Styling has become a prickly issue with the 2017 Citroen C4 Cactus Exclusive.
Within 12 months a facelifted, more conservative version will arrive in Australia to replace this slow-selling, oddball-looking small SUV concept. The brilliantly innovative plastic side mouldings – dubbed AirBumps – that protect doors from parking dings will be dumped, as this quirky model turns formal.
There is a good reason to test the C4 Cactus Exclusive now, however, because in the past month Citroen has just addressed the biggest issue with this car, finally adding six-speed automatic transmission availability.
Previously, a 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine could be picked only with a manual transmission – sacre bleu! – while auto buyers were forced to tolerate an awful single-clutch automated-manual unit teamed with a diesel engine. Now, diesel power is gone and the new combo teams turbo-petrol with proper auto.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $29,690 (plus on-road costs, or $29,990 driveaway at time of writing)
Engine/trans: 81kW/205Nm 1.2 three-cylinder turbo petrol | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.1 l/100km | Tested: 8.3 l/100km
So, what is a ‘Cactus’ you say? Well, it stretches 4157mm long from tip-to-toe, which leaves it shorter than small hatchbacks such as a Mazda3. However, innovative cabin packaging means it gets a big, 358-litre boot – larger than that in the 3.
Citroen classes the C4 Cactus as a small SUV, despite it being available only in front-wheel drive, and size-wise it most closely shadows the dimensions of the 4275mm-long Mazda CX-3. However, that rival only gets a 264L boot.
Pricing for the single-specification C4 Cactus Exclusive remains pegged at $26,990 plus on-road costs for a five-speed manual, while this newly added six-speed auto asks $29,690 (plus orc) or $29,990 driveaway as a special at the time of writing.
That places the Citroen just above both the middle-specification CX-3 Maxx auto at $24,890 (plus orc), although at the time of writing it costs $26,785 driveaway.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, power mirrors and front windows, multi-function trip computer, single-zone climate control, cloth trim and auto on/off headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio, integrated satellite navigation and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None. Cargo Volume: 358 litres.
Sometimes the best things in life are simple. Take gin and add tonic; make pasta and add a rich sauce; snare Jatz and swipe camembert. The Cactus distils the cabin of a small SUV to the basics, but it doesn’t trade on flavour.
The front and rear seats are among the widest and cushiest in the class, passing up on some support for unrivalled plushness. While the door and lower cabin plastics are hard, the important upper-dash area includes nicely textured soft-touch materials.
The passenger airbag deploys from the roof, allowing for a top-mounted glovebox, complete with rubber dimples atop to hold a smartphone in place. A gloss-black latch is designed to imitate that of a briefcase, while horizontal door pulls similarly mimic the handle of high-end luggage.
There isn’t a second passenger-side air vent, however, and there are only pop-out rear windows, the latter of which save 11kg and allow for huge door bins. No auto up/down for either front power window is annoying, too. Depending on your perspective, this will all seem too simplistic, or terrifically efficient and effective.
If you’re erring towards the former camp, then the standard equipment list of this single Exclusive grade is at least largely impressive. There’s leather trimming for the odd, ‘quartic’ steering wheel that is surprisingly nice to hold, plus auto on/off headlights/wipers, digital radio, single-zone climate control and satellite navigation.
Housing all the functions for the latter trio of features with the 7.0-inch touchscreen isn’t the most ergonomic idea, particularly when the computer running the software can lag behind inputs, but the ergonomics are sound when unhurried.
The back seat is also very roomy for this type of vehicle, although the lack of overhead grabhandles, map lights, or a fold-down centre armrest is indeed stingy.
The biggest issue is the price. Even with this specification, it feels as though the auto, not the manual, should be $26,990 (plus orc).
Over the $24,890 (plus orc) CX-3 Maxx auto, the Citroen adds larger 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s), climate control, foglights and auto on/off headlights/wipers, but that’s it. Yet the Mazda exclusively adds autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor and rear-cross traffic alert all nowhere to be found in the C4 Cactus. Given the Citroen is $4800 more expensive, it’s average value at best.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 81kW/205Nm 1.2 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
If the C4 Cactus is simply chic – or simplistically sparse – inside, then it continues that theme underneath, peeling back what its maker deems as unnecessary layers.
Why, for example, would you need four cylinders when three cylinders will do? The answer, for Citroen, is not to add a larger engine, but to strip out mass. Weighing 1125kg, this French small SUV is a staggering 157kg lighter than a CX-3 Maxx auto.
It leaves the 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine to deliver its 81kW of power at 5500rpm, and 205Nm of torque from 1500rpm, with the greatest of aplomb.
And, joy of joys, the raspy and responsive, energetically eager engine teams nicely with a six-speed auto that almost always selects the right gear. Slow down to turn 90 degrees into a side street around town, and it subtly downshifts into a short second gear, allowing for immediate response when the throttle is applied again.
Boot the throttle quickly and the auto kicks down with surprising crispness. Finally, C4 Cactus buyers are treated to a nice drivetrain that matches its pleasant manners.
There is nothing sophisticated or sporty about this Citroen’s dynamics. There is no reason to push the envelope of the Exclusive, unlike with the CX-3. Despite decent grip, this C4 turns into corners lazily and starts to push into understeer early.
And yet it is highly enjoyable to drive anywhere, simply because all its major controls gel consistently well – indeed more enjoyable than most rivals including the noisier and harder riding Mazda.
The steering is breezily light and direct, which is a good match for a chassis that feels nimble and agile. The suspension is soft, even pillowy over minor bumps, although sharp-edged potholes can affect the excellent ride, causing the wheels to thud. And road noise is surprisingly, and impressively, hushed.
ANCAP Rating: ANCAP has not tested the Citroen C4 Cactus.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000 km.
Servicing: Annual or 15,000km intervals cost a higher-than-average $345/$451/$517/$547/$349 to five years or 75,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The CX-3 is the closest in parking-friendly size, while the HR-V is larger and packs the best boot in the class.
It might also be best to consider the Peugeot 2008, with the close relative of this C4 Cactus being both more fun and roomier, with the same engine and similar price.
The C-HR, meanwhile, is the best value, with the best interior finish and the sweetest on-road manners. It would be our choice overall.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Finally, the C4 Cactus Exclusive feels complete. It should have had this automatic from the start, and now it is only available for a year before its replacement arrives.
At least that update will introduce much-needed active safety equipment, plus a revised suspension tune that promises to be even cushier – but at what price?
In essence this Cactus doesn’t need more technology, more features, and more stuff. Less is more, of course, so Citroen really needs to reduce the price, particularly given its six-year warranty has been halved. Even at $29,990 it feels too expensive.
Quite clearly this is a CX-3 Maxx rival – which means $25-26K should arguably be its maximum pricetag. And for that price it’s a superb hatch-cum-SUV, pure and simple.
MORE: Citroen News and Reviews
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