Citroën C4 Cactus hatchback
"The Citroen C4 Cactus is an individual, practical and affordable family car with some well thought-out features like clever suspension to soak up bumps"
- Low running costs
- Distinctive styling
- Comfortable ride
- Not great fun to drive
- Suspect interior quality
- Rear windows don’t go down
Nobody quite knew what to say back in 2014, when the distinctive Citroen C4 Cactus appeared – its unconventional looks, with the original car’s ‘Airbumps’, gave it a distinct urban spirit that set it apart from its family-car rivals. Despite being based on the conventional Citroen C4 hatchback, it had a strong SUV flavour that saw it stealing sales from the competition.
A 2017 facelift saw the C4 Cactus’ Airbumps moved to the bottom of the doors (where one could argue they’re less useful), revised front and rear ends but perhaps more surprisingly, changes to the ride quality. While three trim levels used to be available with increasingly generous equipment levels, there’s now only one to choose from - the high-spec Flair.
The C4 Cactus features clever Progressive Hydraulic Cushion (PHC) suspension, which comes close to rekindling the much-vaunted 'magic carpet ride' of classic Citroens like the DS and 2CV. It provides extra suspension damping when a pothole is encountered, and the result is a car remarkably free of shake and shudder through the bodywork on broken surfaces. UK cars also boast Citroen's latest 'advanced comfort' seats as standard.
Another key Cactus feature is its relatively low asking price – it undercuts many family hatchbacks and packs more features to boot. It's fairly cheap to run, too – particularly the remarkably economical 1.5-litre BlueHDi diesel engine. This is claimed to return up to 63.4mpg thanks to stop-start technology. If you'd rather a petrol engine, the 1.2-litre PureTech with 108bhp cheaper to buy and still returns 51.5mpg.
Remarkably, given their impressive fuel economy, none of the Cactus' engines disappoint on the road. Even the least powerful is fine for around-town driving, where it pulls away from the lights sharply enough to handle urban traffic in a confident manner. However, if you make frequent long journeys or often encounter steep gradients, you may be happier with one of the more powerful options, which include the 128bhp petrol that can manage 0-62mph in just 8.6 seconds.
Although some Cactus versions are quite fast, none is especially exciting to drive. Instead, the emphasis is squarely on comfort, with light, easy steering that isn't exactly precise or rich with feedback. Passengers will love it, though, thanks to its smooth suspension and squidgy armchair-like seats.
The C4 Cactus range was reorganised in 2019 to consist of just the Origins and Flair models in response to demand for higher spec cars - but now only the latter exists, as the Origins was a special-edition model. Flair packs a lot of kit, including 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, automatic air-conditioning, cruise control, a reversing camera Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. What it doesn’t have, in common with all Cactus models, is fully opening rear windows. They only pop open outwards. Otherwise, inside the Cactus is a nice place to be, with refreshingly individual styling – although the materials feel a little flimsy in some places.
Our biggest reservation is Citroen’s lacklustre reputation for owner satisfaction – the Citroen C4 Cactus finished 73rd out of the 75 cars ranked in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, and it’s occupied similarly low places in the last couple of years. Citroen put in a slightly better performance in the brand survey, coming in at 18th out of 30 manufacturers. Owners criticised Citroen’s infotainment systems, including the sat-nav and Bluetooth functions, lacklustre stereos, small gloveboxes and the smoothness of their car’s gearboxes. They were happier with practicality and running costs.
The fundamental design does much to recommend itself, though, not least for its comfort, economy and that superlative ride quality. If Citroen can answer the reliability and safety quibbles, the C4 Cactus will be an even more compelling package.