The Citroen C4 Cactus might have a name that should damn it, but the clever little hatchback has a few tricks to ensure it gets onto your shopping list.
VERDICT: If you’re in the market for something bland that’ll get you from A to B then there’s plenty to choose from in the small car segment. But if you’re after a small car that shows some real design flair then the Citroen C4 Cactus is worth a gander.
There’s more to the design of the C4 Cactus than just a designer wanting to make a car stand out. Indeed, Citroen intends for the most noticeable design flourishes of the Cactus to be functional, and that’s as it should be… adornments for the sake of it really are a waste.
The most noticeable of these practical flourishes are the Airbumps which are just that, an air bump. Fitted to the sides of the Cactus as standard they’re a little plastic pockets of air designed to soak up the bumps and knocks of minor collisions from other car doors being opened against the Cactus and even shopping trolleys pushed at the car, at less than 4km/h.
Another clever little thing that most people won’t ever notice, or hopefully have need of is the airbag built into the roof of the Cactus. The idea was that it would help to reduce the thickness of the dashboard, and it does. By fitting the airbag into the roof of the Cactus the volume of the airbag has increased to 120 litres allowing it to cover the touchscreen area of the dashboard, and effectively act as a curtain.
More than just being able to change the shape of the dashboard, the airbag in the roof meant the Cactus could be fitted with a top open ing glovebox allowing the front seat passenger to see what’s inside easily… but it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a very big glovebox, and looking inside a glovebox rather than down into one isn’t that big a chore, is it?
But the feature I like the most is the Magic Wash windscreen wipers which sees the washer nozzles built into the end of the windscreen wiper blade meaning that when it’s activated the washer fluid is distributed along the length of the wiper. It means a more effective use of the fluid, allowing the reservoir to be half the usual size (1.5L down from 3L) and the window is cleaned better with less streaking.
So, despite the many, many millions of dollars that car companies spend on marketing to convince us that the form of their new cars is in direct relation to the function, and usually it isn’t, the C4 Cactus can, and without the marketing hype, say such a thing. Yep, the way the cactus looks is in direct relation to the functionality of the thing. Moving on.
Citroen has made a big deal of the Cactus being an SUV and I say it isn’t. For me, an SUV should be all-wheel drive, at the very least. Opinion is divided on this, I know, and I expect my email inbox to be inundated with your views.
Our test car was fitted with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine which produces 81kW at 5500rpm and 205Nm of torque at (a diesel-like) 1500rpm. Mated to this is a five-speed manual gearbox with stop-start function and coupled with “ultra-low rolling resistance tyres” returns a combined 4.7L/100km.
The C4 Cactus weighs (in petrol manual trim) just 1020kg and, so, even with one or two people on board feels quite perky once up and going. From a standing start there’s quite a bit of turbo lag (the time it takes for the turbocharger to begin working) and you do find yourself trying to give the thing enough right foot so as not to stall and not so much that you make a screeching take off.
That’s not helped by the spongy feel of either the throttle or the clutch pedal which will require quite a bit of familiarisation not to feel awkward. That said, the Cactus is also available with a semi-automatic transmission which is mated to a turbo-diesel engine, but we’ll save this for another review.
The gears shift itself is pretty easy with the transmission gates easily navigated and the shift relatively short and positive. The steering is a variable electric power assist system, meaning that the rate of assistance changes depending on the speed, so, the slower you go the lighter the steering, and so on. While some of these systems have a tendency to be too light, Citroen’s done a good job with the steering in the Cactus feeling nicely connected to the front wheels and with a consistent weight and a good positive feel in the straight ahead.
Like the throttle and clutch pedal, the brake pedal is a little dead-feeling and spongy meaning that it can be hard to modulate the brakes without over- or under-applying them. But this sensation settles after you spend more and more time behind the wheel. The Cactus might run discs at the front and drums at the back, but its lightweight and so the brakes will handle general use just fine.
Climb inside and the Cactus feels different from competitors like the Toyota Corolla or Hyundai i30 and actually feels pretty special. The dashboard is minimal in its design with most controls incorporated into the tablet-esque touchscreen and this is both good and bad.
See, putting all of the controls for things like air-con up into the ‘man-machine interface’ takes simply turning down the fan on the air-con or changing the temperature to slightly more difficult level. I really do think that climate control functions should be separate from the infotainment and communication systems.
Beyond that gripe the rest of the system is pretty good, with shortcut keys around the outside of the touchscreen making it easy to then deep dive into functions. Pairing you phone is easy via Bluetooth and the audio streaming function works well and didn’t once trip up while I was testing the vehicle.
The materials used are good quality but they do feel hard to the touch, but I think that’s intentional; the idea is to give the Cactus a robust feel inside and the materials used and the design does that quite well. The front seats are nice and comfortable and there’s good vision all around thanks to tallish glasshouse, only the slabby rear-three quarter panel requires careful attention when lane changing.
Over in the back seats there’s a reasonable amount of room for two adults and that’s thanks to a long-ish wheelbase of 2.6m which is a around 25cm more than a Holden Spark. I managed to fit child’s seat into the back of the Cactus C4 with plenty of legroom for my four-year old. And I managed to sit behind the driver’s seat with it set to my preferred driving position and I’m 5ft 11in.
Over in the boot there’s a usable 358 litres of storage space, although if you fold down the rear seats this grows to a good 1170 litres.
In terms of safety, the Cactus hasn’t been tested by ANCAP but gets airbags, traction and stability controls as well as hill-start assist, static cornering lights, programmable speed limiter and cruise control as well as a reversing camera with guide lines that displays on the seven-inch touch screen in the centre of the dashboard.
Toyota Corolla: The Toyota Corolla is a perennial favourite among Australian small car buyers. It’s got a good reliability reputation and is good to drive, but it lacks the cool-ness of the Cactus and its warranty falls short of the Citroen’s 5-year offering.
Suzuki Vitara: The Cactus is marketed as an SUV so it’s in competition with the recently-released front-drive Vitara. The cactus lacks the ground clearance of the Vitara but lines up well in other areas.