From £12,5306
Weird outside and great inside, the C4 Cactus is a new approach to a C-segment crossover. Low-cost features abound, but this top-spec diesel's price means it isn't the sweet spot in the range

Our Verdict

Citroën C4 Cactus

Gallic quirkiness meets pragmatism in the new crossover hatchback

What is it?

The Citroën C4 Cactus is the French manufacturer’s idea of a crossover. It features ‘UFO’ front styling reminiscent of the latest C4 Picasso but has the proportions of a conventional C-segment hatchback, apart from slightly higher suspension.

Trademark Airbumps are the main visual feature. Their mission is to protect the side panels from bumps from supermarket trolleys or other car’s doors. They are made from two plastic cushions, with air encapsulated between them.

We went to a supermarket car park to try this and can report that it works, as long as the stray trolley hits the Airbumps spot-on. There are still some exposed areas of the side panels where this protection doesn’t reach.

The C4 Cactus is not based on the same platform as regular C4s, nor the new EMP2 used by its cousin, the Peugeot 308. It is based on Platform 1, which underpins the Citroën C3No wonder Citroën claims that the C4 Cactus is 200kg lighter than C4 – 175kg of those come from using a stretched smaller platform. At 4157mm long, it sits between C3’s 3941mm and C4’s 4329mm.

There is no four-wheel drive system available as an option, just the regular front-wheel drive, but there is a choice of manual or robotised manual gearboxes.

You cannot make any Citroën company representative use the words ‘low cost’ when talking about C4 Cactus. But there are a number of features that make the production cost less, which we’ll come to later. Citroën prefers to talk about things like “design to value” or “bring customers more of what really matters.” 

We tried a left-hand-drive C4 Cactus, the e-HDI 92 Airdream ETG6 version, in a top-of-the-range equipment level called Shine. The other two trims are the entry-level Live and the intermediate Feel.

This variant uses the latest version of the well-known 1.6-litre four cylinder, common rail diesel, with injection pressure of 1600 bar, 7-hole injectors and a fixed geometry turbocharger.

What's it like?

The ‘wow effect’ per pound must be one of the best in the market, judging from the reaction of people who saw our C4 Cactus during this first test. 

And they didn’t even see the cabin, where the instrument binnacle has been replaced by a digital display and centre console buttons have been integrated into the 7in touch screen, which is a simplified version of the one used in the C4 Picasso

The glove compartment lid opens upwards, only possible due to the relocation of the front passenger airbag to the roof.

With the clutchless ETG6 robotised gearbox comes the Easy Push system, where the traditional D, R and N positions are selected via three big buttons set low in the centre console. 

The cabin ambience is not low cost at all; it really feels special in here. The design successfully transmits some of the Frenchness that was poured into the project. 

But look carefully and you see that almost all the plastics used inside are hard, only a small portion in the dash, where the fingers are likely to reach for it, is soft. 

So we come to the low cost features hunt. Door handles are leather straps at the front but basic recesses in the rear door panels; there is no auto function in the electric front windows and the rear ones just pop-out – this saves 11kg but rear passengers will never be able to wind the windows down. 

Rear legroom is similar to a regular C4 but the height seems lower and getting in and out a little more difficult. The luggage compartment has 358 litres, an average capacity, but the rear bench can only fold down in one piece. This also saves weight, 6kg, but demands very long arms indeed: you have to press both buttons on each extreme of the seat, at the same time.

Turn the key – there is no start engine button here – and the 1.6-litre oil-burner sounds a bit more intense than in other applications. Sound deadening panels cost money, you see? And vibrations leave no doubt about what kind of fuel is burned up front. 

The driving position is good but it does not feel any higher than in a conventional hatchback. Reading the digital display is easy but there is no revcounter to be seen. 

The robotised six-speed gearbox has all the recently introduced evolutions, such as a creep function and a reduced number of shifts between first and second, to make progress more fluid. It works, if you give it some time, but do not expect DSG shifting speed here. There are paddles fixed to the steering column if you want to choose you shift timing, but you have to trust your hearing, not having a revcounter. 

On 205/50 R17 tyres, ride is good, even over broken tarmac, but part of the perceived comfort comes from the very soft, sofa-like seats. The problem is, after two hours of driving, the seats do not feel that comfortable anymore. 

If this time is spent on a motorway, there will be other complaints, mainly from wind and tyre noise. But the handling feels very safe and stable even at higher speeds. If you turn to a secondary road and try a bit harder, of course you’ll get some body roll and understeer but in much smaller doses when compared with other crossovers. 

The C4 Cactus is capable of some entertainment, mainly due to a well calibrated electric power steering and stability control that awakes only when needed. You still have to bear with the ETG6’s slow action and keep to low-to-medium revs, the range that the engine likes the most.

Should I buy one?

When this first test was over, the feeling was positive towards the Citroën C4 Cactus. It is hard not to like the cabin ambience and the get-in-and-drive attitude, something that is missing from many new and complex cars.

At the right price, this could be an option to the mainstream hatchbacks, especially with the promise of low running costs.

Except, the estimated price of the version we tested, when it goes on sale in October, is not that low. A top version like this one is expected to cost around £18,000, which is almost the same as a C4 HDI 92 and £4500 more than a Dacia Duster 1.5 dCi 110 4x2 Laureate. Citroën people are right – low cost it isn’t.

Citroën C4-Cactus e-HDI 92 Airdream ETG6

Price £18,000 (estimated); 0-62mph 11.4sec; Top speed 114 mph; Economy 78.5mpg; CO2 94g/km; Kerb weight 1055kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1560cc, turbodiesel; Power 91bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 170 lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-speed robotised manual 

Join the debate

Comments
6

A34

12 June 2014
"Stretched small platform with some low-cost fittings and low-rent ride and handling and performance" about sums it up. Could work as a 12K city car, but at 18K I'd be looking elsewhere (Leon for example). So will it be discounted heavily or remain the niche car for trendy OAPs?

13 June 2014
Disappointing to read that the engine is quite noisy. I have a C4 hatch, and it's a very quiet car. I know that sound deadening adds weight etc, but in a car this light, surely a little extra could've gone a long way? Otherwise, I like the charm and simplicity of the car overall, but wouldn't consider buying one. Not quite sure who will buy it though. It's not a fleet car, families will buy the picasso ( nearly new at this price point), younger people will buy a DS3. So that just leaves the elderly, who will enjoy the funkiness, but not the technology of the touch screen interior.

13 June 2014
Its interesting to see what features a manufacturer will leave out in the (apparent) quest for cost and weight savings. Personally, I'd rather have wind-down rear windows in a car of this size, and forego such things as roof rails, privacy glass, touch screens and front foglights, especially as the company claim to "bring customers more of what really matters". But then I suppose its better than the DS4, where you can't open the rear windows at all.

13 June 2014
I think it's interesting that Autocar have given it 3 stars based purely on being the top-end, which is admittedly expensive for what it is. I suspect that a little further down the range, this car will do well. I sat in one at the Geneva Motor Show and whilst it's a quirky machine, the lack of reach adjustment in the steering wheel was irritating. Perhaps I'd find it easier with the wheel on our side to find a comfy driving position. I've lived with pop-out windows when I had my Aygo, and I'd much rather have those than the window that DON'T open in the back of my DS3. It at least gives some airflow whilst not knocking you in the face with the wind. Autocar do seem to gloss over the fact that it apparently rides well (other reviews say the same). The Nissan Qashqai has always had similarly soft seats, though, and there was never a complaint about those! I'll be interested to give one of these a go when they arrive in the UK.


"Work hard and be nice to people"

14 June 2014
The first examples were delivered here in the South of France a few weeks ago and our dealer gave us a private viewing in the back of the dealership. First impressions were, nice styling, but the interior space was disappointing. My wife, who is 5' 10", found it cramped and decided to cancel the purchase option we had made because of this.

1 October 2014
Citroen have been trying to replace the 2CV for a long time, is this it?
The C3 pluriel was not it.
At least Citroen are trying again. They must get away from trying to call a DS3 a real 'Deesse' , it rides like a cart.

RogerHudson

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