The Citroen C4 Cactus is the French brand’s endeavour to go back to basics.
To that end, Citroen has stripped out many of the luxuries it thinks buyers in this market aren't bothered about. The rear windows simply pop out rather than wind down, for example, and the back seats fold as one long bench instead of the usual 60:40 split.
The obvious point of all this is to keep the price down, and it's worked because the Cactus starts at less than £13,000, undercutting its closest rival the Nissan Juke.
However, there's another important reason for the bare-bones approach: to save weight. The Cactus tips the scales at less than a tonne – almost 250kg less than the rival Nissan – helping to keep fuel economy high and CO2 emissions low.
Even the most powerful petrol version (a 109bhp 1.2 turbo) pumps out just 107g/km, while the 99bhp 1.6 Blue HDi diesel that's expected to be the biggest seller emits as little as 87g/km.
Other engines include 74bhp and 81bhp versions of a naturally aspirated 1.2 petrol plus an 89bhp 1.6 diesel, while Citroen’s ETG automated manual gearbox will be optional on selected engines.
What’s the 2014 Citroen C4 Cactus like to drive?
Citroens were once famous for their pillowy ride, but some of the company’s recent models (including the DS4 and DS5) have been anything but comfortable.
The Cactus is a mixed bag. Even on the relatively large 17-inch alloys fitted to our test car, the soft suspension soaks up big bumps well, and keeps the car settled on the motorway. However, things aren't so comfortable over the sort of sharp-edged bumps and potholes you typically encounter in towns and cities – these tend to send jolts through the cabin.
There's also plenty of body sway through tight twist and turns, although the Cactus never lurches about uncontrollably, and none of its key rivals is much fun to drive quickly, either.
The steering is light enough to make the Citroen easy to manoeuvre and park, and weights up at faster speeds to provide a reasonable amount of confidence.
We tried the 109bhp 1.2 turbo, which is effectively the same engine found in the new Peugeot 308. It’s not quite as smooth as it is in that car, but it pulls well enough from low revs, giving the Cactus more than adequate performance for scooting around town or even cruising on the faster A-roads and motorways.
We also had a chance to drive the super-clean 1.6 Blue HDi diesel. Unfortunately, getting rid of every last gram of CO2 has strangled its performance, because despite having more torque than the 1.2 petrol, it feels flat before around 1800rpm, and has to be revved hard to make quick progress.
You often find yourself changing down to keep momentum in town, too, but at least it's a relatively smooth performer, as there's little vibration sent back through the controls.
At high speeds you will notice a reasonable amount of road and wind noise filtering into the cabin. However, you could level the same criticism at the Citroen’s rivals. We do wish the Cactus's gearbox was a bit more precise, though.
What’s the 2014 Citroen C4 Cactus like inside?
The Cactus is loosely based on the DS3 supermini, but it’s an altogether larger car with roughly the same footprint as a Kia Soul.
True, it's not quite as practical as that car, but there's plenty of leg- and shoulder-room for four six-footers, while the tall body also provides a decent amount of headroom – although the optional panoramic glass roof (£395) eats up some of this.
Outright boot space is roughly on a par with that of the rival Soul at 358 litres, growing to 1170 litres when you fold down the rear seats. The fact that the bench folds as one piece isn’t ideal, though, because it means you need to release catches at either side of the car at the same time.
What’s more, even when folded, the seats lie at a pronounced angle, and there’s no clever false floor to negate the hefty lip at the boot entrance.
Citroen might have done away with a few fripperies to keep down the price, but you’d never guess when sitting in the driver’s seat. The dashboard materials have been textured in a way that makes them look anything but cheap, even though they aren’t especially dense or plush.
A seven-inch colour touch-screen dominates the centre of the dashboard and is standard on all versions. This controls the majority of the car’s functions, and is fairly easy to navigate thanks to the shortcut buttons that flank the edge of the display.
Annoyingly, though, you have to the use the touch-screen to adjust the air-conditioning (there are no physical controls), which means you have to switch menus just to tweak the temperature. The screen is also slow to respond at times.
Still, it does at least keep the rest of the dashboard free from clutter, and there’s a decent amount of cabin storage thanks to some clever use of space, such as installing the front passenger airbag in the roof rather than in the dash.
Three trim levels are offered: Touch, Feel and Flair. Every C4 Cactus gets the touch-screen, a DAB digital radio, a USB socket, cruise control and six airbags, but you have to step up to mid-spec Feel trim for air-con, Bluetooth, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, plus an smarter exterior with gloss black accents and body-coloured door handles.
There are plenty of other ways to customise your Cactus, too, including 10 exterior colours and five different seat fabrics. All versions get the Airbump plastic side strips (available in four colours), which help protect the paintwork against scrapes and dings.
Should I buy one?
We can certainly see why you would. On top of those distinctive looks, the Cactus is a cleverly thought-out small car that’s stylish, relaxing, spacious and surprisingly cheap to buy and run.
It’s not perfect, or particularly exciting to drive, but then neither are its closest rivals.
True, for the same money you could buy a Ford Fiesta and have something that’s much better to drive and nearly as practical. However, if you want a small car with a hint of SUV about it, the new Cactus is definitely one of your best bets.
What Car? says…
Engine size 1.2-litre turbo petrol
Price from £15,790
Torque 151lb ft
0-62mph 11.4 seconds
Top speed 117mph
Fuel economy 60.1mpg
Citroën C4 Cactus 1.6HDI
Engine size 1.6-litre turbo diesel
Price from £15,390
Torque 187lb ft
0-62mph 10.7 seconds
Top speed 114mph
Fuel economy 83.1mpg