At its heart, the C4 Cactus is an easy-going, high-riding hatchback like a host of other crossovers, from the Seat Arona to the Nissan Juke, but it goes to greater lengths in pursuit of value for money, comfort and extrovert styling. It’s one of the most recognisable cars on the road, and it also has a great-looking cabin with interesting materials and design that puts it a long way from the boring cabins of many rivals.
Did you know? The standard Citroen C4 isn’t in production any more – the C4 Cactus now fills that gap in the French maker’s range.
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The C4 Cactus is a car that’s built to make the daily grind easy to bear, with key design features inside and out that should lift your spirits. It’s not the most dynamically fulfilling thing, and there are alternatives, such as a Seat Arona, that are more practical, but the Cactus is roomy enough to make light work of small family’s motoring needs, and is one of the most comfortable family cars going. It’s good value and well equipped, too.
Very comfy around town
We Don’t Like
Lacks driver involvement
Seats lack support for long journeys
Rear windows are hinged
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We thought it was worth mentioning the pre-facelift C4 Cactus here (pictured above on the right), since it was such a striking, novel design when it was launched in 2014. Particularly those ‘airbumps’ – the plastic, air-filled panels on the side of the car that look so cool and prevent car park dings from other errant car doors.
On the 2018 C4 Cactus, the airbumps have slimmed down and slid down the door panels to the lower half, so they’re nowhere near as obvious, which we think is a shame. Still, Citroen has done it because it wants the C4 Cactus to be seen as a conventional hatchback rival despite its SUV styling pretensions; it takes the place of the now defunct standard C4, even though it is a boxier, more high-riding car.
Regardless, while some of the more striking styling features of the old car have gone, the Cactus remains a great-looking car. The slim Citroen brand fascia fits it very well, the chunky plastic wheelarches give it an SUV aura, and the contrasting-coloured features (such as the wing mirrors and fog light housings), give it a cheery, bespoke feel.
Even the cheaper Feel trim on the C4 Cactus trims get LED daytime running lights and rear light cluster, 16-inch alloy wheels, gloss black door mirrors and black airbumps, although the 17-inch alloys (pictured) are only lb150 as an option, and the roof-bars a similarly affordable lb200 on Feel. Flair is the higher of two trim levels and gets those 17-inch alloys thrown in, panoramic glass roof, tinted windows and chrome exterior accents,
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The plastics in the C4 Cactus feel durable if a little cheap in areas, but even so this is one of the better cabins in the class just for sheer visual interest. There are retro-styled air vents, and appealing, tactile material finishes on the dash top and door cards. The upholstery on the seats feels nice to the touch, and the four varying upholstery finishes all look good, too. The squishy, broad seats are comfortable for short journeys and the front arm rest also emphasises the laid-back, armchair-like feel of the C4 Cactus’ driving position. However, the seats are not supportive enough and short on lumbar support for our liking if you’re looking at doing a long journey. Even so, the Cactus has got real style appeal that’ll no doubt make you smile every time you get in.
The dash is logical to use, too, with minimal buttons because you control almost everything through the 7-inch touchscreen, although it’s irritating to have to use the screen to change the air-con temperature as you have to leave the nav screen or whatever other function you’re using. The simple digital driver’s readout behind the wheel gives you the critical info in a clear format, but a rev counter is notably missing.
Visibility is good, and the car’s boxy style and fairly compact dimensions (it’s similar in size to the VW Golf) makes it feel wieldy even in a tight spot.
The Cactus is a fairly practical thing but there are roomier and more versatile options if interior usefulness is an absolute priority, such as the larger if much less interesting Skoda Octavia, or even a Seat Arona offers more rear passenger space. Four average-sized adults can sit in it comfortably but leggy people will find their knees brushing the front seats, and those rear passengers are likely to be quite peeved when they find out that the windows don’t go down. You just have a very old-school latch that inches open a gap.
It’s also a shame that those rear seats don’t slide – as they do in the smaller but more versatile Suzuki Ignis – or even fold totally flat; topple them forward and they leave a step and a slope up from the boot floor. Still, the boot is big enough for average daily use, being almost as big as the boot in a VW Golf – even with a space saver tyre under the boot floor. There are also plenty of storage areas in the cabin, including a decent-sized glovebox, doorbins, and a cubby for your phone just in front of the gearstick.
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Technology & Connectivity
For a car that revels in its own light weight and simplicity, condensing all the primary functions into a single digital interface makes perfect sense. You have to pay extra for sat-nav on Feel trim, but it’s standard on Flair, and every C4 Cactus gets Mirrorlink, Android Auto and Apple Carplay, which means you can use your phone’s nav feature on the car’s screen just by plugging it into the standard USB port. Bluetooth handsfree and audio streaming, DAB and a multifunction steering wheel are all standard across the range, too.
The touchscreen’s graphics are not the best in class, and it’s a bit slow to respond sometimes, but with the touch-sensitive shortcut buttongs to help hop between functions it is quite easy to use the C4’s infotainment system.
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Performance & Handling
The C4 Cactus is a car for people who want to be soothed, and the engines are good for that, too. The core engine is a 108bhp, three-cylinder turbocharged 1.2 110 PureTech petrol, which is our pick of the range. It’s quiet, punchy enough to feel comfortable out on the open road and to let you make a swift getaway into moving traffic. You can also have it with a six-speed automatic gearbox, but the standard six-speed manual is fine even if the shift is a bit long-throw and stodgy.
The same engine is offered with 128bhp, and it does feel a bit more energetic and equally refined, but given the C4’s relaxed demeanour we’d save the cash and settle for the more than adequate 1.2 110. We haven’t driven the cheapest, non-turbocharged PureTech 82, which is only available for a limited time from launch. We’d recommend you avoid it given the lazy 13.1sec 0-62mph time (the other engines all come in at around 10 seconds or less). The 1.6 BlueHDI diesel is a good choice if you’re economy conscious, as it’s got decent pace and quietens down when you’re not accelerating so makes a reasonable motorway companion, but overall the C4 Cactus better suits the petrols.
The steering is quite slow to respond, but it’s predictable and well weighted enough that you can place the C4 quite precisely; you won’t be adjusting the steering all the time to get it swung accurately through an awkward car park or tight corner.
This is also one of the most comfortable cars in its class, thanks to some fancy suspension that incorporates hydraulic cushions. The result is a car that does float and roll quite a lot, but is also satisfyingly squidgy and supple over high-frequency surfaces. It’s a shame that it still bumps really heavily over a sharp pothole, though, so while it’s more settled on patchy or coarse surfaces than just about anything else, you’ll still get the odd harsh bump and some passengers may find the amount of body movement a bit unsettling.
Basically, this is a great car to loaf about town in, and does an admirable job on the open road provided you’re happy with comfy but sedate and slightly roly-poly progress. A Ford Focus, VW Golf or Seat Arona will all be sharper if firmer to drive without feeling uncomfortable.
Recommended engine: 1.2 PureTech 110 manual
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The 2018 facelift of the C4 Cactus brought with loads of new driver aids that are standard on top-spec Flair but unfortunately not available on Feel. These include AEB (autonomous braking around town), lane-assist, traffic sign recognition and driver tiredness warning. An emergency connect system that calls the emergency services and alerts them of the car’s position if it’s involved in an accident is also standard on Flair and optional on Feel. As well as the lack of these advanced aids on the lower trim, the C4 Cactus doesn’t get a driver’s knee airbag, but it does get six airbags as many rivals do.
Anti-lock brakes are ably assisted by systems that apply maximum pedal pressure in an emergency stop and spread the brake force to the wheels with the most grip, ensuring the fastest stop possible in most weathers. A speed limiter is standard for those who wish to use it, and stability control is there for when you need it.
In the rear are two Isofix mounting points for child seats. Sensors are installed at every seat to give an audible warning if anyone unbuckles a belt during a trip. Citroen’s electric child door locks – which let you activate or deactivate the rear door child locks via a button in the front, is a really neat function that plenty of parents will appreciate.
A space-saver spare tyre is standard, which is rare (they’re normally optional if offered), and is a great standard safety feature that we’d like to see more often.
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Spec & Trim Levels
Citroen offers nine body colours on the C4 Cactus but they’re a bit more muted than you might expect. Gone is the vivid yellow of the pre-facelift car, and instead you have the option of a variety of greys (Tapenade Grey is the only standard colour) and whites, but there is a Sport Red for lb250, or metallic shades cost lb450 – we particularly like Deep Purple and Emerald Blue (shown). You also have four ‘colour packs’ to add contrast highlights to the exterior with gloss highlights around the fog lights, wing mirrors and on the air bumps.
There are two trim levels on the C4 Cactus – Feel and Flair. Feel is the cheapest and gets the touchscreen with all the key connectivity stuff you could want, although nav isn’t available. You also get front fog lights, air-con, cruise control and electric front windows, although the hinged rear windows you get on every C4 Cactus still seems a disappointingly old-school feature. Flair adds a reversing camera, sat-nav, panoramic glass roof, auto lights and wipers, and a host more safety equipment, which is a lot of very desirable kit that we reckon makes Flair the best trim for value.
Size and Dimensions
The C4 Cactus is smaller than it looks, but wider than a Nissan Juke by some margin – it’s close to a VW Golf in size, in fact. The Cactus should have no trouble negotiating urban streets or car parks.
Max towing weight without brake
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The C4 Cactus is very light by the standards of its peers, coming in at just a smidge over 1-tonne. This really helps it to record some fantastic economy figures. The diesel – which is rated the same as the petrols at Euro 6.1 – will even bust the 80mpg mark according to official economy tests, and even the 1.2 110 and 130 have official combined economy figures of around 60mpg. It’s extremely difficult to get anywhere close to that in the real world, but the C4 Cactus will certainly be one of the most economical cars in this very varied class.
Running costs are also low, with simple engineering needing only simple maintenance. Insurance is relatively cheap and, as for emissions, most of the engines produce around 100g/km of CO2 or less.
Reliability and servicing
The Cactus was recalled in December 2016 over concerns that the bonnet could open while the car was being driven, affecting cars built from May 2014 to September 2016. A fix was carried out, and newer cars won’t be affected. Servicing is cheap, too.
12 months or up to 16,000 miles (variable) – lb160 est.
24 months or up to 32,000 miles – lb180 est.
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The Cactus is a very well priced car, whether you’re a cash buyer, or looking at finance. Citroen’s PCP deals are great – a lb2000 deposit on the 1.2 PureTech 110 Flair with metallic pain (our pick of the range) will get you monthly payments of around lb270 over three years, which is particularly great given the high standard equipment levels of the Flair. It’s possible to get monthly payments down to lb200 quite easily and without a big deposit on the lower-spec cars, and Citroen offers its ‘SimplyDrive’ setup, where you pay a higher monthly cost that covers all your insurance, finance and servicing costs in fixed payments, so you just need to fuel it.
Business users will also find the Cactus really affordable thanks to those impressive emissions. A 1.6 BlueHDI Feel model will cost just over lb5k for three years from April 2018, while a 1.2 PureTech 110 is a bit cheaper at just over lb14,500 for a 40% tax payer.
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1.2 PureTech Feel – you don’t get the glass roof or safety kit of Flair, but the essential stuff is there and it’s great value.
Company car buyer
1.2 PureTech Flair gets all the safety kit that a lot of companies now want, and the emissions make for cheap tax.
1.2 PureTech Flair, and add the rear sun blinds.
Extremely popular and often heavily-discounted small crossover, but it’s not practical or great to drive.
Blessed with a huge boot and svelte styling, the Captur is also available in a range of appealing colours and trim grades.
Smaller and less practical than the Cactus but at least as characterful and more fun to drive for more of the time.
Smart to look at and drive, with great costs – this is a great all-round compact SUV.
A comparatively expensive alternative, but better built with higher-quality materials and equally excellent engines.