The Citroen C4 Cactus was first unveiled as a concept at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, attracting a lot of comment for its bubble-wrap-style “Aitbump” panels on the doors. This distinctive feature – aimed at protecting the car against car park door “dings” – made it through to the production Cactus which came out the following year.
Now we have the latest version of the Citroen C4 Cactus and there is some disappointment that the “Airbumps” have been relegated to simple outlines on a panel at the base of the door. Citroen say their demise is due to customer feedback.
Although this feature has gone, it is clear than Citroen are determined to keep a significant element of individuality in the new model. You’ll notice one of these quirks immediately you step in. The door pulls are reminiscent of the leather straps you would find on classic cars.
Other individual touches include a big glovebox which opens, not on the front of the dashboard but, but as a usefully-sized bin opening on top of the dashboard. Indeed, the Cactus has quite a bit of storage space for the bits and pieces a family needs to carry.
Adding to its family car credentials, the Citroen C4 Cactus has five doors and the space is quite useable for hatchback in this class. Of course, you might still have to indulge in some horse-trading if you try to shoehorn a lanky passenger in the back, behind a space-hungry driver or passenger.
One of the most obvious features for the test car in its “Flair” trim was the giant sunroof, which bathes the interior in daylight. Difficult to judge in December, but Citroen say it is “thermally insulated” and that should help to protect you from the heat of the summer sun.
I’d need to have two cars side-by-side to be sure, but I suspect it may steal a little bit of rear seat headroom. I had about two inches clearance, but particularly tall passengers might struggle.
Another essential element for a family car is a good spacious boot. Open the rear hatch and this one looks pretty generous, especially considering there is a space-saver spare wheel beneath the floor. The only downside, however, is the quite a sizeable lip over which you have to lift loads.
Back to the interior and the style is quite minimalist, but distinctive and, to my eye, attractive. There’s a big display panel in the centre of the dashboard and a small instrument pod with a digital speedometer and linear fuel gauge.
Citroen is very proud of what it calls its “Advance Comfort Seats”. They feature high density foam in the core of the seat, with a textured foam for the surface. The aim is to provide more comfort and support and, yes, they do feel comfortable.
In this Flair specification the C4 Cactus is notably well-equipped. This was brought home to me when I was trying to find a farm, hidden on some real back roads in the middle of nowhere. I came to one of the last turnings that would take me to my destination, only to find myself confronted by a “Road Closed” sign, unhelpfully erected the middle of the road.
As I stopped to consider my options, I noticed what the navigation screen had been trying to tell me. There was my road, flashing with red and white cross hatching to tell me it was closed. It’s impressive for a built-in sat-nav system at this end of the market to have live navigation updates. I paid more attention to the map thereafter!
For tech lovers, the Cactus is also equipped for Apple Car Play and Android Auto, plus there are 12-volt power outlets and a USB socket for connecting and charging your mobile devices.
The Cactus Flair also comes with active safety braking, emergency brake assist, hill start assist, tyre pressure monitor, reversing camera and sensors. Plus for those who like the ‘film star’ look, there’s darkened rear window glass to hide behind!
Another feature, more commonly found further up market, is the speed limit display on the dashboard. This proved remarkably accurate, although it did try to tell me that I had to continue at 10 mph, after it picked up a speed limit sign for a private car park beside the road.
Also on the safety and reassurance front, the Cactus Flair is equipped with Citroen’s Connect Box. The SOS button connects the car directly to the emergency services. If there is a more serious incident, SOS will activate automatically. Additionally, there is a button to summon breakdown assistance and send an initial fault report.
Citroen has looked back to its history, when it was renowned for the ride quality of cars like the hydraulically-suspended Citroen DS. PureTech 82 models of the C4 Cactus are now fitted with hydraulic cushions that are designed to absorb surface imperfections, while keeping movements of the car body under control.
With this suspension, the Cactus was certainly set up for comfort and it was a little softer than my preference, but then I have to recognise I am not the obvious target market.
Similarly, one of the first things I noticed, when I first got behind the wheel of the Cactus, was how light the controls are. This would probably suit the buyers this car is aimed at, especially when driving around town and manoeuvring in supermarket car parks. The steering, brakes, accelerator and clutch are quite effortless, possibly too effortless – at least for someone, like myself, more used to controls with a little more weight.
Combined with quite soft suspension, I initially found it difficult to drive smoothly as I was steering, braking and accelerating more sharply than intended. As a result I became very conscious that my passengers were nodding their heads, involuntarily. Sir Jackie Stewart, as a fanatic for smooth driving, would definitely have disapproved.
I was impressed with the willingness of the turbocharged, three-cylinder engine in the test car. Despite its smaller capacity, limited cylinders and only five gears, it delivers a healthy 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds. More impressive, however was how the picked up speed on dual carriageways.
My regular route includes a section of uphill dual carriageway out of a roundabout. Where some smaller-engined cars really struggle, the Cactus was soon up to 70 mph and on the cruise control.
It would be tempting to assume that the downgrading of the “Airbumps” would rob the Citroen C4 Cactus of some its charm. But, in reality, I think this car’s character remains one of its strongest appeals. For someone who wants a distinctive family hatchback that is light and easy to drive, the Cactus is now, more than ever, one to put on the short list. Citroen C4 Cactus Flair Puretech
Carbon dioxide emissions: 106 g/km
Combined fuel economy 62.8 mpg
Top speed: 117 mph
0-62: 9.4 secs
Power 110 bhp
Engine size 1199cc petrol
Boot capacity 358/1170 (back seats up/folded)