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...

Citroën C4 Cactus long-term test review
  • 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: To prove that not everything has to be about sportiness

Price £18,090 Price as tested £19,815 Mileage 515 Official economy 55.4mpg Test economy 45mpg Options fitted Connect Nav and Connect Box (£800), Metallic paint (£495), City camera pack (£250), White foglight surround and Airbump highlight (£180)

11 September 2018 – the Citroën C4 Cactus joins our fleet

In late 2015, the What Car? team took delivery of a long-term test car like no other. No, it wasn’t a strange three-wheeler or a car fuelled by seawater, it was still a regular family hatchback: five seats, decent boot, an infotainment touchscreen up front and a frugal, three-cylinder petrol engine. What made this car, the original Citroën C4 Cactus, different was the way it looked.

I rarely remember the first time I saw a particular mode, but I vividly recall the first time I saw a Cactus, at a Citroën dealership in France. So outlandish was its styling that we actually pulled over and got out to have a look at it. That rotund shape, those separate headlights and daytime running lights making such a distinctive ‘face’ and… why has it got plastic chocolate bars stuck on its doors? Oh, I see, they're for protecting you from supermarket scrapes.

And it has clearly worked, too, given that the Cactus was a hit and the Citroëns that followed it have all been heavily influenced by it.

Long-term Citroen C4 Cactus side

If we had one four years ago, though, why have we borrowed another? Well, because the car has just undergone a mid-life facelift. The main visual difference is the ‘maturing’ of the car’s styling, with more subtle Airbumps, a new rear end and the addition of two chrome strips between the headlights. But Citroën’s focus was more on improving comfort, and to this end the car has revised suspension and new seats.

There's also the obligatory addition of extra safety kit – automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and a rear-view camera are all now standard – while the underpowered, naturally aspirated Puretech 82 petrol engine has been dropped from the range.

The new suspension is dubbed ‘Progressive Hydraulic Cushions’. Sadly, this doesn’t herald the return of the hydropneumatic concept that Citroën was once famous for. It actually means that there are a pair of secondary hydraulic dampers on each wheel, replacing the traditional rubber bumpstops, making each end of the wheel travel more gently. In addition, there are more comfort-oriented springs and dampers for the main job of isolating the car body from the road.

You can take Citroën’s claim that this makes the Cactus the “last word in ultra-comfortable hatchbacks, giving the impression of gliding over uneven ground” with a mountain of salt, but it certainly should improve the ride, which wasn’t particularly noteworthy before.

Your derrière is also treated to wider ‘Advanced Comfort’ seats, which are more thickly padded than on the old car, combining two densities of foam. They even look comfortable, Citroën reckons, and I’m not arguing. Seems all it’s missing is a pipe, slippers and a sleepy cat curled up in front of the pedals. And I have to be honest, it makes a really nice change, getting to write about a car without using the words ‘sporty’ and ‘aggressive’.

Our updated Cactus does keep with the flock when it comes to power, however, as we’ve chosen the turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol unit, in entry-level 109bhp form (you can also have it with 128bhp, but we don’t reckon it’s worth the extra £2600). I loved the 1.0-litre engine in the Seat Arona I’ve just handed back, so I’m expecting truly great things of this PSA Group motor, because it has won International Engine of the Year (which is judged by a global panel of motoring journalists) in this category for four years running.

The C4 Cactus comes with a manual gearbox featuring six gears, which I’m thankful for, as that extra ratio should boost my fuel economy on my daily motorway commute. A six-speed automatic unit is available, but our early impressions suggest it’s not the smoothest of units.

Long-term Citroen C4 Cactus detail

We’ve matched this Cactus with Feel trim level, which sits below Flair and serves as the new standard, following the discontinuation of the bare-bones Touch trim level. It means I get a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus air conditioning and cruise control. I’m taken aback by the fact that the Cactus exclusively comes with pop-out rear windows, though, especially given that this is a car aimed at those with children.

To this, we’ve added sat-nav (£800) – a necessity for most people nowadays – rear parking sensors (£250) and the properly handsome Emerald metallic paint, plus some white flashes for the Airbumps and foglights, just because it adds a little flourish to the visual.

This is the same engine but a lower trim level (a lesson learnt) than our 2015 test car. We concluded that stewardship thus: “The Cactus has proved to be an enjoyable car to spend time with. With a few tweaks, some of which will hopefully arrive with the facelift, it would be even better. As it is, it’s still a decidedly tempting proposition – and a very endearing one at that”. I have the next few months to find out whether those tweaks have been successful, and whether the Cactus will endear me, too.

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