Citroen's C4 Cactus may no longer look quite so distinctive but it's matured into a very complete product. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the improved version.
Citroen's C4 Cactus hatch gets a reboot in this much improved form. It's a little less extrovert in this guise, but still fashion-led and highly personalisable. These are attributes which should play well for buyers seeking something a little different in the more conventional family hatch sector where Citroen has now repositioned this product. The key changes here come as part of the company's 'Advanced Comfort' programme, which has brought more supportive seats and a clever new suspension system. So, charisma and comfort take centre stage in a very individual little family car that's arguably at its best in this PureTech 110 petrol form.
In a market full of family hatchbacks determined to become SUVs, it's rather refreshing to find a product with the opposite perspective. Citroen's C4 Cactus started out in 2014 as the brand's offering to buyers in search of a compact crossover. Now it's re-invented itself as a more conventional family hatchback, but one with a rather unique perspective on life.
'Comfort', the advertising around this car proclaims, 'is the new cool'. Perhaps. It's certainly a virtue that used to characterise this Gallic brand in the days of legendary models like the Traction Avant, the 2CV and the DS. In more recent times when Citroens became little more than re-badged Peugeots, that selling point was sacrificed, but the company's resurrecting it now with its so-called 'Advanced Comfort' programme. In the C4 Cactus, this delivers super-supportive 'Advanced Comfort' seats and a clever new suspension system using what the marque calls 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushions'. There's also a smarter, more spacious-feeling cabin, extensive personalisation opportunities, much improved safety provision and a strong range of engines, including the PureTech 110 petrol unit we decided to try.
Remember when Citroen cars represented an affordable benchmark for ride comfort? This improved C4 Cactus reminds me of that era thanks to its clever 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushions' suspension system which delivers a class-leading standard of ride over poorer surfaces. Hydraulic dampers cushion the top and bottom of wheel travel at the top and bottom of wheel travel and allow the fitment of softer springs and dampers, producing what Citroen describes as a 'magic carpet'-like feel. Thick quilted 'Advanced Comfort' front seats further embellish the feeling of Gallic luxury.
Even better, the whole thing seems to have been installed in a way that doesn't leave this Cactus pitching about too much through the corners. Sure, there's a little more body roll than you'd get with most rivals; certainly enough to dissuade you from pushing on too hard through tighter bends unless you absolutely have to. But that's not too much of an issue; enthusiasts won't be buying this car anyway. Most customers will be choosing a petrol engine, probably the PureTech 110 unit I tried, which is capable of 62mph in 9.4s en route to 117mph - or 9.9s if you go for the optional EAT6 automatic gearbox.
Rarely has a car been so characterised by a single styling feature as was the original version of this model. At its launch in 2014, the so-called 'Airbump' panels, slavered over its sides like slabs of Dairy Milk chocolate, were all people wanted to talk about. The Airbumps haven't disappeared entirely with this revised model, but they've shrunk in size to a point where people will probably no longer notice them.
Inside, the changes made to create this improved model are less obvious - until you start to inspect the generously proportioned 'Advanced Comfort' seats, which are completely new. Otherwise, the minimalistic cabin with its designer flourishes remains much as before. So you get door handles inspired by leather luggage straps and what is probably my favourite feature, this huge, stylised lidded glovebox - Citroen likes to call it a 'Top Box'. The reason it's so big is that the dashboard doesn't have to swallow a passenger airbag, this feature instead moved up to the roof where it's mounted just under the headlining. In the back, extra elbow room has been freed up through the use of re-sculpted door panels and there's still a spacious boot, offering 358-litres and extendable to 1,170-litres with the rear bench folded.
This evolved C4 Cactus starts from a much higher price point than the original version, but to some extent you'd expect that. The base engine is, after all, now more powerful and equipment levels are significantly higher. Plus, with asking prices ranging between £18,000 and £21,000, this car can still look good value against the Focus and Golf-class 'C'-segment rivals that Citroen has now decided it should compete with.
The spec starting point is base level 'Feel' trim, but £1,900 more gets you the alternative plusher 'Flair' model we're trying here. Engine-wise, the vast majority of Cactus buyers tend to prefer the base PureTech 110 1.2-litre turbo petrol powerplant, a unit that buyers of the top 'Flair' variant can choose to have mated to 'EAT6' auto transmission upon payment of a further £1,300. There's plenty of kit included, even entry-level 'Feel' variants getting 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, LED 3D-effect rear tail lamps, front fog lights with a cornering function, rear parking sensors, an alarm and the space-saver spare wheel that many rivals make you do without. Plus the 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushion' suspension set-up is fitted to all models for what Citroen calls a 'Magic Carpet' feel over bumpy surfaces.
The PureTech 110 petrol unit that most Cactus buyers will choose returns 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 100g/km of CO2. A directly comparable Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI 110PS hatch manages 58.9mpg and 109g/km. Enough said. What about other financial considerations? Well, regular service intervals come round every 16,000 miles or 12 months, depending on which comes sooner. If you engage in what Citroen calls 'Arduous' conditions of use, then you'll seed a servicing visit every 10,000 miles or every year. The bottom line is that most owners will need to budget around an annual dealership appointment; there are plenty of Citroen outlets to choose from, so you should never be too far from one.
Every C4 Cactus comes with a three-year and 60,000-mile warranty. The first two years of that aren't subject to any mileage limits but the third year (which is taken care of by your local dealer) is limited to 60,000 miles. There's also Europe-wide breakdown assistance included from new for the first year you own the car. Looking at the longer term, you also have a 12-year guarantee against rust and 36 months cover for any paintwork defects, though that doesn't include stone chips and other wear and tear damage.
The original C4 Cactus was the car that rejuvenated the Citroen brand and paved the way for the more distinctive C3 and C5 models that followed it. Has it lost a little of its 'joie de vivre' in this revised guise? Not really. It's just a little less eccentric.
Fans of the brand might worry about a perceived dilution of the company's character here, but we'd argue just the opposite. Citroen's heritage wasn't built on styling frippery like Airbump panels. It was fundamentally centred around providing a volume manufacturer benchmark in terms of comfort. And, for the first time we can remember in a very long period, in this improved C4 Cactus, the marque finally has a car that's once more able to boast that in its segment. The 'Advanced Comfort' seats and 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushion' suspension really make a difference here. Make sure your test drive includes a bumpy back road and you'll get what we mean.
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