IN ITS NATURAL ENVIRONMENT, THE CACTUS PLANT IS ROBUST, WELL-PROTECTED AND NEEDS LITTLE IN THE WAY OF SUSTENANCE. The new Citroen C4 Cactus is a little the same.
It comes with two of the most fuel-efficient engines in its class - a claim borne out in this review - and bodywork that provides some self-preservation from the cut and thrust of life in the 'burbs.
It also has looks that are all its own, drives reasonably well and has a funk-filled interior that is sure to win hearts. Citroen's C4 Cactus is a bit of a surprise.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
C4 Cactus Exclusive petrol manual$26,990 (plus on-roads)
C4 Cactus Exclusive diesel automatic $29,990 (plus on-roads)
81kW/205Nm 1.2 3cyl turbo petrol | 5sp manual
68kW/230Nm 1.6 4cyl turbo diesel | 6sp automatic
petrol claimed: 4.7 l/100km | tested: 5.3 l/100km
diesel claimed: 3.6 l/100km | tested: 5.1 l/100km
Citroen has a proud heritage when it comes to design icons (the original DS) and frugal practical transportation for the masses (2CV).
Perhaps, in an attempt to turn the small SUV market on its head, the new C4 Cactus takes some inspiration from both.
Its light weight, low fuel consumption, and innovative protective bodywork (it will withstand a low-speed trolley strike or a door opened into it) make it just right for 'tight' urban living.
As for the bubble-wrap bodysides, poster-paint colours, floating roof, and concept car-like minimalist interior, there’s enough going on with this unusual car to place it in the annals of Citroen design history.
But, the range is a little patchy - the petrol comes as a manual only, the diesel is paired with a single-clutch automated manual, and all-wheel-drive is off the table.
Those gaps in the model line-up may not quite live up to the expectations of Australian buyers.
Will that be the thorn in the C4 Cactus’ side? (Er... pardon the pun.) We took a first look at Citroen’s new compact SUV to find out.
- Standard equipment: Cloth seat trim, front ‘bench’ seat, climate control, leather steering wheel, digital instrument cluster, front power windows rear pop-out windows, rain-sensing wipers, auto-on headlights, rear privacy glass, cruise control with speed limiter, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, USB and aux inputs, DAB+ digital radio, six-speaker audio
- Options available: Airbump colours $400, Interior colours $800, half-leather trim $1600, black alloy wheels $1000, glass roof $1250, white roof rails $250, coloured mirror shells $150, C-pillar decal $100,
- Cargo volume: 358 litres minimum, 1170 maximum
This interior is quite unlike anything you will have encountered in a modern automobile. With simplicity (or reduced complexity, actually) as a guiding principle, the C4 Cactus does without needless adornment.
While it is simple, it’s hardly dowdy, with stylish straps on the dash and door pulls evoking the look of vintage luggage. And the dash-top dots will secure a phone or book in place without it sliding about.
Incredibly, the passenger airbag is ceiling-mounted, meaning its impact on dashboard real estate is minimised and the top box in the dash is the first full-size glovebox in a French automobile for a very, very long time.
Sadly however, while left-hand-drive cars feature a second lower storage space, right-hand-drive vehicles go without.
Front seats in automatic models are styled to look like a bench seat, but seating is for two with a folding centre armrest in between. A range of two-tone interior options look terrific, with clever use of warm, inviting seat fabric for a lounge-like look and feel.
Opt for the wild purple trim-option and the dash is coated in a shimmering pearlescent purple finish - something utterly unique in the grey and black world of modern automobile interiors.
It isn’t all trendy and comfortable however, but, we concede, some of the aspects of the interior that we liked less are more a case of changing tastes and expectations, rather than any true fault of the interior itself.
The steering wheel is adjustable for rake only, the dash and door plastics are hard, and not as inviting as the lovely plush seats, and the rear windows don’t wind, they pop out. As a result, the rear doors are full of storage spaces, and there’s no outboard passenger dashboard air-vent.
The boot is one of the largest in the small SUV class, at 358 litres, quite deep too, considering there's a full-size (non matching) spare in there. Australia scores a unique 60:40 folding seat (you’ll find a single piece backrest in other markets) that unlocks up to 1170 litres of storage space.
ON THE ROAD
- Petrol: 81kW/2015Nm turbocharged 1.2 litre three-cylinder petrol
- Diesel: 68kW/230Nm turbocharged 1.6 litre four-cylinder diesel
- Transmission: Five-speed manual/six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Front ventilated discs, rear drums
- Steering: Electrically assisted poeer steering, turning circle 10.9m
- Towing capacity: 825kg maximum, 545 unbraked (petrol) 565 unbraked (diesel)
Citroen Australia assessed the C4 Cactus’ global powertrain offerings and came up with the two it believes are the best fit for Australia, with the petrol version available as a manual only and the diesel fitted with an automatic.
We’d argue that a petrol auto is sorely needed, but the lack of a suitable automatic (one is offered overseas, but it wasn’t deemed good enough for demanding Aussie buyers) sees it sidelined for the time being.
That’s not so bad though, as the unbelievably smooth and quiet diesel will have many people convinced that it’s a petrol engine. It's every bit as refined as one.
With 68kW of power at 4000rpm and 230Nm of torque from as low as 1750rpm, the diesel engine offers stout pulling power and low noise in both urban and highway settings.
Unfortunately the automatic transmission is actually a single-clutch gearbox that manages its own gear changes. While this type of transmission isn’t new, it feels a little unusual at times and slightly ponderous.
Those prepared to shift their own gears will find the five-speed manual user friendly, with a breezy gearshift and a light, user friendly clutch.
The manual is paired with a three-cylinder 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol that musters 81Kw at 5500rpm and 205Nm from an astoundingly low 1500rpm.
Although the engine is similar to that used in other Citroen and Peugeot models, it has been thoroughly re-engineered for use in the C4 Cactus.
While the power outputs for both engines might seem a little low compared to some competitors, impressively low kerb weights (1020kg for the petrol, 1055kg for the diesel) mean that the engines aren’t too far off the pace.
The low weight is also a key contributor to the excellent fuel figures the C4 Cactus is capable of. In fact the only reason our tested diesel figure is so high (5.1 l/100km instead of the claimed 3.6) is an extended amount of time left idling in the sun.
While neither is a red light tearaway at 9.3 seconds to 100 km/h for the petrol, and 11.4 seconds for the diesel, both feel lively and in general urban driving don't have any trouble keeping pace nor finding a burst of speed when needed.
Steering feel is light, and the suspension is somewhat soft, making it unusually compliant over rougher surfaces. The comfort-bias is reflected in the handling, but as an SUV, rather than a traditional small hatch, the balance isn’t out of place.
Best of all, despite its low weight, the C4 Cactus offers high levels of refinement, with little in the way of road or wind noise entering the cabin.
ANCAP rating: The Citroen C4 Cactus has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags including curtain, front side, driver, and a roof mounted front passenger bag that also inflates over the centre tablet in an effort to increase passenger protection, Stability control, ABS brakes, electric rear door child locks, front seatbelt pretensioners, tyre pressure monitoring, rear park sensors, and a reversing camera are all standard.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
With a wide range of personalisation options, and zip-off seat covers, the Renault Captur may hold some appeal for those seeking individuality. Similarly the bright, cheery Suzuki Vitara, which also shares a focus on light weight and low consumption might fit the bill.
More sensible, but no less style-focussed, the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 are fine examples of mature segment offerings, but they just aren’t as visually arresting as the out-there C4 Cactus.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While it isn’t indestructible, the C4 Cactus, with its unusual Airbump protection system, is able to withstand the worst kind of day-to-day punishments your family, and other drivers, will dish out.
While we were invited to bump trolleys and doors into each others vehicles at the launch, we’d caution you against trying it out in public.
It’s because of those unusual (and replaceable) bodyside Airbumps though, that the C4 Cactus offers an array of personalisation options: 10 exterior colours, four Airbump colours, three interior trims in cloth or leather, two roof-rail colours, two alloy wheel colours, and a range of colour-contrasting exterior attachments resulting 23,184 possible combinations.
There’s also a thoroughly decent vehicle at the core of this style-focused city-SUV.
It is lovely to drive with innovative engineering and a personality of its own. It is also distinctive, and is backed by Citroen Australia's six year warranty, capped price servicing, and roadside asssist plan.
In fact, if not that daft automatic transmission, the C4 Cactus is otherwise a return to form for Citroen as an innovator.