From £12,5307
Entry-level three-cylinder version with manual gearbox is a good bet for those who want a C4 Cactus with good economy and low running costs

What is it?

The Citroën C4 Cactus is the new C-segment crossover that will go on sale in the UK in the autumn, tested here with the entry-level three-cylinder 1.2-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine.

This is a new-generation power unit, already known in the Peugeot 208, featuring double variable-valve timing on intake and exhaust ports, plus one balancer shaft, to cancel out as many vibrations as possible.

Compared with the old four-cylinder engine family it replaces, this new three-pot is 25 per cent lighter, internal friction losses are reduced 30 per cent and Citroën claims it emits 25 per cent less CO2.

We drove the naturally aspirated 81bhp version mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Also available is a 74bhp version and later there will be a turbocharged variant with 109bhp, which promises to be the best option in the new C4 Cactus range.

C4 Cactus is a front-wheel-drive-only crossover with no specific off-road capabilities, made on PSA’s Platform 1, the same that underpins Citroën C3, which means MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam in the rear suspension.

It is lighter than any C4 by as much as 200kg. This PureTech 82 Cactus is quoted at 965kg. At 4157mm long its smaller then Citroën C4 (4329mm) but the wheelbase is only 10mm shorter.

Our test car was fitted with 205/55 R16 low rolling resistance tyres, but buyers can opt for 15in rims.

What's it like?

The aim of reducing production costs is easy to spot in the C4 Cactus, for instance, in this PureTech 82 version, front disc brakes are not even ventilated and on the rear wheels there are a pair of drums.

Citroën claims that the car’s low weight does not need more than this and during our test route, with some mountain roads, there was no apparent lack of brake power or visible fade, but this is something that we’ll have to confirm in the future.

The range has three equipment levels, named Live, Feel and Shine. We’ve tested the intermediate Feel version, without the armrest between the front seats that when pulled up make the seats look like a sofa.

Some other details are also simplified, but general ambiance is still very different from any other car in the market. It feels expensive and cosy, even if the materials used inside are on the inexpensive side and are let down by three disappointing features: the electric windows in the front doors do not have one-touch auto function, the rear doors have pop-out-only windows and the rear bench folds in one piece. Citroën says this is all to save weight, we say this is to reduce production costs.

There are some interesting features, however. Magic wash is a system that allows a reduction in the size of the windscreen washer bottle by half, saving 1.5 kg. The washer nozzles are built into the tips of the wipers and use less water at each time.

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And, of course, the Airbumps, those gigantic plastic panels with air capsules that protect the side panels, are as much a useful item as they are a marketing tool.

And there are a number of optional driving aids, from park assist, reversing camera, hill assist, static cornering lights, panoramic glass roof and cruise control with speed limiter. There’s a Multicity connect system that enables downloads of relevant driving apps. We’ll have to wait until close to UK market introduction, in October, to know exactly how this will fit in the various versions and optional packs.

First impressions when driving this three-cylinder version come from the good engine-noise insulation. Only at idle or when using higher revs (difficult to gauge because there is no rev counter) is the typical three-pot bark evident.

The five-speed manual gearbox has some well-spaced ratios even if it is not the most precise or quick box in the segment. The low kerb weight is demonstrated in decent in-gear acceleration, which is very useful in city driving where the 16in wheels and soft seats make for a good ride – even if it fails to hit the announced target of recovering the famous comfort of Citroëns from the past.

On the other hand, road holding is much better than expected, considering what Citroën said the model would stand for. It enters corners with precision and a sense of lightness, the benefit of a light engine up front. 

Even with smaller low rolling resistance tyres, the dynamic balance is better than the diesel C4 Cactus e-HDI 92 Airdream we also tried. There is not much performance available for a more inspired driving, but it holds well in high-speed corners and is capable of sliding the rear a few degrees, if deliberately provoked, with the nicely weighted steering making for an easy and precise trajectory choice. Stability control does not come on too soon but when it does, it is in a safe and authoritative manner.

Motorway cruising is very stable and easy, the engine noise is low but there is some wind noise coming from the roof rails and mirrors. The announced 70.6mpg average fuel consumption felt more or less realistic, but we’ll have to confirm this with a long tour in the future.

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Should I buy one?

Citroën announced that the C4 Cactus running costs are 20 per cent less than an average C-segment hatchback and the manufacturer will offer a lease system inspired by the world of mobile phones. Buyers will be able to opt between a monthly flat-rate or a mileage-based payment, both will cover all expenditures, except fuel. It's a clear approach to younger generations.

If you like the extrovert styling and the PureTech 82 performance is enough, this just might be an interesting car. At an estimated £13 000 for a low-spec version, the C4 Cactus PureTech 82 could be some £3500 more expensive than a comparable two-wheel-drive Dacia Duster 1.6 16V 105, but the cabin is much better.

It would probably be wise to wait for the C4 Cactus PureTech 110 and the turbocharged variant of this same engine before deciding.

Citroën C4 Cactus PureTech 82

Price £13,000 (est); 0-62mph 12.9sec; Top speed 105mph; Economy 70.6mpg; CO2 107g/km; Kerb weight 965kg; Engine 3 cyls, 1199cc, petrol, naturally aspirated; Power 81bhp at 5750rpm; Torque 87 lb/ft at 2750rpm; Gearbox 5-speed manual

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Add a comment…
RCT V 21 August 2014

. . before they part with even £13k !!

I really did take to this car when it was fist mentioned. The whole shape, idea, and presumed ethos.

I am pretty sure that the simple oblong instrument panel (in front of the driver), is a similar shape to the 2CVs that I remember. The 2CV front windows were also hinged, but horizontally and at half height. There is probably some reason why the Cactus rear windows have to be front hinged, rather than top hinged.

I really don’t “get” the ski-roof rails, other than they add some “substance” (height), to what would otherwise be a merely “jacked-up” normal hatchback (photo number 3 of 18).

I’ve yet to try the vehicle myself, but as merely a “jacked-up” normal hatchback, this implies a legs-forward driving position - rather than the more upright, knees and hips at the 90 degrees angle (that I prefer), which is associated with (true) “cross-overs” and SUVs.

I wish Citroen every success with the Cactus, but customers are going to have to walk-past an awful lot of other cars - before they part with even £13k !!

BigMitch 17 June 2014

Autocar becomes more

Autocar becomes more irrelevant by the day. Comparing this car to a piece of crap Dacia? The love, attention to detail and design in this car surpasses anything that Dacia has produced. I'm surprised you aren't complaining about "Handling on the Limit"
vinylnutter 22 June 2014

I agree Autocar seem to have

I agree Autocar seem to have missed the point. The car has so much more character and looks like a labour of love. Even if its not for everyone. Ultimate handling and speed are becoming less relevant every year and Autocar seems not to have noticed!

I notice there is something of the BMW i3 in the minimal dash design with twin screens too, perhaps a trend developing?

Simplicity is key 15 June 2014

Great comments, shame about the review...

Well done to everyone for realising there is more to life than power slides. We all like ferrari's on a track showing us how they slide and how fast they can go but that's so unrelated to our daily lives it's incredible. Autocar has to evolve a bit otherwise it will become extinct. It was like the article last week on the tesla S. There are other cars that do other things and the cactus is a design game changer. It's fascinating and intelligent. Autocar should relax a little bit and enjoy the scenery from this cool car. For the feel it gives I think it is well priced. I see it as a mini alternative. I drove one in France a weeks ago and it was great. Perfect in size and a real joy. Autocar have totally missed the point. Glad a lot of other people are smart to see that this incredibly interesting and thank god it's not a ford focus.