Citroen C4 Cactus Flair PureTech
05 April 2018
Author: Rachel Boagey
The Cactus is back again but some prickly attributes could hinder its success.
Citroen claims the C4 Cactus was created to provide avant-garde styling and usable practicality at an affordable price point.
One thing's for certain; although the latest model has lost its Marmite-style, 'love it or hate it' bubble-wrap door strips, it's still one funky-looking vehicle.
Throw into the mix an imaginatively styled interior, off-the-wall instrumentation and seats plump enough to shame a lazy-boy armchair, and the result is a beguiling-looking alternative to traditionally styled hatchbacks like the Skoda Octavia and Vauxhall Astra.
A practical genius?
It is clear that comfort is supposed to be the name of the game as soon as you plonk your bum in the plush cushioned 'advanced comfort' seats, which come with adjustable lumbar support and high-density foam, making you wonder why no other manufacturer is making car seats as squishy as your granddad's armchair.
Citroen also wanted to declutter the Cactus's interior; hence the dash looks quite stark and there are very few buttons, with most functions being controlled and displayed on two domino-like digital instrument tablets. Thankfully, the 7in infotainment screen is clearly laid out, so it's pretty intuitive to navigate.
The dash is also home to the 'Top Box' glovebox; a welcome addition that's reachable from the driver's side of the car and has enough room to stash your handbag while you nip to the shops. It also comes equipped with straps and buckles to keep your belongings in place.
On top of this, the riot of textured materials and imaginatively styled door cards give the Cactus's cabin plenty of wow factor, but it pays not to look too closely, as once you start prodding around, it becomes clear that the plastics are much flimsier than those in a similarly priced Skoda Octavia.
There is space aplenty in the front two seats, but as soon as you jump into the rear, headroom isn't quite so generous, especially with the panoramic sunroof option fitted to our test car.
It's also worth noting while you're back there that the rear windows only pop open, rather than lowering as normal. Why? Your guess is as good as ours.
The 60:40 split folding rear seats are standard across the range and the boot has a 358-litre capacity with rear seats in place. That's pretty much on par with a typical hatchback but not in the same league as a Skoda Octavia. Fold the seats flat and this rises to a maximum of 1,170 litres.
The top-level Flair trim we tested offers most of the kit you'd expect, including automated parking, a reversing camera, hill-start assist, six airbags, a tyre-pressure monitor and cruise control.
A whole new world
The Cactus is the first Citroen in Europe to get the company's innovative suspension system, which features progressive hydraulic cushions, rather than steel springs.
It's supposed to deliver a smoother ride, but in reality it offers no discernible gains over a more traditional arrangement when it comes to isolating occupants from rougher surfaces.
What it does do is permit an enormous amount of vertical body travel, which can be witnessed as the bonnet rises under acceleration and the nose dives with heavy braking.
This excessive body travel also means the Cactus rolls at the first hint of a corner. When pulling out of T-junctions or swiftly exiting roundabouts, the pronounced lateral weight shift allows the inside front wheel to spin all too readily as you feed in the power.
Under the bonnet, the Cactus comes with a range of three PureTech petrol three-cylinder engines and one four-cylinder diesel.
We opted for the predicted bestseller - the 1.2-litre 110hp engine mated with a manual transmission. Officially, it will return 62.8mpg and emit104g/km of CO2. If you can't be doing with shifting your own gears, an automatic version will have minimal impact on your running costs, adding just 1.4mpg and 1g/km CO2.
Crunching the numbers; the range now starts at around £4,000 more than the previous Cactus, while the P11D of the Cactus Flair trim totals £19,690. Residual values, (an area where Cactus has historically performed poorly) are still predicted to be disappointing
Overall, trying to make the Cactus slightly less niche and increasing its overall price will only make it harder for it to attract buyers away from a pretty tough set of rivals. The cheap interior materials and roly-poly driving dynamics won't help, either.