SUV styling has invaded just about every square inch of the car market. If you’re after a small hatch but want to look as if you could set off up the Ox Drove at a moment’s notice, cars like the C4 Cactus are for you.
This is Citroen taking on big sellers like the Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti. To do so, the company has done away with many frills (rear windows that go up and down, things like that) in a bid to keep the price as low as possible.
Despite this, the Cactus has a feeling of quality to it, with good cabin materials and a quirkily stylish design. All models have a 7” touch screen and DAB audio, too, with Bluetooth and then sat-nav coming in as you climb the range. The nav is good, though the basic media system is a bit ponderous in its response to commands.
One of the ‘frills’ you don’t get is lumbar adjustment, which is bad news as the squidgy seats feel great to start with but will have you shifting around achily before too long. There’s no reach adjust on the wheel, either, so take great care to ensure you can get yourself into a comfortable driving position.
Assuming you can, you’ll find that the Pure Tech 110 engine is the pick of the bunch. A turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol with 109bhp, it pulls well and revs willingly.
You can get the same engine in 74 and 81bhp form, if you prefer your rice pudding with the skin still on. There’s also a 98bhp diesel, which has plenty of torque but gets breathless up top and sounds hoarse. Cabin noise is otherwise okay, but neither the gearbox nor the brakes are smooth enough to pass muster so refinement is generally unimpressive.
Talking of gearboxes, there’s an auto option on the 81bhp model but the rest are manual-only. Neither option is very nice – the manual is imprecise in action, while the automated unit lurches nastily from ratio to ratio.
So our recommended engine is the most powerful in the range, but that doesn’t mean it’s a flier. It handles without fuss – or fun, truth to tell, though its steering is well weighted and its road-holding is reassuringly predictable. There’s no sloppiness to it, anyway, nor does it fuss around the straight-ahead on a cruise.
Things do start getting harsh and bouncy on badly surfaced B-roads, however. The suspension is softly set, which means it’s good at soaking up bumps around town and on the motorway, but when you combine cornering forces with angular pot-holes it all starts getting untidy. Choosing one with bigger rims will exacerbate this; the options range from 15-17”, and we’d take comfort over image every time.
We’d choose practicality, too, so don’t order the optional pan roof unless you never intend to carry tall passengers in the back. And while the trim fabrics have a definite style to them, a one-piece folding rear seat back which drops down to leave a big step in the load bay floor is not the stuff of great usability. The boot is otherwise quite capacious, though access is hindered by a narrow opening and a high lip.
Much of this can be filed under cost-savings, but from an owner’s point of view there are other things you might feel like calling it. You will at least enjoy impressively low running costs, however, with excellent economy and emissions figures backed up by a combination of big discounts and strong residuals. Equipment levels are good, too – there are three specs in the range, with the mid-ranking Feel model striking the right balance between cost and kit.
Whether this is enough to turn your head away from a Juke or Yeti is another matter, but if you like the way the C4 Cactus looks you’re off to a good start. Don’t be hurried into failing to give it a proper test drive, because there’s plenty about it that might make you live to regret a hasty decision – however if you buy with your eyes open, there’s also much about it that appeals.