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New car review

Citroën C4 Cactus review

Citroën’s somewhat different compact hatch has been updated – is it still as quirkily attractive?

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Design
8.0
Comfort
8.0
Driving experience
7.0
Value for money
8.0
Safety
8.0

Summary

The Citroën C4 Cactus remains a car that will appeal to those who need a family hatch but who don’t want a family hatch like everyone else’s.

Summary

The Citroën C4 Cactus remains a car that will appeal to those who need a family hatch but who don’t want a family hatch like everyone else’s.
 

60-second summary

What is it?
The latest Citroën C4 Cactus is an updated, repositioned version of the brand’s mould-breaking family car.

Key features
Improved ride quality, improved comfort, ‘different’ detailing

Our view
The new Citroën C4 Cactus has grown up, but while more conventional it’s not completely so, still offering styling to appeal, together with significant improvements in ride quality and interior comfort.

Anyone considering a Focus, Astra or Golf should also look at this.

Similar cars
Peugeot 308, Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus

Citroen C4 Cactus facelift - rear view
The updated C4 Cactus is more conventional, but not too conventional

Full review

Introduction

The Citroën C4 Cactus first appeared in 2014 and kicked off a new era of more distinctive models from the French brand. The car was also hard to pigeon-hole and as Citroën already sold a Focus-rivalling C4 family hatch, some dubbed the Cactus an SUV.

But it wasn’t really like any normal SUV, in fact it wasn’t really like anything else, with its quirky styling, particularly on the interior and most controversially in the form of the large ‘airbump’ body cladding hung on the doors.

Now there is a significantly updated version of the Cactus, and Citroën has addressed the confusion, sort of. Firstly the new car is more grown up, so less quirky, though thankfully not to the degree that one would call it conventional.

It also now has a more obvious place in the Citroën line-up. In the last four years the C3 Picasso MPV has been replaced by the C3 Aircross SUV, and the C4 hatch, which didn’t sell in great numbers, has been dropped. All of which, Citroën’s marketing types tell us, creates a gap in the range for the Cactus to move “upmarket” into the family hatch segment. Simples…

The major changes to the new Cactus involve suspension and comfort – it’s the first model in the European Citroën range to get the ‘Progressive Hydraulic Cushion’ suspension system, and the first Citroën anywhere with the brand’s ‘Advanced Comfort’ seats.

Externally, Citroën insists that 90% of the components have changed. The quirky, chunky looks that convinced some the car was an SUV, and helped to attract more than 30,000 buyers, have gone – the airbumps are still there, but now in a more innocuous strip at the base of the doors.

 
 

There is a broader look to the front end, extensive use of chrome detailing on front and back, while the new LED lamps have black inserts.  The car looks stylish while more mainstream, but Citroën’s current mainstream is attractive, so it turns heads in the right way.

The 2018 Citroën C4 Cactus is less quirky, more stylish
The new Citroën C4 Cactus is less quirky, more stylish

Buying and owning a Citroën C4 Cactus

This is a ‘mid-life evolution’ of the Cactus, so in terms of shell it’s the same as the outgoing car – 4.1 metres long with short overhangs front and rear, a 2.6-metre wheelbase, on underpinnings shared with the Peugeot 208 and DS 3. Citroën continues to claim a 150kg weight advantage over perceived rivals, the best power to weight ratio in the market we are told, leading to less fuel consumption and lower emissions.

The big change is in the suspension, with the addition on all versions of Citroën’s Progressive Hydraulic Cushions. Developed in the brand’s World Rally Championship motorsport programme, the system adds two hydraulic aids to the dampers, producing a ‘magic carpet’ ride.  To prove it, the route on the UK launch event deliberately targeted some of the most pothole-scarred roads in Buckinghamshire.

The C4 Cactus is priced to compete, starting from a mere £17,265 – for now. This buys the Feel Edition, a specific launch model and the only one available with the 82hp petrol engine. After May the range will revert to Feel, starting from 17,965 with a 110hp engine, and Flair, from £19,865 again with the 110hp unit.

Said engine range is familiar to followers of PSA Group products, though we are told it has been revised for the new car. All three petrol units are three-cylinder units of 1.2 litres, the third being a 130hp version offered for the first time on the Cactus. All bar the 82hp variant are turbocharged, while for diesel fans there is a single four-cylinder 1.6 diesel of 100hp, the only engine to dip its CO2 emissions below 100g/km.

All engines are combined with five-speed manual gearboxes, apart from the 130 which gets a six-speed. Alternatively, the 110 petrol can be specified with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Feel models come as standard with such niceties as 16-inch alloy wheels, parking sensors, hill-start assist, fog lights that see around corners and an infotainment system based around a seven-inch touchscreen and including DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and smartphone compatibility.

Upgrade to Flair and the alloys get an inch larger while equipment highlights include a satellite navigation system with access to connected emergency and assistance services, a panoramic glass roof, rear parking camera and extra safety aids.

Personalisation is a big part of the Cactus offering and this includes 31 exterior colour combinations, focusing on nine body colours and four colour packs applied to such areas as the foglamp surrounds and airbumps. Four different interior designs are also offered.

At the time of writing the latest Cactus had not been crash-tested by Euro NCAP. Back in 2014, the previous version scored four stars, but the new model has gained from additional safety technology particularly in the form of driver aids. Autonomous braking, speed limit recognition and blind-spot monitoring are among a suite of driver assistance technologies available, though you do need to go for the Flair trim to get them as standard.

Inside the Citroën C4 Cactus

2018 Citroen C4 Cactus interior
The ‘maturing’ of the C4 Cactus has not meant removing the interior niceties

Within the Cactus is hidden the second major innovation, the Advanced Comfort Seats. Citroën makes no bones about aiming to be a manufacturer renowned for the comfort of its cars, and goes about achieving it with large seat swabs, high-density foam, a thick textured surface and extra bolstering. At least for the front-seat occupants – those in the back make do with something more traditional.

However, it’s a comfortable environment whether in front or back. Even tall occupants will not feel cramped in the front seats, and while the rear is cosier there is plenty of room for two – it’s a bit tight for three.

Boot space, meanwhile, is 385 litres. This is comparable to many of the car’s rivals, and it’s a practical space – square with no lumps of suspension turret and the like getting in the way. However, it is a quite high loading lip to lift bags over.

Thankfully the ‘maturing’ of the Cactus has not extended to removing some of the interior niceties that this writer so liked on the original. The flat padded front shelf, forming the top of the glove box, remains, as do the very neat straps acting as door closers – quirky in a very positive way. Mind you in some areas this does seem to be at the expense of convenience features – the lack of grab handles above the doors is noticeable for example.

Driving the Citroën C4 Cactus

2018 Citroen C4 Cactus on the road
The C4 Cactus really does soak up virtually everything pitched up into it.

Much of our launch event testing was conducted with the 110hp engine, cars with this unit and in Flair trim expected to be the biggest sellers. It’s a refined powerplant and certainly suits the efforts made to take the car upmarket.

Being a three-cylinder, this unit does have the characteristic low-rev chug, which one notices basically due to it being the only audio note of any significance. Much effort has been expended on the acoustic comfort for occupants, with thicker glass, new door seals and more sound insulation. That engine note is by no means intrusive, if anything attractive, and soon fades to very little sound at all as the car accelerates.

Said engine is also eager in its acceleration but soon settles into a smooth cruise on the motorway. The 130 variant is certainly more powerful, though one questions whether it’s worth another £800 and fuel consumption and emissions penalties (albeit slight ones).

You have got to hand it to Citroën – the potholes and tarmac dips and bumps on the test route were truly scary in places. But as promised, the suspension of the Cactus really does soak up virtually everything pitched up into it. The most severe jolts are smothered to the point of being merely noticeable in the cabin, rather than alarming.

The car is quite softly suspended and one notices it when pitching into a corner, in that the car does lean over a bit, but it is all very controllable and overall this feels like a comfortable car to do many a mile in.

Summary

When the Citroën C4 Cactus launched in 2014 its basic refusal to conform to stereotype won it fans, and those fans may worry at talk of the car ‘growing up’. True, the exterior mods have made the Cactus look more conventional, though thankfully not completely, while inside the clever touches remain.

More importantly, the extensive revamp, particularly the suspension and interior comfort changes, have added significantly to the appeal of the car – they are indeed advances for which the function fulfils the hype.

The Cactus remains a car that will appeal to those who need a family hatch but who don’t want a family hatch like everyone else’s. And in this case, choosing to be different doesn’t come with penalties – in a very competitive market sector the Citroën C4 Cactus is very much a contender.

Citroen C4 Cactus front static
In a competitive market sector, the Citroën C4 Cactus is very much a contender.

Design
8.0
Comfort
8.0
Driving experience
7.0
Value for money
8.0
Safety
8.0

Summary

The Citroën C4 Cactus remains a car that will appeal to those who need a family hatch but who don’t want a family hatch like everyone else’s.
Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is the News and Road Test Editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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