Citroen's innovative C4 Cactus small SUV tackles the tough life of cars based in the city. With unorthodox style, lots of interior space in an otherwise compact and easy-to-park car, and even clever protection against life's bumps-and-grinds, the C4 Cactus makes a lot of sense.
Those black side panels are the main talking point of the C4 Cactus. Called Air Bumps, they’re best described as solid plastic versions of bubble-wrap and, along with plastic reinforcement at the front and rear, provide insulation from those everyday knocks (cars doors, shopping trolleys, out-of-control bicycles) you get in busy, built-up areas.
And judging by sales success throughout the world (originally the C4 Cactus wasn’t going to be sold outside Europe), Citroen has hit a sweet spot with compact SUV buyers.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $29,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 68kW/230Nm 1.6 litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 3.6l/100kms | Tested: 4.8l/100kms
In many ways Citroen has returned to its innovative roots with the Cactus. The left-of-centre exterior and the loungeroom-like interior are idiosyncratic and no other automotive brand can match Citroen’s history of eccentricity.
There are two models, both equipped to the high-grade Exclusive level. TMR tested the range-topping turbo-diesel which is priced at $29,990 (plus on-road charges) or you can opt for the three-cylinder turbo-petrol version for $26,990 (plus on-road charges).
Both are front-wheel-drive - the turbo-diesel via a six-speed ‘automated manual’ transmission and the petrol via a regular five-speed manual.
A feature for the Cactus is multiple personalization options including some head-turning paint colours and the handsome black alloy wheels fitted to our test car... even the Airbumps can be black, grey, chocolate, or dune.
- Standard Equipment: Leather-wrapped steering wheel (rake adjustment only), cloth seat rim, climate-control air-conditioning, auto wipers and headlights, cruise control
- Infotainment: Six-speaker audio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and AUX inputs, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, 7-inch touchscreen
- Options Fitted: Black alloy wheels, $1,000
- Cargo Volume: 358-litres (rear seat in-place), 1,170-litres (rear seat folded)
At first glance there is a ‘retro’ look inside the Citroen C4 Cactus, with seats that resemble sofas and the front even has a fold-down centre armrest which makes it look like a bench seat – when was the last time you drove a passenger car with a bench up-front?.
A couple of proud-sitting screens bring you back to 2017 though, one for the driver with a digital speedometer, cruise control and fuel-level displays, and the centre 7.0-inch touchscreen for vehicle systems and audio.
That centre screen gets plenty of use as it is designed like a tablet and takes-over most vehicle functions (hence there are very few buttons or dials elsewhere). But things get complicated as it doubles as the satellite navigation screen so even simple things like climate control temperature adjustment require you to exit the map screen, go back to the main menu, find what you want to alter and then return to the navigation display.
Don’t scoff at those comfy seats because, while they may look flat, they do provide good support. On the other hand, only having rake adjustment for the steering wheel - and not reach - does compromise the driving position somewhat.
The steering wheel itself is a nicely-shaped leather-wrapped device which, like the rest of the C4 Cactus’ interior, looks surprisingly up-scale for a car at this price.
Searching for the gear lever will be pointless as there isn’t one. Citroen’s automated manual transmission has three large buttons at the lowest point of the centre stack, a round one for neutral, D to go forwards and R for reverse, with steering column paddle-shifters to facilitate manual gear-changes.
Even tall folk will find plenty of leg-room in the second-row but unfortunately no air vents. The ventilation issue gets worse as the rear windows don't wind down but hinge open only a few centimeters.
The rear seat split-folds 60:40 for cargo versatility and boot space at 358-litres is on-par with rivals.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel - 68kW at 4000rpm/230Nm at 1750rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
- Suspension: Macpherson strut front, double crossmember (torsion beam) rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, rear drums
- Steering: Electrically-assisted power steering, 10.9m turning circle
You need look no further than the Citroen C4 Cactus for confirmation the Europeans still reign supreme when it comes to passenger car diesel engines. The turbo 1.6-litre delivers its 230Nm strongly, especially in the mid-range, is impressively quiet even on cold start-up and returns more than acceptable fuel consumption.
But what’s going on with this so-called ‘automated manual’ six-speed transmission? The push-button selection method is quite a good idea but Citroen has seen fit to use a clutch rather than a torque converter and the resultant gear changes feel like a manual but are best-timed with an hour-glass (the swap from first to second is so slow it feels like the engine stalls).
There is also noticeable clunkiness both changing up and down (especially noticeable in stop-start traffic).
Curiously, given Citroen promotes the Cactus as a compact SUV for urban dwellers, it's highway cruising where it feels most at home with supple ride and little wind, tyre or engine noise.
The Citroen C4 Cactus sits on essentially the same platform as the C3 and Peugeot 208 so not surprisingly ride and handling is very polished. The slightly raised ride height means it’s not quite as sporty as its relatives but it’s certainly comfortable and predictable.
ANCAP Rating: The Citroen C4 Cactus has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety Features: Six airbags including roof-mounted, ABS anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, stability and traction control, hill-hold, reversing camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Six years/unlimited kilometers
Servicing: Service intervals 12 months/15,000kms. ‘Confidence Price Servicing Plan’ capped price servicing plan for scheduled servicing during the first 6 years/90,000kms (whichever comes first) - $367 for 12 month/15,000kms; $654 for 24 months/30,000kms; $455 for 36 months/45,000kms; $767 for 48 months/60,000kms; $683 for 60 months/75,000kms; $853 for 72 months/90,000kms
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
If you’re considering a compact SUV with a bit of extra pizzazz, here’s a few more to put on your list:
Fiat’s 500X looks the part inside and out but while prices range from $26,000 to $38,000 you’ll find yourself trending towards the more expensive models to get equipment levels to match the rivals. Power comes exclusively from a pair of turbocharged petrol engines (no diesel option).
The Jeep Renegade is a close relative of the Fiat 500X but with American looks. It too gets pricey with a range from $26,000 to $39,000. It has plenty of space inside and the range-topping Trailhawk model provides all-wheel-drive.
Nissan presents the best buy in the form of the British-made Juke. Prices range from $23,490 to $33,490, with a handy AWD range-topper powered by a 140kW/240Nm turbocharged 1.6-litre engine. Other engines are equally impressive – turbo 1.2-litre and atmo 1.6-litre, but no diesel.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Our week in the Citroen C4 Cactus saw friends and passers-by complimenting its looks and the practicality of the air bumps. Interestingly, the feedback – even from those not really into cars – endorsed the design which snubs convention.
And we happily gave the Cactus a four-star rating for its innovative and supremely comfortable interior.
Also a thumbs-up for the handy 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine.
So with all that cleverness on display, we remain astonished by the clumsy operation of the six-speed auto. It defies logic and spoils an otherwise excellent effort.
MORE: Citroen News and Reviews
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