Car reviews - Citroen - C4 Cactus - OneTone
Much improved dual-clutch auto, earnest engine performance, comfortable ride quality, unique take on interior design, good interior dimensions
Room for improvement
Gruff engine note, practicality sacrificed in name of individuality, laggy infotaniment system with sub-par layout, rear windows
Quirkiness is the name of the game for the Citroen C4 Cactus OneTone
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18 Jul 2018
To stand out among the crowd, you now need a vehicle that differentiates itself against the many offerings to have flooded the market.
Enter the Citroen C4 Cactus. Uniquely styled inside and out with a healthy dose of French flair, it is a visual stand-out against its more conservative rivals. Now Citroen has introduced the OneTone version, which goes for a black or white monochrome theme in favour of the more colourful two-tone standard version.
But as the saying goes, beauty is skin deep. Does the C4 Cactus have what it takes to stay afloat in the highly-contested small SUV space?
Price and equipment
Its primary competition comes from the likes of the Renault Captur Intens ($30,990), Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross LS 2WD ($30,500), Hyundai Kona Elite 2WD ($28,500) and the Jeep Renegade Longitude ($32,390).
The C4 Cactus range starts at $26,990 for the manual Exclusive, meaning its price bracket is at the higher end of the small SUV segment.
Standard equipment on the OneTone includes matched black or white roof and body paint, Airbump door panels and 17-inch alloy wheels, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, DAB+ digital radio and Bluetooth and USB compatibility, digital instrument cluster, automatic climate control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, LED daytime running lights, foglights with cornering function, power mirrors, cruise control, and tyre pressure monitor.
Safety gear includes driver, front passenger, front lateral and curtain airbags, electronic stability control, hill-start assist, ABS brakes and two rear Isofix child restraint points.
While standard specification is competitive with its rivals, the C4 Cactus falls behind on standard safety gear, particularly its lack of active safety features such as autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and active cruise control that are fast becoming standard across all segments, and are now required for the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) to award a vehicle with a five-star safety rating.
Absent safety gear notwithstanding, the C4 Cactus provides buyers with an adequate level of standard equipment compared to its rivals.
Given it plays in a segment that can be at times homogenous and bland, Citroen's team has done well to package the C4 Cactus as a vehicle with a design that is unlike any other offering on the market.
Features such as the leather strap door handles and top-opening glovebox with sticky bubbles on top are a refreshing twist on a standard interior and give the Cactus a feeling of uniqueness.
However, while the interior is full of quirks and individuality, it also has elements that are poor and frustrating.
Citroen has done away with buttons for its 7.0-inch touchscreen with all controls handled on the screen itself, a trend that is becoming more common with car-makers. While a clean, uncluttered dash looks futuristic and minimalist, it often comes at the price of practicality, and the laggy interface operation only causes more headaches.
For example, to adjust the air-conditioning one has to first select the icon on the screen, wait for it to load and then individually press the temperature and fan speed buttons up or down, when a simple dial on the dashboard could do the same job, in less time, without taking your eyes off the road.
Similarly, scrolling through radio stations is a nightmare, and we feel implementing a button system such as that on BMW's iDrive or Audi's MMI would greatly help the usability of Citroen's multimedia interface.
Storage options are ample (apart from the sole, pathetically small cupholder), while USB, auxiliary and 12V ports are on hand. Bluetooth and DAB+ digital radio complete the media compatibility options.
The C4 Cactus' digital instrument cluster works well, but is limited in its simplicity and could be better used to offer the driver a range of different readouts.
Cloth, faux-leather and plastics are used to create a quirky ambience that looks the goods, while the manually adjustable cloth seats are wide and comfortable, but a tad flat.
Road vision is good apart from the Cactus' chunky C-pillar, while the reversing camera offers high-quality definition.
Rear passengers get adequate leg- and headroom, but no centre armrest, A/C, lights or cupholders. Bizarrely, the rear windows do not wind down, and can only be cracked open laterally by a couple of centimetres through a latch operation.
Luggage dimensions deep with generous space for a vehicle of its size (358 litres), with a space saver spare tyre hidden underneath. The rear seats fold 60/40 and expand luggage space to 1170L, but do not fold completely flat.
The interior of the C4 Cactus is polarising, as it arguably represents both the best and worst elements of the vehicle.
It shows that Citroen is not afraid to break the mould when it comes to design, and can be unique in a world of cookie-cutter cabins. It also shows that in some cases, cabins usually gravitate to the same design because it works – as the saying goes, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
We applaud the French manufacturer for trying something different, but in some cases, the individuality could be reined in in favour of practicality.
Engine and transmission
Producing 81kW at 5500rpm and 205Nm at 1500rpm, the engine sends power to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that was introduced upon the deletion of the oil-burning option. Previously the petrol three-pot could only be had with a five-speed manual.
The diminutive three-cylinder engine is an earnest unit that works hard, and gives buyers everything they need for A-to-B performance.
Power delivery is linear, with not a huge amount of difference when the throttle is pushed gently or firmly.
The C4 Cactus is able to comfortably haul four adult passengers both around town and on the highway, with the little three-cylinder never feeling too underpowered, despite a lack of sporty performance.
One complaint with the engine is that it has a gruff and unrefined engine note, particularly at idle. One could be mistaken for thinking that the engine might be a diesel by listening to it.
While the dual-clutch auto is an imperfect unit, it is a massive improvement over the bizarre automated manual transmission underpinning the discontinued turbo-diesel.
Shifting is smooth at speed, but the low-speed elasticity that plagued dual-clutch autos is present on the Citroen, with shifting from forward to reverse and accelerating from standstill a tad jerky.
The idle-stop system worked well in the C4 Cactus, something that cannot be said for all autos employing a dual-clutch transmission.
During our time in the Cactus we recorded a fuel economy figure of 7.5 litres per 100km, through mostly city driving with one long highway voyage thrown in.
The 7.5L figure is well up on the official combined usage of 5.1L/100km, which seems out of reach for everyday driving.
Citroen made the right move by swapping out the automated manual diesel for a dual-clutch auto on the petrol, and while its performance is no more than adequate, it should prove far more popular than the oil-burners.
Ride and handling
While the C4 Cactus is no Range Rover, it has a generally comfortable ride quality with soft, wide seats and a gentle suspension calibration.
It is not immune to bumps and road imperfections, but is overall commendable for a vehicle of its price and segment.
Cabin comfort is also strong with admirable noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, even when travelling at highway speeds in inclement weather.
Handling is about what one would expect from a small SUV, which is easy and manoeuvrable driving around town but is limited in its dynamic credentials.
Given its conservative outputs, soft suspension and high-riding stance, the C4 is not particularly suited to twisty roads and hard cornering, however those buying the car will presumably not be doing so for high-speed back-country driving.
Despite being a front-drive vehicle, Citroen has included a Grip Control function that includes a Snow mode for low-grip driving.
Overall the C4 Cactus is a comfortable vehicle, and does a good job of keeping the ride settled even when wearing 17-inch rims.
Safety and servicing
Prices for the six services range between $350 for the first service and $1404 for the sixth and final service, at an average cost of $593 per service.
The C4 Cactus remains untested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), however its European counterpart handed down a four-star rating when testing in 2014, two years before the vehicle launched in Australia in 2016.
However, in certain areas such as the interior layout, it has sacrificed usability and practicality in favour of an interesting and quirky design theme.
Features such as the button-free infotainment cluster, latch-opening rear windows and lack of cupholders are all quirks that harm the car’s usability, and would become tiresome once the positive aspects of the design – such as the Airbumps and leather door handles – have worn off.
However, there is also a lot to like about the C4 Cactus, such as the peppy petrol engine and much-improved automatic transmission, comfortable ride quality, and individuality.
For those who prioritise standing out against the crowd, there is no better vehicle than the C4 Cactus. However if a more conservative, A-to-B type daily driver is what you’re after, something like the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V or Mitsubishi ASX may be the better choice.
French compatriot Renault’s Captur small SUV is similar to the C4 Cactus in many ways including engine displacement (1.2 litres), warranty length (five years/unlimited km) and price (only $800 difference).
Hyundai Kona Elite 2WD from $28,500 plus on-roads
One of the few vehicles to offer an exterior design as striking as the C4 Cactus is the new Hyundai Kona, which in mid-spec Elite form comes with a 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre aspirated petrol engine and six-speed auto. It also features active safety technology and a smartly laid out infotainment system.
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