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And they didn’t even see the cabin, where the instrument binnacle has been replaced by a digital display and centre console buttons have been integrated into the 7in touch screen, which is a simplified version of the one used in the C4 Picasso.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