Tuesday, 29 March 2016

REVIEW – Citroën C4 Cactus Flair

Nowadays I don’t think there are really any ‘bad’ cars. Reliability is generally good, and build quality standards are constantly improving. So if what you’re left with is a market place of cars that don’t break down and are well put together, how do you stand out from the crowd? Well, you could buy a C4 Cactus. You will have seen these on the road or on TV, and wondered what the side panels are all about. They certainly look different. I wanted to see what the Cactus is like to drive, and to live with. So before I knew it I had a very stand-outish car on the drive…

Looks – 8/10

Without doubt the styling is the most talked about aspect of the Cactus. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a car that has split opinion as much as this. The Blue Lagoon paint is particularly striking, and emphasises the features of the Cactus. The front end is very square, albeit with rounded edges. I like the daytime running lights along the bonnet line with headlights below. There are Airbump panels on each corner, and a black Citroën badge. At the side the Airbump panelling is the most distinguishing feature, but I also like the 17-inch black alloy wheels. Roof rails add an element of toughness, and the very dark rear windows offered contrast to the bold colour. I like the gloss lines from the rear windows to the tailgate; the lower one sporting the word ‘Cactus’. At the black there’s a small roof spoiler, more Airbump panels on each corner and generally square design. Overall I think the exterior styling is funky. It’s something different, although I’d personally go for something like a dark grey to be less stand-outish.

This general feel of funkiness continues into the cabin. From the wholly-digital dashboard, to the large touchscreen, it’s all very modern and technological. The steering wheel has a slightly flattened top and bottom, and the two-tone grey and black leather is a lovely touch. The flashes of gloss black trim give a premium feel, and I rather liked the dashboard and storage compartment on the passenger side. It was also refreshing to see a lighter grey dashboard as opposed to the usual black. I wasn’t struck on the seats at all. There’s just no shape to them. Large and square, they look more like a wingback than a car seat. The grey fabric leaves a lot to be desired as well. I think a partial leather trim or some more patterned cloth would suit the car better. The optional panoramic roof (£425) is a must, as it really rounds off the interior. It’s just a shame it doesn’t get a sun blind (although it is thermally insulated).


Handling/Performance – 6/10

There are several engine choices on the Cactus, and my test car came fitted with a diesel. That’s a 1.6-litre unit producing 100PS and 254Nm of torque. It’s available with a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic gearbox. My car had the former, and it just didn’t really excite me. On paper neither the 0-62mph dash of 10.6 seconds or the 114mph top speed are half as fun as the styling, and sadly the reality is the same. The engine has plenty of torque, and does pull well in the mid-range. As with a lot of smaller diesels it gets a bit rattly toward the top end and lacks that refinement of a bigger unit. On the motorway though, the little engine is relatively quiet in the background, but will provide overtaking power on a poke of the throttle. I think I’d just like to see an engine with the character to match the looks.

The C4 Cactus drives well. I noticed that the 17-inch wheels with low-profile tyres made potholes more noticeable, but thankfully the wingback chairs helped to lessen the pain. What the wingbacks don’t do is offer lateral support. You will be out of the window should you attempt any form of fast cornering in the Cactus. And you could certainly have a good go, because the steering is actually nicely weighted. Coupled to a rather impressive lack of pitch in the corners there is a sense that the Cactus could be so much more. One thing that troubles me is the lack of a 4WD version. Here is a car with the roof rails and the Airbump panels that looks rugged and tough, and I think a 4WD version would sell really well as a more capable crossover.

Economy – 10/10

The upside of the small 1.6-litre engine is how efficient it is. The Euro 6 engine has start/stop technology and emits a mere 95g/km. That puts the Cactus in VED band A, with no need to pay road tax at all. It also makes this a good choice for company car drivers, especially given that there are some good lease deals available on them. Once you’re running a Cactus it won’t cost you the earth either. Combined fuel consumption of 80.7mpg and a 45 litre fuel tank give a theoretical range of around 800 miles, so you’ll visit the petrol station less often.

Practicality – 8/10

The C4 Cactus appears on the face of it to be a rather good family car. I certainly found it roomy, with plenty of head and leg room (even though at 5ft 7in I don’t need an awful lot of either). The boot is a decent size with 358 litres up to the parcel shelf, thanks to being rather deep. Being the Flair model my test car was well equipped. Standard equipment included Bluetooth hands-free telephone, satellite navigation, cruise control with speed limiter, auto lights, auto wipers and a reversing camera/sensors. I don’t understand why, but the rear windows do not wind down. They are hinged. I can potentially see the appeal for people with children, but really this just seems strange. I think practicality has been compromised for style here, as a wind-down window would need more than one piece of glass.

Fun – 8/10

Despite the few flaws, the C4 Cactus was quite a lot of fun. It stands out from the crowd, and does so proudly. I understand that some people really dislike it, but then when you make a bold statement like Citroen have here not everyone is going to agree with you. I personally think that when you drive through a modern city with all sorts of glass architecture, the reflection of a turquoise C4 Cactus fits in rather well. In the new-age urban jungle, stand-out style is king. And the Cactus has this by the bucket-load. All I would say is that anyone considering a Cactus must be prepared for the killjoy that is other people’s prejudice. I had many arguments with friends about the looks. But seeing as though I’m writing this review and not them, I win.

Concluding Remarks

So that’s my week with the Citroën C4 Cactus. This is a car with bold styling, and impressive economy. It seems a little bit confused where it stands; with rugged-looking roof bars and a unique Airbump impact protection system, yet wingback front seats and no 4WD option. The bottom line however is that this is a family car that stretches the norm. It’s fun, and with prices starting at just £12,990 it’s affordable too. The BlueHDi 100 Flair I tested came in at £18,870 but offered a well-rounded package for a family. Log on to the Citroën website to configure your own car, or pop in to a dealer for more information. The Citroën C4 Cactus then; best described as ‘automotive Marmite’.

Total Score – 40/50

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