What's the used Citroën C4 Cactus hatchback like?
Once upon a time, it would have been unthinkable for a Citroën to have been anything but a style leader. But the firm went through a long period of hardship, and one of the casualties of that was its avant-garde, and potentially off-putting, design language.
However, a brace of Picasso-dubbed MPVs hinted at a potential rethink to this remit, and when the C4 Cactus appeared in 2014, it truly heralded the return of design flair to the French brand's cars.
This quirky five-door hatchback is the firm’s take on the fashionable small SUV, with eye-catching rubberised Airbumps along the side and vivid and contrasting colour options to match. At heart, it’s a practical little family car that's based on the platform of the smaller Citroën C3.
Underneath the unusual styling is a range of frugal petrol and diesel engines, with many dipping below the 100g/km of CO2 emissions level. Petrol-wise, there's a three-cylinder 1.2 Puretech 82, a turbocharged 1.2 110 model, and a 130 version for those after a bit more oomph. The sole diesel is the 1.6 BlueHDi 100.
There’s a wide choice of trims, too, especially on the older cars: Touch, Feel, Flair, Flair Edition and Onetone. Every model gets a 7.0in infotainment touchscreen, as well as a DAB radio, electric front windows and cruise control. You have to step up to Feel trim to get air conditioning and Bluetooth.
A facelift in 2018 reduced the range to Feel and Flair and dropped the least powerful 82bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine in favour of the turbocharged 1.2 Puretech 110. You can also spot a facelifted Cactus by its lower-down Airbumps and different rear-end styling.
On the road, the 109bhp 1.2 turbo petrol badged Puretech 110 picks up eagerly from low revs and doesn’t mind being worked hard, although there’s a bit of a surge of power in the middle of the rev range. That engine is also offered in a lower-powered form, badged 82. This version produces 81bhp and is tolerable around town, but feels gutless on the motorway. If you want a little more power, the Puretech 130 is a good shout. The performance is strong and it copes with motorway journeys the best out of all the engines available. The 1.6 diesel feels a little wheezy and can be gruff-sounding, too.
As far as ride and handling goes, it’s clear that Citroën has tried to prioritise ride comfort, but in the end the C4 Cactus fails to deliver on either count. It feels worse in the later cars, if anything. The soft suspension allows the C4 Cactus’s body to pitch back and forth even under light acceleration and braking. In corners that wouldn’t trouble rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia the C4 Cactus feels unsure of itself, and its overly light steering doesn't help matters. The gearshift is a little vague, too, and refinement can be disappointing.
Inside, the C4 Cactus has a rather unusual driving position, with a soft seat that you sink into. The steering wheel and driver's seat are adjustable, though, and the majority of the controls are easy to access and conveniently placed. Only the heating and ventilation controls, accessed via the touchscreen, are unnecessarily fiddly.
The later C4 Cactus cars get a smart-looking 7.0in touchscreen system that includes a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone mirroring. It’s easy to use, but it isn’t the most response set-up we’ve come across. In particular, the buttons on the surrounding black bezel can require a few prods before they respond, making the system tricky to use if you simply want to change the display while driving.
There's plenty of space up front, too, but rear space is better for two than three. Still, there's a good amount of leg and head room back there. The C4 Cactus has a reasonably sized boot provided you don’t compare it with that in the class-leading Skoda Octavia. It has a tall boot lip and the opening isn’t that wide at the base, making loading bulkier items more difficult.
When new, the Cactus's purchase price undercuts many similarly sized rivals', and viewed as a used buy it now looks like a surprisingly sensible choice.
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