ROAD TEST: Citroën C4 Cactus Blue HDi 100 Flair 5spd man

2014-10-09 19:06:24

The Citroën C4 Cactus has been born from a place where rational pragmatism is fused with innovative and imaginative freedom. This is the stuff that the French car-maker has history in developing, aside from a two decade hiatus during the 90’s and noughties when this seemed to fade and its products became more mainstream. So we welcome the C4 Cactus to Car Land and look forward to driving it to see if the style overshadows the substance.

Described by Citroën as the first of a new market segment that others will follow – the Crosshatch – the C4 Cactus is a 5-door small-family hatchback which has a slightly raised ride-height but absolutely no off-roading pretensions. This is perhaps what sets it apart from a ‘soft-roading’ SUV crossover, akin to the Nissan Juke or Peugeot 2008/3008.

But before we start the road test proper, we should point out one big anomaly. Citroën emphasises, and the name suggests, that the Cactus is based on the C4 platform. This means it resides in the small-family hatchback class, alongside the likes of the Peugeot 308/3008. However, its price point means that it actually more a competitor to the smaller Peugeot 208/2008 which sits in the supermini class.

With its under-the-skin conventionality being clothed by a cleverly packaged, light-weight, comfort-oriented, bargain-priced and yet innovative looking five-door hatchback, some of our commentating colleagues have suggested that the C4 Cactus is the natural successor to the 2CV. This was a point we put directly to Mark Lloyd, Design Director of the C4 Cactus in an interview we had with him at the UK-launch event in Buckinghamshire.

Having got the low-down from Lloyd, it was time to put the C4 Cactus to the test and find out whether the execution is as inspired as its conception. We drove four different versions of the C4 Cactus at the UK launch event, but the focus of this test is the £15,900 Blue HDi 100 mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox in range-topping Flair trim.

Our test car was finished in fetching dark grey paintwork with red accents. The first thing to strike you is how different and more cohesive the car is when you see it in the flesh compared to viewing it in photographs. Having a better understanding of the function that lies behind the form helped to set the unusual looks into context.

The large ‘Airbump’ plastic cladding spread along the side of the door panels and bumpers is the C4 Cactus’s most outstanding feature. These help to prevent the bodywork from being assaulted and suffering scratches and dings in the bodywork whilst left unattended. It is an inspired move and more importantly it works. Just a shame that those airbumps do not extend all the way to the trailing edge of the rear passenger doors, where they will be most needed – especially if you have young passengers who are simply inclined to push the door as far open as it will go without giving consideration to the surroundings first in their rush to exit the rear seats.

The interior is very spacious and airy – even with the dark fabric finish which featured on our test car. Rear legroom is respectable since the wheelbase matches that of the standard C4. The headroom at the front is excellent – although due to the tapering roofline, passengers in the rear may describe the space they have available as acceptable.

Front seat driver and passenger sit tall in the Cactus, providing a commanding view of the road ahead, further accentuated by a low scuttle and fascia. Unfortunately, the steering wheel is fixed for reach and those with larger feet may find that the pedals are a little too closely spaced. But other than that, most drivers will be able to find their ideal driving position. Despite this, a decent view of the good-sized digital speedometer can be had. The cabin itself is very cleverly packaged and contains ample storage whilst the broad seats prove comfortable.

Our test car came equipped with the 99bhp turbocharged diesel occupying the space beneath the bonnet. It is a relatively refined unit. The lengthy gaps between the ratios of the 5-speed manual gearbox coupled to the mediocre output ensure that fairly quiet and relaxed progress can be made, although inclines and hills require frequent changes of gear. It is also frugal, with around 60mpg being achieved in the relatively short-time we were able to spend with the car.

The driving character isn’t as sharp as the name or styling suggests and recognising its small-family hatch underpinnings, Citroën has opted to give the C4 Cactus a soft chassis and suspension set-up. This means that the Cactus is always comfortable, confirming the objectives that Mark Lloyd highlighted in his interview with us. Being in range-topping Flair spec, our test car rode on 17-inch alloy wheels. Smaller wheels would have probably offered a better combination of grip and rolling refinement. As it is, our test car was a regular recipient of some thumps due to those larger wheels, and the cabin wasn’t the quietest place we have spent time in. However, in isolation all of this is well suppressed and most owners will not notice. Despite the softer set-up adopted, the C4 Cactus is a tidy and grippy handler.

In conclusion, the C4 Cactus offers buyers a package split evenly between imagination and flamboyance. Fitted with the Blue HDi 100 engine and manual gearbox, it may not be the last word in dynamism but what it lacks here it more than makes up for being a very pleasant and comfortable place to get from A to B – perhaps via C and D. It is head-and-shoulders above the uninspiring Skoda Rapid Spaceback and is more accomplished than any Dacia.

In developing the C4 Cactus, Citroën have produced a car that will effortlessly meet what you throw at it on a day-to-day basis. And what’s more, in going about its duties, it will never feel low-rent, basic or uninspiring. For that and that alone, Citroën should be recognised for delivering this achievement. Not everyone will like it – it will certainly divide opinion. However, we would be willing to bet that in a decade or two from now, we will see the C4 Cactus still prowling the streets of Paris. Let’s hope so.

This is an abridged article prepared by First4Auto exclusively for EcoCars4Sale.

Reported By

Andrew Merritt-Morling 

Chief Editor