2016 Citroen C4 Cactus First Drive Review - Cactus Isn't Cactus When Its From Citroen

by under Review on 11 Mar 2016 02:05:45 PM11 Mar 2016
2016 Citroen C4 Cactus
Price
$26,990 - $29,990
Fuel Consumption
3.6L - 4.7L/100km
4RATING
PROS

• Stands out from the crowd • Great value • Nice to drive

CONS

• Turbo-diesel’s semi-auto transmission takes some acclimatisation • Rear drum brakes. Really?

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

This Great Value Compact SUV Should Produce A ‘Spike’ In Sales

As any ‘true-blue’ Aussie knows, we put a different ‘spin’ on the word ‘cactus’ down here. But put that interpretation aside for Citroen’s brand-new compact SUV - named after the desert vegetation - because it’s terrific.

In fact the Citroen C4 Cactus - boasting cut-through design and plenty of technology – was last year’s European Car Of The Year. As you probably know, we don’t have any native species of cacti in Australia and we nearly didn’t get the Citroen Cactus either.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

Seems the C4 Cactus was originally slated only for left-hand-drive markets in Europe. Compliance with Australian regulations needed a significant re-engineering, not only for right-hand drive but more specifically in the rear seat which had to accommodate two child seat anchorage points, top tether. And just because they could they gave it a 60/40 split fold.

So while the Citroen C4 Cactus has been on-sale in Europe for 18 months, the first Australian customers are only now taking delivery.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

What You Get

Citroen says the C4 Cactus does away with the superfluous and meets the challenge of providing more of what actually matters. In other words it’s not over-designed, it’s simple and practical.

But don’t confuse that with rudimentary. Far from it, in fact – the Citroen C4 Cactus shares the new PSA PF1 platform with the C4 hatchback but tips the scales 200kgs lighter thanks to some clever innovations and use of aluminium.

Of course the well known highlights are the plastic side ‘Airbumps’. Available in a variety of customizable colours, the Citroen ‘Airbump’ is not just about looks – the tough, padded plastic panels are proprietary technology and, for example, can withstand an assault by a shopping trolley in the carpark at speeds up to 4km/h.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

Also making its debut in the Citroen C4 Cactus is the Airbag In Roof technology, which, as the name suggests, shifts the front airbag from the dashboard to the roof. Citroen says this creates more room for the front passenger and affords more storage space on the dashboard.

Inside, the Citroen C4 cactus is stylish, well equipped and comfortable with most functions operated via a tablet and, in the diesel, the front seat can be transformed into a comfy sofa couch-like bench seat. When was the last time we saw a passenger car with a bench-seat up-front?

Citroen Australia has launched the C4 Cactus in Australia with two models – the petrol version (five-speed manual) sells for $26,990 and the turbo-diesel (six-speed automatic) sells for $29,990.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

Under The Hood

Diesel power comes from the e-HDi 92 (as in 92 horsepower) four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine with a single fixed turbocharger. This provides 68kW/230Nm and drives exclusively via a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual changes.

For petrol enthusiasts Citroen C4 cactus offers the impressive turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder delivering 81kW/205Nm and driving through a five-speed manual transmission.

For fuel consumption the Citroen C4 Cactus diesel rates at 3.6l/100kms (combined cycle) and the petrol at 4.7l/100kms (combined-cycle).

 

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

The Interior

Citroen really has turned a page of automotive interior design with the C4 Cactus. But following the trend of ‘What’s Old Is New Again’, check-out the wide sofa-style front seats (diesel models).

Yes, there’s the usual Citroen seven-inch touch-screen but the diesel scores a handbrake which looks like it came from Airbus or Boeing. And the glovebox looks like an escapee from the golden age of steamships – nice straps and plenty of capacity too.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

Then there is the usual Citroen leather-wrapped steering wheel (flat top and bottom) which is only adjustable for rake (not reach). But with seat height adjustment we found a nice driving position with good visibility.

The second row seats provide reasonable legroom for a compact SUV and there’s plenty of luggage space – 358-litres with the rear seat in-place or 1170-litres when folded.

 

 Exterior & Styling

Strangely, Citroen said the Cactus allows it to return to being a design-lead company. Really, though? We’ve seen no evidence to suggest it was anything else and, really, the Cactus joins a long roll call of iconic Citroen designs.

Yes it’s simple, but look at the purity of the layout and how the subtle, smooth lines show no aggressive sharp edges. Nevertheless, the C4 Cactus really is a bit of a visual puzzle – it is actually larger than the photos portray.

Taking into account personalisation options for the Airbumps, roof rails, door mirrors, wheel rims, body highlights, paint and interior combinations there are a staggering 23,184 versions of the Citroen Cactus available to order. That will give the stock controllers a migraine.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

On The Road

Congratulations to Citroen for dispatching us media types onto the excellent roads North of Sydney, including the Putty Road, and onto the Hunter Valley for the C4 Cactus launch. Well, we have seen a lot of Tasmania and Victoria’s Yarra Valley in the last 12 months.

Your CarShowroom correspondent started with the mighty three-cylinder petrol engine and, as we know, this is a terrific powerplant that ably blends good performance, the hallmark three-cylinder growl and handy fuel consumption. However freeway cruising did have us searching for sixth gear - which isn’t there unfortunately.

Then we climbed into a Citroen Cactus with the four-cylinder 1.6-litre turbo-diesel and push-button automatic transmission (no traditional gear lever). Plenty of torque from the 68kW/230Nm on-tap but we did find the six-speed auto a bit tardy in its responses – helped when pressing-on by going for the paddle-shifters for manual changes.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

But the over-riding impression from behind the wheel was the excellence from the chassis. Of course a big part of that story is the 200kgs weight reduction over the Citroen C4 hatchback.

Underneath we have the usual MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension. Calibration strikes a nice balance of comfort and sportiness when called for.

And the variable electric power steering was also spot-on with great feel and this elicited immediate response from the front-end on turn-in. Mid-turn there was nice balance (controllable understeer at the limit) and not a lot of body roll to be honest.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

Cactus Verdict

To be brutally honest, when you consider contemporary new car design, there is some pretty ordinary stuff going around. The C4 Cactus exhibits the expected top-notch crayon work from Citroen’s stylists so you can’t file it with those rival mundane efforts and for that reason alone we wanted to like it.

And we do. A lot.

And we kid you not – we were sitting in the carpark at the local shopping mall waiting for Mrs CarShowroom only last weekend when a traditional summer afternoon ‘Southerly Buster’ came through, hurtling a shopping trolley smack into the passenger’s door of a BMW X5 leaving an ugly scrape in the black paintwork (when she returned we did kindly try to explain to the driver, a Chinese lady, what had happened but her poor grasp of English left her thinking we were ‘fessing-up’ to doing the damage ourselves…seems in modern Australia one needs the ability to converse in Mandarin!).

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

No problem if she’d had a Citroen C4 Cactus – the ‘Airbump’ would have just sniggered at the runaway trolley, much like ‘Superman’ brushes aside a bullet.

And that’s the point Citroen wants to make with the C4 Cactus. Life for a compact SUV buyer is more full of runaway shopping trolleys than Rolex watches and Vienna leather. So why use the last two as inspiration for your design work?

Toss-in the smooth-riding and responsive chassis, a massive dose of practicality and genuine value-for-money and, yes we have a winner here folks. The Citroen C4 Cactus deserves to be at the ‘sharp end’ (yes, pun intended) of the compact SUV lineup.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

Challenges

We think the Cactus is terrific but we can’t grasp why there is no petrol model with an automatic transmission or for that matter a diesel with a manual transmission. It’s not as though across the PSA Group there is a lack of suitable hardware to do the job.

 

Competition

Citroen’s problem is obvious – there’s so much action in compact SUVs these days, new models are seemingly launched every week. How does sales growth of 800 per-cent in the last decade and around 100,000 sales last year sound? That’s around one-tenth of the total Australian new car market.

Mazda’s CX-3 is the standout with 2WD and AWD versions, petrol or diesel and an 11 model lineup which ranges from $19,990 to $37,690. We just drove the range-topping petrol model (Akari AWD) stickered at $35,290 from Melbourne to Sydney and back and loved it. But there’s no denying the Citroen C4 Cactus packs a lot if equipment as standard which others list as optional and it may have a shade more rear seat space and legroom than the CX-3.

2016 Citroen C4 Cactus

From England, Nissan joins the party with the Juke ($23,490 to $33,490 and exclusively petrol). Like the Citroen, the Juke will get you noticed but under that head-turning skin the 1.6-litre versions of the Nissan pack some punch. Plenty of room inside too.

Honda HR-V is doing brisk business for the Japanese giant. Priced from $24,990 to $33,990, the HR-V is exclusively 2WD petrol but enjoys Honda’s handy 1.8-litre powerplant. Very nicely styled inside and out, the Honda HR-V drives well and is nicely equipped.  

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