Citroën C4 Cactus long-term test review
Citroën's funky C4 Cactus is aimed at family buyers who prioritise comfort. We've got four months to see if it delivers...
- The car: Citroën C4 Cactus Puretech 110 Feel
- Run by: Kris Culmer, sub-editor
- Why it’s here: To prove that comfort can take priority in a family hatchback
- Needs to: Prove that not everything has to be about sportiness
Price £18,090 Price as tested £19,815 Mileage 4110 Official economy 55.4mpg Test economy 50.2mpg Options fitted Connect Nav and Connect Box (£800), metallic paint (£495), City Camera Pack (£250), white fog-light surround and Airbump highlight (£180)
2 January 2019 – See you later
If you’ve read anything about my relationship with my Citroën C4 Cactus over the past few months, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve had worse breakups.
Okay, that was blunt; after all, the family hatchback’s three-star What Car? rating – ‘average’, in other words – shows that it has its positives.
Chief among them for me has to be its 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. The now-entry-level 109bhp version of this turbocharged unit in my C4 Cactus showed me just why it has been named International Engine of the Year by a panel of motoring journalists for the past four years, being strong, flexible and frugal. I would certainly hold it in similar esteem to the Volkswagen Group’s three-cylinder TSI unit, which I loved in the Seat Arona I ran previously.
The difficulty for me whenever testing a car such as this is that at least 90% of my driving is done on the motorway, on my 70-mile commute. Thus fuel economy is often a concern. But the Cactus surprised me with an overall figure of 50.2mpg (its average True MPG is 44.2). Contrary to what you may expect, that’s more than you can expect from many a diesel SUV; I struggled for 40mpg when I recently borrowed editor Steve Huntingford’s Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
However, the engine is let down by the standard six-speed manual gearbox. The actual shift itself is just fine, if not quite as precise as it could be; the problem lies in the clutch pedal, which is rather spongy and has a biting point that isn’t all that easy to find. This means it requires care if you’re not to stall – a lesson I learned red-faced after stalling with a colleague queuing behind me. The solution I found was to just swamp the revs, which doesn’t exactly make for smooth progress or a good engine note.
But that’s not the reason for my disappointment; that would be the ride. It just isn’t good enough for a car that is primarily advertised for its comfort. This despite the ‘Progressive Hydraulic Cushions’ applied to the Cactus’s suspension as part of its facelift last year. In town, it bumbles over imperfect roads and slams over potholes and the like, but it isn’t very pliant on the motorway, either. You’d assume that softer meant better, but I found the sporty set-up in the rival Ford Focus immeasurably more comfortable in all situations. As luck would have it, that car is also the class’s best handling.
All of this is topped off by the near-continual pitching. Not just left or right as the body leans on the suspension through corners, but also front and rear, seemingly no matter how delicate you are with the braking and acceleration; an issue compounded by that vague clutch.
Sorry if you had hoped the interior would redeem the comfort credentials. The seats look like armchairs, and you certainly sink into their many layers of foam, but I often felt my back muscles begin to ache, having never really managed to find the perfect driving position.
Nearly everyone to whom I gave a lift had complaints about this, rising to a crescendo when I took a road trip at the height of the summer with two tall mates who discovered they also couldn’t roll their windows down.
Redeeming qualities? Of course there are some. The infotainment system, for one, with its large, bright touchscreen that is generally easy to use and comes with plenty of features, best among them Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring and optional sat-nav. Although even that had plenty of irritations, with the touchscreen-based climate controls particularly getting my goat.
Indeed, most of the good things have caveats attached. While the standard kit is decent, including that fully loaded infotainment system, a whole host of active safety aids and cruise control, material quality is below that of similarly generous rivals. And while the boot is spacious and can be expanded by easily folding down the rear seats, there is an enormous load lip to heave your luggage over. I wasn’t brave enough to try transporting my mountain bike, for example, for fear of damaging the car’s handsome Emerald Green finish as I hoisted it in.
So, the Cactus is a car that promises much through its brazen character but fails to deliver on a level that would allow it to compete against a number of excellent rivals. My experience suggests that it requires simply too many compromises for its target market.
Citroën C4 Cactus – test data
Private price now £11,466 Trade-in price now £11,370 Cost per mile £2.14 Total running costs £8825.41 Insurance group 19 Typical insurance quote £580