Car reviews - Citroen - C4 Cactus - range
Small-SUV space with light-hatchback weight, cabin flair and body strength, very good ride quality and refinement, drivetrain efficiency
Room for improvement
Pricing and options a tad high, average automated manual option, 17-inch wheels impact ultimate ride comfort, below average handling
8 Mar 2016
CITROEN does not want the C4 Cactus to be quirky for the sake of it, as though to conform to French car stereotypes of old. Nor does it want its newest small SUV – as it will be officially classified by VFACTS – to exude style at the expense of practicality like, say, a Mini.
Rather it wants its $27,000 to $30,000 offering to embody what a modern Citroen should – to be simple but not simplistic, unashamedly comfort-oriented and stylistically engaging rather than polarising. Also, of course, for the C4 Cactus to indulge in the modern customisation-options era and become a strong seller in a booming segment.
Looking over the C4 Cactus, some of these tensions become apparent.
Despite the bulbous nose with slimline headlights, the creases of the ‘AirBump’ carpark-ding-resistant side appliques and squat stance, this is only a 4157mm-long vehicle with a 358-litre boot volume. It is shorter than a small hatchback but with more space for luggage than many.
For length-versus-luggage space, the HR-V (4294mm/437L), CX-3 (4275mm/264L) and Nissan Juke (4135mm/246L) are longer and larger, longer and smaller, or shorter and smaller respectively. Only the Peugeot 2008, with which the C4 Cactus shares its platform, measures 2mm longer from tip-to-toe while mixing in a 410L boot volume.
However the C4 Cactus weighs between 1020kg and 1055kg. Similarly efficient Peugeot excepted, the above small-SUV competitors tip the scales between 1193kg and 1328kg.
Step inside and this Citroen feels anything but malnourished. The front seats are designed like a sofa lounge, the rationale being that a couch is everyone’s favourite place to sit at home. They are extremely wide and comfortable, with either the high-quality standard cloth trim or optional ($1600) part leather.
In a production car first, the passenger airbag has been moved to deploy from the roof, permitting the application of ‘grip squares’ designed to hold your smartphone atop the dashboard and an 8.5-litre ‘top box’ beneath it.
The upper glovebox is opened via latches meant to be a homage to high-end luggage and the high-resolution 7.0-inch colour touchscreen takes care of everything including reversing camera display (there are also rear sensors), sat-nav, audio (including digital radio standard) and single-zone climate control functions. Simple, not simplistic.
There is a question mark over the application of the upper glovebox, though, given that there is no lower glovebox and therefore no tangible benefit other than a higher location. Likewise housing the climate controls within the touchscreen means waiting for the infotainment system to load before accessing the controls – not, ahem, cool, on a hot summer’s day.
Speaking of ventilation, there is no outside airvent for the front passenger, while in a primitive yet thrifty move, rear passengers get pop-out door windows that may not power up or down, but they save 11kg and permit two large bottles to fit inside the door trims. The rear seat is otherwise comfortable and roomy in all directions, and competitive with most rivals.
The most surprising element of the C4 Cactus on the move is its refinement.
Whether behind the vaguely retro ‘quartic’ leather-wrapped steering wheel in the turbocharged petrol three-cylinder or diesel four-cylinder model, the distance with which engine revolutions are kept from the cabin is remarkable, particularly given this Citroen’s size and weight.
Neither engine is allied to a particularly intuitive transmission, however.
The five-speed manual is long in throw and the six-speed single-clutch automated manual can lurch between gears unless, ironically enough, driven like a manual. That is, roll off the throttle as the driver detects each robotised dip of a clutch pedal, though there is no escaping the reluctance for the automatic to kickdown quickly once on the move.
Citroen argues its automated manual has improved, and it has, and it is even willing to teach automatic drivers how to get the best from the transmission.
Many, however, arguably just want an automatic to be smooth and seamless.
Economy is astounding, with the petrol’s claimed consumption of 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres transferring to 7.5L/100km during our hilly country drive, while the diesel’s claimed 3.6L/100km raised to 5.2L/100km in similar conditions.
Neither is particularly quick according to the 0-100km/h claimed times – 9.3 seconds petrol, 11.4s diesel – but each feels more driveable than those numbers suggest given respective peak torque of 205Nm and 230Nm arrives between 1500rpm and 1750rpm in both.
Even on patchy roads of the NSW Hunter Valley, the C4 Cactus is generally supple and serene just as its maker intended. Occasionally, however, the 50-aspect 17-inch wheels can thump into a crease in the road and the torsion bar rear suspension can jiggle during mid-corner irregularities.
We think the soft suspension may work better with taller profile and smaller tyres – such as the 15-inch full-size spare wheel in the boot – because this Citroen rides nicely but not brilliantly.
Its sibling, the 2008, also rides well on its smaller 16-inch tyres, and is a playfully composed and reasonably dynamic small SUV. The C4 Cactus is not as fun to drive as its cheeky styling suggests, however. The ordinarily light steering points the Citroen into corners well, however its sizeable bodyroll and early onset of understeer never give way to the sort of agility and adjustability possessed by many cars that ride similarly well.
Dynamic dullness won’t bother many, but in pragmatic assessment terms there are cars and SUVs that better balance ride and handling the Peugeot being one of them.
The C4 Cactus is, of course, at its best nipping around city streets, riding well and being frugal, while offering space and quality to spare (and if quality issues arise, there is the six-year unlimited-kilometre warranty).
While reasonably well specified, however, getting into an automatic version of this small SUV, as most people will, demands more than $30,000 once on-road-costs are factored in. Every colour except white is an $800 option and dabbling in side bump/roof rail/door mirror colours keeps raising the charge.
The surcharge from manual to automatic also buys an automated manual that isn’t too flash compared with smooth competitors.
Citroen’s Exclusive model grade is specified between the petrol automatic versions of the CX-3 Maxx ($24,390 plus on-road costs) and CX-3 sTouring (28,990 plus on-road costs) model grades, but the pricetag isn’t. Even a diesel automatic in the former Mazda grade can be purchased for $26,790 (plus on-road costs).
The C4 Cactus in many ways nails its brief, being as efficient in its design as it is with its drivetrains, as simple and pared back as a small SUV can be without becoming cramped or boring. If importer Sime Darby can work further with PSA Peugeot Citroen to improve pricing of its newest model, then it could be even more competitive in an increasingly crowded class.
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