the sparkling character that its styling expresses. Knowing that the supermini underpinnings wouldn’t be clever enough to handle two conflicting briefs simultaneously, Citroën has plumped for a soft, loping chassis tune that means that the Cactus is ever-comfortable.

That the ride regularly sends thumps, pings and so much surface roar up into the cabin is a bit disappointing in light of the comfort brief. However, the Cactus’s tidy, grippy handling is largely uncompromised by the soft suspension. And it may turn out to have better rolling refinement on smaller wheels than the 17-inchers this range-topping Flair-spec test car came on.

The engine of our 99bhp turbodiesel, meanwhile, seemed fairly quiet and, even driving through fairly distantly space gear ratios, just about powerful enough. It won’t rival PSA’s new e-THP turbo three-pot on all-round appeal for low-mileage motorists, but it is frugal, returning almost 60mpg in the mixed conditions of our test.

Should I buy one?

If you like good value packaged with a bit of flamboyance and imagination, fill your boots. The Cactus may be no dynamic miracle, but it’s more pleasant to drive than any current Dacia, and several times as charming as a Skoda Rapid Spaceback. Its real achievement would be to effortlessly cover your everyday motoring needs without ever feeling worthy, basic or dour in the slightest. 

You’ll have to like it, mind. The Cactus won't be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s the kind of car that you can easily imagine littering Parisian streets a decade or so from now. If that happens, it will thoroughly deserve its popularity.

Citroën C4 Cactus BlueHDi 100 Flair

Price £15,900 0-62mph 10.7sec Top speed 114mph Economy 83.1mpg CO2 87g/km Kerb weight 1225kg Engine 4 cyls, 1560cc, turbodiesel Power 99bhp at 3750rpm Torque 187lb ft at 1750rpm Gearbox 5-spd manual

Join the debate

Comments
28

3 July 2014
Yes, but why on Earth Cactus? If you want to go all botanical, wouldn't Citroën Rose be better?

3 July 2014
275not599 wrote:

Yes, but why on Earth Cactus? If you want to go all botanical, wouldn't Citroën Rose be better?

Well, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. ( With thanks to Bill Shakespeare. )

3 July 2014
275not599 wrote:

Yes, but why on Earth Cactus? If you want to go all botanical, wouldn't Citroën Rose be better?

cacti are ‘frugal’ plants – they don’t need much ‘fuel’, and are tough and difficult to kill.
Citroen words apparently.
Personally I think its quite clever. Much like the car itself. I would definitely consider buying one.

3 July 2014
Yes, but why on Earth Cactus? If you want to go all botanical, wouldn't Citroën Rose be better?
cacti are ‘frugal’ plants – they don’t need much ‘fuel’, and are tough and difficult to kill. Citroen words apparently. Personally I think its quite clever. Much like the car itself. I would definitely consider buying one.
I would have no problem with driving a car called a Cactus (endless discussions to follow on what two of them are called). But a Rose? Really? Not on your ever-loving nelly.
Why can't I quote and place paragraphs in this forum?

3 July 2014
Evidently Matt Saunders likes living dangerously. The Skoda "stormtroopers" have a zero tolerance approach to non-believers! He had better head for the hills.

MrJ

3 July 2014
Looks good apart from the "...thumps, pings and so much surface roar..." which sound rather off-putting. Definitely need a decent test drive before parting with any money.

3 July 2014
Bravo Citroen, the antidote to Germanic rationality. A bit of fun in the automotive world for a change.

3 July 2014
As ever the PR people send out the wrong car. Give the motoring journalists a mid range model on 16 inch wheels with the 1.2 THP and the write up would have been even better. Though for Autocar to get nearly 60mpg out of a car is pretty impressive so maybe all this weight saving combined with the diesel has worked.

3 July 2014
I like it, but I wouldn't actually buy one. I like it overall, and I like the fact it isn't pretending to be sporty. Its a cheap and honest car, with weird looks that you'll either love or loathe. Can't say why I wouldn't buy one, just that I wouldn't. Good to hear a more positive review of it

3 July 2014
Good point, sir, the PR people at Citroen should indeed just have basic and mid-range models in their Press Fleet as going for a top of the range model with all the extra kit (and weight) goes against the whole ethos of this car, surely ?

I can't wait to go for a test drive in one of these, would seriously consider buying one.

I notice that Citroen's web-site still (as of 11:00am 3rd July) still lists the Cactus as a future model and says "Order your new Cactus from 1st July 2014" but does not have any details of prices, specifications per trim level etc and it is not shown on their configurator either. Can it be that difficult to get the web-site up to date, Citroen ?


Enjoying a Fabia VRs - affordable performance

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