First drive review: 2018 Citroen C4 Cactus
If you want something that's easy to drive around town and won't leave you feeling tired after a long journey, the Cactus is worth a look – airbumps or no airbumps.
Let’s talk about airbumps, as there’s no way to avoid it. The original Cactus had them plastered down the side, huge boxes of plastic that protected the car from minor bumps.
On the new facelifted version of the Cactus, they’ve been relegated to a minor design flourish along the lower sills of the car. The one feature that stood out, that made the Cactus the Cactus, has gone.
It makes business sense; those that dislike the Airbumps simply wouldn’t consider buying the car, while those that did like them weren’t really too bothered if they were there or not. Do you think all cars are beginning to look the same? Apparently, you only have yourselves to blame.
It rides slightly higher than most hatches, but not by enough to consider it an SUV.
In fairness, had the new Cactus turned up originally, and not the Airbump festooned version, then we’d all be thinking how stylish it looks, how it’s a breath of fresh air. So put the old Cactus behind you, forget it existed, and look at the new model in isolation.
Take off some of the design highlights and it’s a pretty conventional five-door hatchback. It’s rides slightly higher on its suspension than most cars, but it’s not enough to consider it an SUV. That suspension hides some interesting technology though.
Designed with comfort in mind, trick suspension combines a coupe of hydraulic stops on each suspension strut, replacing the rubber stops usually found at each end of the springs and dampers. IT makes no difference on small, regular bumps, but when you hit something bigger it dissipates that energy rather than rebounding back into the suspension.
It works, for the most part. Smack a speed bump at speed and it glides over comfortably, while the wheel drops in and climbs out of the many potholes populating our roads without much effect on passengers. Get the pacing right on an undulating road and the Cactus can gently bounce along from crest to crest, while body roll in corners is quite pronounced, but it’s undoubtedly a step up in comfort from anything the opposition offers.
Smack a speed bump at speed and it glides over comfortably.
It’s not as dynamically engaging though, but that’s something you would probably expect given the focus on comfort. The steering is light and vague, while the gearbox is mushy enough to make rapid changes tricky. Give up on trying to impersonate Sebastien Loeb and the Cactus handles itself far better.
The cabin was every bit as divisive as those Airbumps, but Citroen have toned it down a little. It’s a minimalist environment, with a central infotainment screen housing the usual Citroen system - that’s a less than perfect system, but there’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay mirroring available, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. The clean, high-tech look jars with the odd travel trunk-style details elsewhere, but it generally works nicely.
The seats, labelled as Advanced Comfort seats, are supremely soft and comfortable, although there’s little lateral support. There is plenty of space though, front and rear, but those in the rear will find the windows don’t open - they tilt open a few centimetres, remaining firmly attached at the front edge.
Further towards the front is the little 1.2-litre petrol engine. Developing 128bhp, the turbocharged unit is surprisingly flexible at low revs and pushes the lightweight Cactus to 62mph in a respectable 8.7 seconds, but also promises economy of 58.9mpg. The pleasing rumbling tone of the engine subsides at speed which, combined with the soft dynamics and comfort focussed developments, makes it a lovely place to pass the time. That said, there’s a lower power version that saves money and makes no appreciable difference to performance or economy.
If you want something that’s easy to drive and won’t leave you feeling tired, then the Cactus is worth looking at.
Yes, the Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus are better to drive overall, if you want something that’s easy to drive around town and won’t leave you feeling tired after a long motorway run, then the Cactus is worth looking at. A relatively low price, and low leasing costs to go along with that, makes it even more tempting. Even without the Airbumps.
Summary: Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 PureTech 130
Airbumps have been dumped, but inherent quirky look remains
Seriously comfy seats and minimalist dash design impresses, but laggy infotainment lets it down
Not as fun as a Focus or as dynamic as a Golf, but new trick suspension provides sublime ride quality
358-litre boot is far from class-leading and suffers from high load lip, but plenty of room for passengers
1.2-litre petrol tested here promises almost 60mpg, while 1.6-litre diesel can muster over 83mpg