Latest report: Citroen C4 Cactus long-term test
10 September 2018
Author: Guy Bird
Fourth report - 1,000 for the road
The prospect of a mammoth road trip from London to Bordeaux and back was teed up at the end of our last report. With four people on board, plus a full boot and roof box freshly attached, we wanted to see how the comfort-oriented Cactus, and this version's three-cylinder 1,199cc petrol engine in particular, would cope with long motorway sessions, twisty hill roads and more.
The first headline to relay upon our return is that the comfort boast from Citroen's marketing department is no idle one. Driving for many hours at a time, I never once felt achy of back from a lack of seat support. Wide-backed and soft, without ever feeling saggy, Citroen's top-level Advanced Comfort Seats were a real boon, a sentiment shared by all three passengers.
The new standard suspension system, with Progressive Hydraulic Cushions, did a good job at ironing out road imperfections brilliantly while cruising too. The only downside to all this cushioning was a slightly wobbly feeling around some corners, if taken more briskly than passengers were expecting (exacerbated no doubt by carrying extra weight in the roof box). That latter item created predictably greater wind noise at high speeds, but was nonetheless an essential addition. Given a basic boot space of only 358 litres, plus the time away and the number of people to lug luggage for, the £460 Citroen roof box option safely avoided boot overloading and rear-view obstruction.
The small petrol engine was perhaps the most surprising winner from the trip though. Well able to cope with traffic at French autoroute speeds, it never whined or missed a beat, despite doing a steady 130kph (81mph) for a long time. Over 1,000 miles, economy was not up to diesel standards - 37.2mpg was the last fill-up figure and typical of the trip as a whole and of course the roof box won't have helped. But, hopefully, its lower other emissions, and the fact that it spends most of its time in the city, make the petrol engine a better overall bet for this driver's usual missions.
Third report - A succulent swap
You may have noticed there are two Cacti in these pictures. But fear not, this is no error. And I haven't got greedy either. The Polar White Cactus was in fact a stop-gap while we waited to swap into the Tapenade Grey version - the latter being the vehicle we originally specified and had built to order - but which took a little longer than expected to arrive, partly due to making sure the same three-cylinder 1,199cc petrol engine falls in line with new Euro 6.2 emission regulations. As it's already small and frugal, I'd like to think it couldn't have been that hard.
Both models pictured are PureTech 110hp five-speed manuals in Flair trim, so the base price is the same, but the devil is in the optional details. Working out that the Tapenade Grey exterior flat paint colour was included in the basic price - and rather liking its stealthy vibe - that box was quickly ticked and by so doing garnered an immediate saving over other flat colours (like £250 for Polar White on the departing Cactus), metallic finishes (£495) or indeed pearlescent paint (£730 on the Flair trim). That saving was invested towards an upgraded cabin to top-level 'Hype' Red half-leather interior with Advanced Comfort Seats (£800), to which we added keyless entry and start (£250), front parking sensors (£100), 17in black 'Cross' alloy wheels (£100), and a dark roof box and bars (£460) to complete its air of readiness for undercover adventure.
And as it so clearly does now look the part, we're going to test its mettle on a big mission through to the south of France, four-up, plus luggage, and then back again, hopefully even more fully loaded with French goodies (the roof box will be perfect for extra-long baguettes for instance). Given the Citroen brand's roots and comfort-oriented approach this feels like an entirely appropriate test. We'll discuss how it went in the next report.
Second report - Cactus gains comfort seal of approval
Whenever I'm due to pick up my dear 92-year-old relative for a family mission, I'm always worried that the car I'm currently driving might not meet expectations. She's not backward in coming forward about any issues with her latest minicab, minibus or private lift, from how easy or otherwise it is to get in and out of and once inside, how comfortable or not the seats are. It's got to such a point that whenever she brings up the topic I find myself repeatedly reminded of the narrative of the classic kid's book Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell: "I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet. and they sent me. an Elephant. but he was too big. I sent him back. So they sent me a Giraffe. but he was too tall. so I sent him back." And so it goes on. I paraphrase slightly, but you get the picture. In automotive terms, the 'elephant' was the recent old Mercedes limo, the leather seats of which were so big, soft and shiny that she almost disappeared into them and slid off into the footwell. The 'giraffe' was the too-tall MPV sent by the minicab service that she failed to climb into. and so sent back.
Luckily, for me, she likes the Citroen C4 Cactus's seats a lot. They're at a good height to get in and out of - they offer fine ingress and egress if you want the fancy technical terms - and once in, they make her feel comfortable.
That's because they're unusually wide, inspired by furniture design in case you cared, and use high-density foam at the heart of the seat and textured foam near the surface to provide a great combination of softness and support. It's easy when you're able-bodied to take getting in and out of car seats for granted but there's a significant proportion of the population that isn't. Indeed, unlike so many other car models that claim to be 'dynamic', 'sports tourers' or some other marketing guff when they're nothing of the sort, the tag line for the latest Cactus - 'Comfort is the new cool' - is refreshingly honest and right up my very cool 92-year-old's street.
First report - Spiking an interest in comfort
In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I loved the originality of the first C4 Cactus and its big air bump panels on its front, back and sides. Four years after that 2014 launch, on the new 2018 Cactus small crossover those multiple bumps on multiple sides have reduced to just three on each side and now sprout from the car's skirts rather than floating mid-door as before, with a (usually) contrasting colour to the car's main exterior body.
To me, that's an aesthetic punch pulled, but maybe not enough customers were ready for those stand-out looks and commercial realities dawned. Either way, with careful colour co-ordination choices the new C4 Cactus still cuts quite a dash in Polar white with contrasting black window pillars and red accents for the front fog light surround and around the first side air bump on each side. Collectively, it all still feels very graphic and contemporary.
The cabin keeps even more of the original's character, with its horizontal and old school luggage-inspired dashboard that, alongside the large panoramic roof, helps the small car feel airy and spacious. The relaxed vibe is continued via interior door panels that feature suitcase-style grab handles with soft-pad armrests above, which my passengers quickly noticed and admired unprompted - plus wide-backed and comfy seats to go with them.
Underpinning this comfort is a new standard suspension system with what Citroen calls Progressive Hydraulic Cushions. It's perfectly in keeping with the brand's historic emphasis on good ride manners that dates back to the original 1950s DS. According to the PR blurb, under heavy compression and rebound the hydraulic cushions slow down the car's vertical movement gradually to avoid sudden shocks or heavy bouncing, while in lighter compression and rebound circumstances the hydraulic cushions provide a 'flying carpet' effect, effectively ironing out the road's minor imperfections. Driven calmly, even over lots of different-sized London speed bumps, that blurb rings true. It's early days, but we'll be monitoring this comfort-oriented feature over our six-month tenure closely.
Practicality appears good too, with a reasonable 358 - 1,170-litre boot space - unchanged from the last model - good access to all of the seats and the car's small 4,170mm length, despite appearances to the contrary, making it easy to park in tight urban streets. Less good so far is a sometimes slow to react touchscreen that we're failing to fully get to grips with, but hopefully practice and patience will bring greater rewards.
We're also interested in how the small and pleasantly thrummy three-cylinder 110hp petrol engine will fare. For quick city commutes, it's already proved ideal, but how it copes with longer hauls will be a sterner test. Teamed with a five-speed manual gearbox, official economy and emissions is listed as 55.4mpg and 117g/km of CO2, which equates to a 24% benefit-in-kind company car tax band and £165 in first-year road tax. Hopefully, we'll be able to get closer to those figures than in previous long-termers with old NEDC mpg ratings.
Finally, specification is good on top-trim Flair (the other two are Feel and Feel Edition) with a large panoramic roof, 7in colour screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, plus rear parking sensors as standard. This is also evidenced by a short options list. Only £550 of extras come with this test car, including Polar Paint (£250), 'Metropolitan' red seat and interior ambience (£200) and 17in black 'Cross' alloy wheels (£100).
Ultimately, the Cactus still feels like a special car, and far from the automotive norm, so we're really looking forward to finding out more about it over the coming months.
Citroen C4 Cactus Flair PureTech 110 manual
P11D price £19,770
As tested £21,380
Official consumption 55.4mpg
Our average consumption 37.2mpg