24 Oct 2014

2014 Citroën C4 Cactus Review

Matt Hubbard reviews the innovative new Citroën C4 Cactus

Citroën C4 Cactus
Citroën C4 Cactus

First things first, the Citroën C4 Cactus isn't based on the C4 but the C3. It's been lengthened and heightened but because it sits on the smaller car's platform it's light. Very light. You'd expect a car that counts the Nissan Juke as a rival and that feels as big as a Golf to weigh around 1,300kg but it doesn't - it weighs 965kg.

This is good.

The Cactus is innovative in several ways but the most obvious is on the outside. You can't escape them. They stand out in the photos and in the metal - well, rubber.  Those plastic panels on the flanks are called Airbumps (capital A because Airbump is patented) and they are designed to deflect erroneous doors in supermarket car parks.

Will any other manufacturer want to copy the concept? Well, they might because I've a sneaking feeling the Cactus is going to do rather well.

The looks attract as much admiration as derision. It's certainly not a beige car and tends to arouse passion in people as they comment on it. In a week with the Cactus (admittedly painted in Hello Yellow) I was asked about it by my postman, a bin man and some random bloke at the petrol station.

On social media opinions were divided and those opinions were fierce, on either side of the hate/love divide.

I'll leave it up to you to make up your own mind about its looks, suffice to say I like it. The proportions look and feel good and the design is attractive to the (well, my) naked eye.

Step inside and it feels spacious. The seats are close together but this is because they're really very comfortable sofa chairs. They're not very supportive but they do take the strain of a long journey well.
Citroën C4 Cactus

There are some very sensible storage spaces. Rather than just provide strangely shaped holes with no lip to stop things falling out the Cactus has a recessed space, just a little bigger than a large smartphone, next to the USB port, a similar one that holds a glasses case, very wide door pockets, a single cupholder and an absolutely massive glovebox.

The rear seats are similar to the front but are less comfortable - they're more of a bench than a sofa.  To save weight there's no trick folding system either. There's no 60/40 split and the rear bench doesn't fold flat. There is quite a lot of leg room though.

One weight saving measure can be found in the rear windows - they're pop out rather than wind down and I would question how sensible that is. The Cactus is a family car and your kids deserve wind down windows, even if they're manual.

The boot is large but has a high lip, presumably to preserve structural integrity in such a light chassis.  The parcel shelf is as light as the proverbial wafer thin mint.

The driving position is quite sensible. At this point I'd like to congratulate Citroën's designers for not following the trend of raising the roof height. Some cars have stupidly tall roofs which add weight, and in the wrong place - high up.

You sit in the Cactus and feel snug. Yes the cabin is airy, with sensibly designed pillars that provide good visibility, but the roofline sits low compared to other cars. You can, if you want, option a full size panoramic roof.
Citroën C4 Cactus
Citroën C4 Cactus

Back to the driving position. Everything sits to hand (and foot) except for the steering wheel which is not adjustable for reach. This is another weight saving measure that's a step too far.

The dash is digital, simple and straightforward. The speed readout is clear but the omission of a rev-counter is silly.

Move to the centre console and there is only one row of buttons. Almost everything is controlled by the touchscreen. Climate, sound system, satnav, trip computer - everything. And it works well. Watch this video for a full tour of the info screen.

The Cactus has three petrol and two diesel engines available. That in the test car was a 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol with 82bhp and 87lb ft of torque. This is a puny amount of power but in such a lightweight car it feels surprisingly sprightly.

The gearbox was a 5-speed manual. I hadn't driven a 5-speed since 1987, but it was a good one - nice and light, like all the other controls.  The ratios seem sensibly spaced but this was hard to fathom accurately without a rev-counter

Pulling away smoothly is tough due to the small engine and initial turbo lag but once past that the engine pulls well enough.

The ride is brilliantly smooth. Rough roads and potholes are evened out and the car, despite its light weight, feels straight and true on the road.

The handling isn't half bad either. It barrels round corners perfectly well, although with not a vast amount of precision or feedback. It is fun for a run on country roads though.

On the motorway it's comfortable and easy going, although you do need to stir the gearbox to get the most out of the little engine.

It feels like a light car when you're driving it through corners - you can sense a litheness - but it also feels quite substantial. Slam the doors and instead of a tinny bang they make a satisfying thunk. The choose of materials inside (a mix of soft and comfortable and harsh and scratchy) don't give away the lightness either.
Citroën C4 Cactus boot
Citroën C4 Cactus

It really is a clever overall design that achieves the Cactus' low weight which, aside from the aforementioned issues, does not pervade itself in any negative way - only positive.

The C4 Cactus test car cost £14,590 and had automatic lights and windscreen wipers, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth streaming, cruise control and a satnav that works very well.  Add in the comfort levels, space and genuinely innovative aspects to the design and it's good value.

As well as this the running costs will be lower than equivalent cars. CO2 and mpg figures are competitive and consumables such as brakes and tyres will last longer than in the competition due to its weight.

I enjoyed my week with the Cactus. It's a fun, attention seeking car that's practical and spacious and it'll deservedly sell by the bucket load.


Price - £14,590 (£16,500 as tested)
Engine - 1.2 litre, 3-cylinder, petrol, turbocharged
Transmission - 5-speed manual
0-62mph - 12.9 seconds
Top Speed - 106mph
Power - 82bhp
Torque - 87lb ft
Economy - 61.4mpg
CO2 - 107g/km
Kerb Weight - 965kg
Citroën C4 Cactus
Citroën C4 Cactus

Citroën C4 Cactus

Citroën C4 Cactus

By Matt Hubbard