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Citroen C4 Cactus (2014) review

Published:20 June 2014

Citroen C4 Cactus: CAR magazine's first drive review
  • At a glance
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If the new Citroen C4 Cactus doesn’t sell by the boatload, I’ll eat my hat. The newest member of the French maker’s line-up is one of the quirkiest, funkiest and most interesting new cars to go on sale in 2014, yet doesn’t cost a million pounds.

In fact the new Citroen C4 Cactus crossover will take on the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Vauxhall Mokka in both style and value-for-money stakes. Read on for CAR's Citroen C4 Cactus review.

What is the new Citroen C4 Cactus?

It is, in a nutshell, a C4 hatch that’s been jacked up, had 200kg of heft trimmed out of it, and then been wrapped in Citroen’s seriously cool new design language. That includes the new ‘Airbump technology’, an innovative way of stylising a protector strip into the doors of the C4: pockets of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) filled with air. It's a bit like bubble wrap. Citroen reckons you could run a shopping trolley along the side of the C4 Cactus and the Airbumps will save it from damage. We’ll leave that to someone else to try…

The same TPU material stretches over pockets under the LED daytime running lights and lower headlamps, as well as adorning the space between the rear lights, with raised Citroen lettering in the same colour. It certainly makes the Cactus stand out from the crowd - and suggests Citroen may be back on quirky form.

The Airbumps can be had in one of four shades that contrast the Cactus’s paint, and, with the crisp, sharp design language, gives this car so much character that we were bowled over before we’d actually driven it. Look closely: even the way the gloss black roof rails are designed is thoughtful and edgy.

What about inside the cabin of the Citroen C4 Cactus?

The design adventure carries on in the Cactus's spacious cabin: there’s loads to soak up, from the comfy ‘sofa’ style front seats, which are surprisingly well bolstered and supportive, to the sturdy door pulls that designer Mark Lloyd says were inspired by suitcase handles.

The seats are covered in a thick, premium cloth and while the driver’s chair has loads of adjustment, the squircle-shaped steering wheel has only up-and-down adjustment, but not reach, which limits the driving position. That wheel is wrapped in leather and has a gloss black lower spokes, while splashes of piano black and silver adorn the textured dash. It all belies the price of this car: our Feel model - the middle of three trim levels - will cost around £17,500 in the UK. Final Citroen C4 Cactus spec and prices have yet to be announced. 

Reckon you've seen this car before? The C4 Cactus was inspired by 2007's Citroen C-Cactus concept car. Just goes to show how long lead times are in the car industry...

How’s the C4 Cactus for space?

There’s loads of room up front, especially as the front passenger airbag has been relocated to the roof, making way for a cavernous front glovebox while allowing excellent front legroom. All the instruments are digital, with a neat, easy-to-read bar ahead of the steering wheel showing basic info while adding a retro touch. The centre touchscreen, which measures 7in, is crisp and clear, and has features such as Mirrorlink, where you can access phone apps and the internet via the display.

In the back of the C4 Cactus, there’s a rear bench – with no split-fold at this stage, although it does fold flat to expand the 358-litre boot to a useful 1170 litres. There’s loads of leg-, elbow- and shoulder-room, and if you’re around 6ft tall you’ll fit in – just. The only real worry here is that the rear side windows don’t wind down but are pop-out, like on the budget VW Up, which is not much fun for rear passengers, especially kids.

Citroen C4 Cactus review: what’s it like on the road?

PSA's petrol 1199cc three-cylinder turbo is a great engine and is loaded with tech including direct fuel injection, an aluminium block and head, as well as start/stop. Along with its delightful yet not overpowering thrum, its 109bhp is enough to have the 1020kg Cactus feeling agile and willing.

The focus on weight saving – this thing weighs a staggering 200kg less than a regular Citroen C4, thanks to aluminium panels and simple, cheaper components – gives the Cactus better dynamics, lower cost and this version a claimed 61.4mpg average fuel economy.

The Cactus's ride on the standard 16in alloys is supple, and the composure is solid as the C4 manages bumps and ruts well. Change of direction isn’t sports-car-sharp, yet the body is well controlled. The weight of the electric steering, which actually has decent feel, and the well positioned pedals mean the C4 Cactus feels just like a regular hatch, rather than an unwieldy crossover. That gearshift – and, as we’ve mentioned, the limited driving position – is a little sloppy, but it’s a minor complaint in a crossover that’s obedient, predictable if not exactly entertaining to drive.

When can I buy a Citroen Cactus in the UK?

The C4 Cactus lands in the UK in October 2014, priced between £13-18k. It will come in three trim levels – Touch, Feel and Flair – with both this engine and a pair of less-powerful, non-turbo versions of the three-cylinder. There will also be two versions of the 1.6-litre turbodiesel, and a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes.

Verdict

The new C4 Cactus is a step change for Citroen: its character and charm will win you over, and the more you spend time with it, Lloyd’s design philosophy of simplicity and lack of pretentiousness only add to its delights. This car sets a template for pleasingly distinctive, back-to-basics Citroens in future, and we can't wait to see them.

The perceived quality is high – its cabin puts a Nissan Juke interior to shame, especially for the price – and the driving experience is competent and satisfying. Fiat has the hideous 500L, but could the Citroen C4 Cactus be the genuine design icon of the SUV world? It’s a strong offering and should have its rivals worried.

Specs

Price when new: £17,500
On sale in the UK: October 2014
Engine: 1199cc 12v turbocharged 3cyl, 109bhp @ 5500rpm, 151lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 9.3sec 0-62mph, 117mph, 61.4mpg, 105g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1020kg steel/aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4157/1729/1480mm

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • Citroen calls the C4 Cactus a crossover. So think of it as a rival to the Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti
  • Airbump technology makes the Citroen C4 Cactus stand out
  • Expect the new Citroen C4 Cactus in UK dealers by October 2014
  • A back-to-basics Citroen: the new 2014 C4 Cactus
  • Airbump tech is available in contrasting paint to stand out from C4 Cactus bodyshell
  • Inside the cabin of the Citroen C4 Cactus
  • The de rigueur sat-nav screen is a tablet affair
  • Innovation inside: the new Citroen C4 Cactus offers a bench seat
  • Shopping trolley test no.1: Airbump 'bubble-wrap' is said to prevent car park scrapes and knocks
  • A whole lot sexier than the regular Citroen C4, no?
  • Contrasting colour scheme devised by Brit designer Mark Lloyd for new C4 Cactus
  • PSA's three-cylinder petrol engines will prove popular in new Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Expect Citroen C4 Cactus prices in UK to start at around £17,500
  • The new Citroen C4 Cactus weighs a useful 200kg less than the regular C4 hatch. Neat
  • Follows narrow-lamp look of C4 Picasso at the front end
  • The Citroen C4 Cactus road test: CAR magazine approves very highly indeed
  • The 2007 Citroen C-Cactus: inspiration for C4 Cactus seven years later
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