The C4 Cactus is difficult to categorise. It looks like a coupe a hatchback and a mini SUV from different angles whereas most compact SUV’s really do look like shrunken versions of larger SUV’s. Its been described as looking quirky which is a lazy way to say it looks different from the normal compact SUV fare. Actually it looks great, like it’s come straight off a designers sketch pad un-changed and unaltered before the accountants had their say. It looks like a concept car. Some of the panel gaps are so close that it appears as if the Cactus is made from one whole mold, particularly in this colour.
The C4 Cactus, not unlike a Ferrari 488GTB, has the ability to turn heads and it’s partly down to the Airbump technology. Think of it as a protective deformable ‘band aid’ which covers the mid-section of the front and rear door panels. Its designed to protect the side of the car from minor bumps and scrapes.
What Citroen have done is to cleverly incorporate this Airbump technology into the visual design theme so if you do get a door clattering into the side of your C4 Cactus, Airbump will minimise any damage and do so with style.
The first thing you do with the Cactus is to actually prod those Airbump’s. Cushions of air act as shock absorbers to deflect back any minor impacts, it’s like advanced bubble wrap. Then you start to prod around the rest the Cactus, well at least I did. In doing so I found the front bumper had slight flex to it when pressing down.
The front bumpers don’t have Airbump incorporated within, the flex is due to the fact because this is how the Cactus is built. You see the Cactus weighs under a tone and therefore weight saving measures have been implemented, yes the top part of the front bumper does flex but less weight actually improves efficiency in addition to the ride and handling.
Inside, the driver and passenger will have just about enough space to feel comfortable indeed more than you expect. In fact its like the Goldilocks effect, not too big not too small but just the right size to get comfortable during long journeys. And the same goes for rear seated passengers.
The interior has lots of smart and neat little design details, the Cactus Flair model trim came fitted with an optional £295 Purple highlight pack which adds a sense of purple-ness to the interior. Kit levels are good, in-car connectivity, DAB, 17-inch alloys, LED Daytime running lights are a few of the highlights. Although the thermally insulated panoramic sunroof was a £425 optional extra and that included the Obsidian black metallic paint which costs £495.
The 7-inch touchscreen interface houses all the primary controls from heating to the radio settings but you also get a multifunctional leather steering wheel thrown in. The City Park pack was another optional extra which includes front parking sensors, reverse parking camera, gap measurement and a park assist system which is autonomous parking for those who have trouble parking into tight spaces.
Much of the materials used for the interior are unashamedly and predominantly hard plastics, the exception being the top surface of the dash which is softer to the touch. But it is well screwed together and it doesn’t feel as though it will fall apart.
Having said that the drivers side door trim did tend to clatter slightly upon closing, it may well have been isolated to this specific test car. There are no door handles to speak of just boutique looking fabric-look grab handles. Now that really is quirky.
There are no rear electric windows just traditional pop out hinged windows, probably to cut down on costs and to give that all-in-one effect concept car look. It may be that its quicker to install a rear hinged window on the assembly line than a complicated electric window system.
Boot space is going to be limited in a compact SUV, so don’t expect much change from 385-litres with the seats up and much more with the rear bench seat folded down.
The engine range consists of one petrol engine a turbo-charged, 3-cylinder, 1.2-litre unit available in 3 power grades and a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel again available in three power grades the diesel also includes stop-start technology. Three trim levels are offered Touch, Feel and Flair. Prices for the C4 Cactus start from £12k and range up to £18k for top spec models.
The Flair on test came fitted with the 1.6-litre turbodiesel which offers up useful levels of power, 100bhp and 254Nm of torque. That said, with the low kerb weight the engine is quite peppy, relatively quite and offers satisfying levels level’s of performance.
The Cactus being relatively lightweight requires only a 5-speed gearbox which are evenly spread and can return 45mpg on a combined cycle (auto gearbox is also available). Better still with a low CO2 rating of 92g/km requires you pay nothing to the tax man.
Road manners are not fundamentally bad nor are they fundamentally great, the Cactus has a McPherson strut/coil spring front suspension and rear torsion bar setup. So what does this mean? What I said at the beginning of this paragraph.
The handling is consistent but only over smooth roads. Grip is plentiful and if you attack a corner the Cactus turns in with enthusiasm but with a slightly skittish rear end. Bodyroll takes the wind out the Cactus’ sails but to be fair it isn’t excessive.
For me the real issue was the electronic steering setup, at speeds of under 40mph its calibrated to be lightweight so parking is easy and driving around a city is easier still. Head out to the motorway and the steering weight increases. And if your journey is over an hour it feels as though you are holding a bag of potatoes. In short the steering is all over the place and needs a sotfware update to cure it of these illnesses.
The ride like the handling prefers smooth roads uneven surfaces and rough terrain unsettle the Cactus’s ride, drive over speed bumps and you don’t feel much compliance from the suspension. That said for most people the Cactus as an every day car will be fine.
You will like the Cactus for its looks, its like a boutique designer label at an affordable price, there really isn’t anything else that looks like it on the market at the moment. It’s a goldmine of design and flair and it isn’t totally impractical either.
Don’t listen to reports of indifferent handling and ride and that means ignoring everything I just said, its OK, gets the job done for most people and its cheap to buy, own and run. The problem really is with British motoring journalists who want everything to handle like a Ford Fiesta.
Despite that steering setup, which for most casual car buying consumers won’t be a deal breaker, the C4 Cactus is great car, it doesn’t do everything greatly but it does do everything with style and that’s worth more than a Ford Fiesta by any one’s estimation.