When Citroen first showcased their new Cactus concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show we thought it looked pretty cool but won’t reach production in that shape. But since this is Citroen, an automaker that’s concerned more about the way your steering wheel looks than the way it works (as first gen C4 owners know very well), the on-shelf model is almost exactly the same as the concept.
What we’re looking at here is the production C4 Cactus and because Citroen likes to be crazy, the name has nothing in common with the current C4 nor the spiky plant that grows in the desert.
It might look like a slightly beefed up Citroen C4, but in fact the Cactus is built on the Platform 1 architecture, which is also used by the Peugeot 2008. This means the quirky-looking thing wants to be a subcompact crossover, something located between the B- and the C-segment, going after models like the Nissan Juke
, Opel Mokka, Suzuki SX4 S-Cross
, Renault Captur and possibly the Dacia Duster if you’re looking at the price.
Taking a good hard look at the competition, you already know what to choose if styling is what matters the most for you. Maybe the Captur would try to blow you away with its raised sleek body, but that’s all; the Duster looks utilitarian, the Juke smiles like a crazy frog, the Mokka looks already five years late and the S-Cross... is just a bit better-looking than the old SX4.
On the other hand, the Cactus seems to know better what fashion means and does it for the least amount of cash. It’s also the best at combining style with cost reduction techniques, in its class, because that’s exactly what Citroen wrote on the drawing board when they started working on this car.
From the exterior, you could almost swear the C4 Cactus belongs to the upper class DS range.
It has a smooth body shape, split headlamps with some thin LED daytime running lights like the C4 Picasso and the new C1, sturdy wheel arches, a floating roof, intricately designed rims and an interesting looking rear.
Speaking of that front fascia, the Cactus doesn’t seem to have one “face” like most cars do. The light clusters, which normally make for the eyes, could trick your brain and create a two face effect, depending whether you’re considering the upper lights being eyes or eyebrows for the main clusters bellow.
While the exterior won’t say anything about the small price, the interior will, by treating you with some rough cheap plastics on the door cards, central console, lower dashboard areas and other trim parts, seats wrapped in a grainy cloth and rear doors that come without handles or roll-down windows.
Yeah, Citroen in its wisdom thought rear passengers don’t actually need to stick their head out the window, so there’s no button, lever or mechanism to roll it down. Instead, you can pull a latch and “pop” the window out a bit. This will create a small vent to suck out the air from the car and help with ventilation, especially if anyone is smoking back there.
Same goes for the rear door handles; instead of creating another bolt-on handle sticking out from the door card for you to actually grab and shut the door, the plastic door card has been molded with an extra indent in which you can stick your hand. Interestingly enough, it makes for a neat storage space for your cellphone.
In the front however, the designers have gone mad with styling and created leather-like belt handles. What other mass-produced car comes with belt-handles? Only supercars can have that now.
So far, you might say the simple interior reminds you of the old 2CV, but then style kicks in and changes everything. You get plasticky stuff inside, but at least it doesn’t look like what the rest of the market offers. What other car will let you store a big water bottle upright in the rear door’s cubby hole?
And how could you skip past the classy looking dashboard, wearing a steampunk design and combining old design cues from classic luggage trunks with touchscreen displays, soft-touch materials and asymmetric air vents?
Choose some matching seat materials and you get the best looking interior for the money in this segment. Event the steering wheel stands apart by being flat both at the top and at the bottom. Oh, almost forgot about the Cactus’ main feature - the AirBumps on the sides of the car. You see, the automaker has put these rubberized air pockets there to save you money in the long time by protecting the bodywork from parking lot mistakes. A careless passenger opening the door against your car? A shopping trolley gone loose? A driver backing up into you? No problem, because the airbumps will absorb the impact and leave your car dent free.
The airbumps are also present on all four corners of the car and come in four shades - Black, Dun, Chocolate and Grey. And the best part is that you can easily replace them once they get damaged.
But enough with the styling part. Let’s see what else the Cactus offers for the money, because Citroen says it comes only with things you really need. It is available in just three equipment choices; the entry level, the one that adds a bit more stuff and the top of the range that puts it on par with today’s standards regarding spoil levels.
Even in the basic trim level, the C4 Cactus comes with a tire pressure monitoring system, LED daytime running lights, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, height-adjustable driver seat, USB and AUX connectivity, roof racks, electric front windows and rearview mirrors, cruise control as well as the “Magic Wash” windshield washer system, which sees the spraying nozzles mounted on the wipers’ arms for a better liquid distribution and a more efficient use of washer fluid. That’s another reason to cut the amount of fluid needed in half and shave off a bit more weight.
The mid equipment level adds Hill Assist, manual air conditioning, a central armrest for the automatic transmission version that turns the front seats into a retro-looking car bench, bi-colored leather steering wheel, and Bluetooth connectivity.
For more amenities, you can have the top range model which adds automatic climate control, a 6-speaker sound system, satellite navigation, an extra USB port, parking sensors, rearview camera, cornering lights, automatic wipers and headlamps, heated mirrors, LED interior illumination and tinted rear glass.
Optionals include different upholstery leather/cloth mixes and a big fixed moonroof which is said to use a complex UV chemical filter so it doesn’t need a retractile shade. Another weight improving feature by the way.
The Cactus, which actually looks beefier than a C4 model, weighs 200 kg (440 lbs) less than that, tipping the scales at only 965 kg (2,127 lbs) when fitted with the basic engine and a manual gearbox.
All the efforts of using a compact, lightweight platform along with small engines, an aluminum hood and other weight-saving measures really paid off.
You can feel how light it is after the first two corners and bumps you’ll get down the road. A feeling also pointed out by the quite stiff suspension. It’s not sport-car-like but go over one too many potholes and your insides will definitely have something to say about it.
Still, the mildly-hard-set suspension helps the Cactus embrace the road quite well and cornering is done without significant body roll. The same happens during hard braking moments when the car feels more like a cart and doesn’t tip forward much.
Speaking of brakes, you should also be gentle with that middle pedal since they’re a bit over-assisted for how much the car weighs and they bite quite fast when you expect it the least. Not a bad thing for emergency situations, but you could end up having your passenger looking at the dashboard from quite a small distance in some cases.
So, does all these mean it’s a sporty car? Well, it looks a bit frowned and rough edgy, but believe me, the C4 Cactus was not made for time attack events. Simply getting in the driver seat will tell you it hasn’t been cut for shaving seconds. The steering wheel is relatively big and thin, there’s no lateral support (goes both for seats and knees) and the manual stick shifter doesn’t quite give you that feeling of operating a well oiled bolt-action rifle; it wobbles a lot and has a huge travel which sadly makes the car feel like it has already clocked 100,000 miles.
In fact, all the controls feel soft and appear to be made for a relaxed drive, something that’s also enhanced by the tiny engines you can get - five in total, with three 1.2 gasoline units and two 1.6 diesels. We tested the 1.2 VTi three-cylinder making 82 hp and 118 Nm at first and... Well, it was a bit scary to commit into most overtaking situations because this engine hates to pull, despite the car’s low weight.
Zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) is achieved in about 13 seconds if you’re good with the flabby shifter and if you’re not going to hoon it, the spec sheet says you’ll achieve an average fuel consumption of 4.6 l/100 km (51 mpg). Drive more lively and you’ll get a 6.5 l/100 km (36 mpg) average like we did. Depending on market, there’s an even smaller 75 hp version VTi, which I strongly recommend staying away from if you like arriving places in time. Next in line comes a 110 hp/205 Nm e-THP three-cylinder and a 92 hp/230 Nm e-HDI which we had to skip over, because the 100 hp/254 Nm BlueHDI seemed a much better choice. It simply feels fit for the car and makes it more balanced for city and highway driving because you get double the amount of torque. Zero to 100 km/h in this case takes about 10 and a half seconds.
This is also the most fuel efficient rated engine in the range, being able to achieve a combined consumption of 3.4 l/100 km (69 mpg). However, forgetting about eco-driving manners will turn it into a 4.5 l/100 km (52 mpg) average, like we achieved in the test. Still a lot better than what we got in the barely moving 82 hp unit.
Flaws? Well, it does come with a few. For example the fact that the rear bench cannot be split. It’s either all up or down, meaning that you can’t go to IKEA with 2 more people. And then there’s the front passenger seat which feels a bit too high and cannot be lowered, not even on the top trim level. Drat! On the same note, the steering wheel is only height adjustable. Double drat! Also, there’s no all-wheel-drive available... Triple drat!
You might also get a bit annoyed by sound proofing; the doors aren’t going to make that quality “klunk” noise when closing and you do get wind noise at higher speeds. Small rock hitting the bodywork, or an acorn falling on the roof? You’re definitely going to hear that like there’s barely any soundproofing materials between the metal and the interior trimming.
Commendations? We do like the simple, classic-yet-modern styling and the lack of any analog instruments.
The speed, fuel level, lights and recommended shifting points are all displayed on the small rectangular high resolution LCD screen right behind the steering wheel, which is clearly visible thanks to the steering wheel’s upper chamfering. Anything else is done on the intuitive, simple to use central infotainment system. It gets a bit laggy sometimes but it’s still better than what most competitors offer.
Passenger space is generous, even for the rear seats occupants even with the front ones staying in a rather relaxed position and there are sufficient cubby holes to store things for your average trip. The boot offers 348 liters of stowage and can be extended to 1170 with the bench down and parcel shelf away.
Another thing that should make the C4 Cactus fly off the shelf is the customizing possibilities. It comes in 10 exterior colors (including a nice yellow and purple shades) which can be combined with the four colors of the airbumps and one of the two alloy rim models available (each coming in silver or black). Add in the 7 available interior schemes and you probably won’t see two identical cars on the road. Should you buy it?
That’s a simple question if you ask us. Looking for a compact crossover that’s cheap and want to take you places? Buy a Dacia Duster
. Need a compact crossover that’s cheap and want to take you places in style? Spend about three grand more and get the Citroen C4 Cactus.