2016 Citroen C4 Cactus review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Citroen C4 Cactus review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The Citroen C4 Cactus might have a name that should damn it, but the innovative little hatchback has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a worthy runabout.
2016 Citroen C4 Cactus
Price from $26,990+ORC (petrol); $29,990+ORC Warranty three years, 100,000km Safety Not tested Engine 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol; 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel Power/Torque 81kW/205Nm; 68kW/230Nm Transmission five-speed manual; six-speed semi-automatic Body 4157mm (L); 1946mm (W) 1530mm (H) Weight 1020-1055kg Fuel Tank 50 litres Thirst 4.7L/100km; 3.6L/100km
There are plenty of cars on the market right now that’ll get you from A to B quickly and quietly, allow you to sync your phone easily and hold you and all of your friends or family. But, the choices are limited if you want something that actually addresses issues related to modern motoring, or show some real design flair. Enter the Citroen C4 Cactus.
Take a look at the pictures of the Cactus and you could be mistaken for thinking a designer wearing a black skivvy and designer glasses had been allowed to indulge themselves on the look, both on the inside and out. But there’s more to this car than just trying to make it stand out.
What is it?
Citroen intends for the most noticeable design flourishes of the Cactus to be functional… adornments for the sake of it really are a waste. More than the handful of practical touches the Cactus boasts, this car is the vanguard for Citroen’s reimagined look.
And this is confirmed by the reveal this week of the new C3 which boasts plenty of elements launched on the Cactus. The C4 Cactus itself is intended as a small runabout for four people who want something that’s a little out of the ordinary. There are two engines to choose from, petrol and diesel and two transmission, manual and a semi-automatic transmission (I’ll explain what that means shortly). We drove both over the course of two weeks and so the following, despite many similarities between the two, will cover the engine and transmission differences.
According to Citroen the aim of the Cactus is to offer plenty of customisation for owners, and on offer there are:
- 21 possible exterior combination
- 10 exterior colour options
- 6 interior trim options
- 5 exterior “C-Pillar” highlights
- 4 Airbump colours
- 3 side mirror shell colours
- 2 roof bar colours
- 2 wheel colours
- 2 drivetrains
- 1 panoramic roof
But that customisation costs:
- Exterior colours (Premium colours optional at $800)
- Blanc Banquise (White) – (standard)
- Hello Yellow (optional)
- Blue Lagoon (Aqua) (optional)
- Rouge Aden (Red) (optional)
- Deep Purple (optional)
- Olive Brown (optional)
- Gris Shark (Metallic Grey) (optional)
- Gris Aluminium (Silver) (optional)
- Noir Obsidien (black) (optional)
- Blanc Nacre (Premium white) (optional at $1000)
Bump Colours (Optional colours for $400)
- Black (standard)
- Chocolate (Brown) (optional)
- Dune (Off white) (optional)
- Grey (Optional)
- Black and grey cloth (Standard)
- Purple and grey cloth (optional)
- Brown and black cloth (optional)
- Half black cloth with grey leather (grey dash) (optional)
- Half black cloth with grey leather (purple dash) (optional)
- Half black cloth with brown leather (brown dash) (optional)
- colours (Optional cloth available for $800, half-leather for $1600)
C-Pillar highlights (Optional items available for $100)
- Black with no lettering (standard)
- Black with white Cactus letters (optional)
- Black with chocolate Cactus letters (optional)
- White with black Cactus letters (optional)
- Red with black Cactus letters (optional)
Mirror shells (Optional items available for $150)
- Black (standard)
- White (optional)
- Red (optional)
Roof rails (Optional items available for $250)
- Black (standard)
- White (optional)
Wheels (Optional items available for $1000)
- 17” polished cross alloys (standard)
- 17” black cross alloys (optional)
Roof (optional at $1250)
- Panoramic Ceilo glass roof
What’s it like?
The first thing to get out of the way before we delve into engines, transmissions and how the thing performs, are some of the very cool elements of this car that ticked my boxes. Like the air bumps down the flanks of the Cactus. These scratch-resistant plastic pockets of air are designed to soak up the bumps and knocks of minor collisions from either car doors being opened against the Cactus or shopping trolleys bumping the side of the thing… at less than 4km/h.
Another clever little thing that most people won’t ever notice, or hopefully have need of is the airbag built into the roof of the Cactus. The idea was that it would help to reduce the thickness of the dashboard, and it does. By fitting the airbag into the roof of the Cactus the volume of the airbag has increased to 120 litres allowing it to cover the touchscreen infotainment unit on the dashboard, and both realistically and effectively act as a curtain.
More than just being able to change the shape of the dashboard, the airbag in the roof meant the Cactus could be fitted with a top opening glovebox allowing the front seat passenger to see what’s inside easily… but it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a very big glovebox, and looking inside a glovebox rather than down into one isn’t that big a chore, is it? And, to be honest, the glovebox design is one of the least convincing design elements of this vehicle.
But the feature I really like the most is the Magic Wash windscreen wipers which see the washer nozzles built into the end of the windscreen wiper blade meaning that when it’s activated the washer fluid is distributed along the length of the wiper. It means a more effective use of the fluid, allowing the reservoir to be half the usual size (1.5L down from 3L) and the window is cleaned better and with less streaking caused by the wiping action.
The C4 Cactus is available with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine which produces 81kW at 5500rpm and 205Nm of torque at (a diesel-like) 1500rpm. Mated to this is a five-speed manual gearbox with stop-start function and coupled with “ultra-low rolling resistance tyres” returns a combined 4.7L/100km.
The C4 Cactus weighs (in petrol manual trim) just 1020kg and, so, even with one or two people on board feels quite perky once up and going. From a standing start there’s quite a bit of turbo lag (the time it takes for the turbocharger to begin working) and you do find yourself trying to give the thing enough right foot so as not to stall and not so much that you make a screeching take off.
That’s not helped by the spongy feel of either the throttle or the clutch pedal which will require quite a bit of familiarisation not to feel awkward.
The gear shift itself is pretty easy with the transmission gates easily navigated and the shift relatively short and positive. The steering is a variable electric power assist system, meaning that the rate of assistance changes depending on the speed, so, the slower you go the lighter the steering, and so on. While some of these systems have a tendency to be too light, Citroen’s done a good job with the steering in the Cactus feeling nicely connected to the front wheels and with a consistent weight and a good positive feel in the straight ahead.
Like the throttle and clutch pedal, the brake pedal is a little dead-feeling and spongy meaning that it can be hard to modulate the brakes without over- or under-applying them. But this sensation settles after you spend more and more time behind the wheel. The Cactus might run discs at the front and drums at the back, but its lightweight and so the brakes will handle general use just fine.
As mentioned, we also sampled the Cactus diesel which runs a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel that makes 68kW at 4000rpm and 230Nm at 1750rpm. This is mated to a six-speed semi-automatic gearbox (and this is basically a clever way of saying the transmission doesn’t use a clutch to change gears, rather electronic sensors control the pneumatics to actuate the gearshift… the theory is that electronics can be smoother than mechanical). Fuel consumption is a combined 3.6L/100km.
This transmission has come in for a great deal of criticism by Australia’s motoring press, and unfairly I reckon. But that’s only, or so I believe, the great majority of journalists who’ve tested the Cactus have tried to drive it like a normal automatic. And that is, more or less, keep your foot flat when you’re driving and hope the car will sort it out… it’s the same criticism you get when journalists drive DSGs. They complain the things can seem lumpy when shifting gear… and it’s the same thing they wrote when testing BMW M3s with the early SMG.
Sure, drive those transmission, and indeed the transmission in the Cactus, like a conventional auto and it’ll feel horrible as it lurches from one gear to the next, almost seeming to hang between shifts. But pay attention to what you’re doing when you’re driving, as you should be, and ease off the throttle, slightly, between shifts and you can get the thing shifting smoothly and easily.
The diesel comes with stop/start, as does the petrol variant but you’ve got to actively engage it by shifting into manual and then coming off the clutch; it then starts up as you dip the clutch. But I do have a gripe with the system on the auto, and that is that I found the engine would quit as the car was slowing to a stop and not once it had completely stopped, meaning the engine would cut out at an indicated 5km/h. And that didn’t just happen once, it happened every time.
Cleverly, the auto in the diesel Cactus has a creep function which is something drivers of plenty-of-grunt diesel 4x4s will be used to, and by creep function I mean you can simply release the brake and the car will ‘creep’ forward without needing any throttle input. In general driving I preferred the diesel to the petrol variant as it felt more relaxed when driving up hills or being called upon to overtake.
Despite its quirky appearance the Citroen Cactus is firmly in the mould of older Citroens meaning the ride is soft and squidgy, but that’s not always a good thing. Across imperfections in the road there’s a tendency for the Cactus to jiggle and through corners it’ll lean. The result of the softness of the setup is that you end up making slight corrections with the steering wheel all the time. That said, some, who don’t ever hurry the thing will find the ride comfortable, while those who push it from time to time will find it just a little fidgety and ultimately tiring. The steering is accurate, but there’s almost no self-centring function.
Climb inside and the Cactus feels very different from competitors like the Toyota Corolla or Hyundai i30 and actually feels pretty special. The dashboard is minimal in its design with most controls incorporated into the tablet-esque touchscreen which is both good and bad.
See, putting all of the controls for things like air-con up into the ‘man-machine interface’ takes simply turning down the fan on the air-con or changing the temperature to a slightly more difficult level. I really do think that climate control functions should be separate from the infotainment and communication systems.
Beyond that gripe the rest of the system is pretty good, with shortcut keys around the outside of the touchscreen making it easy to then deep dive into functions. Pairing you phone is easy via Bluetooth and the audio streaming function works well and didn’t once trip up while I was testing either the petrol or diesel variants.
The materials used are good quality but they do feel hard to the touch, but I think that’s intentional; the idea is to give the Cactus a robust feel inside and the materials used and the design does that quite well. The front seats are nice and comfortable and there’s good vision all around thanks to the tallish glasshouse, only the slabby rear-three quarter panel requires careful attention when lane changing.
Over in the back seats there’s a reasonable amount of room for two adults and that’s thanks to a long-ish wheelbase of 2.6m which is a around 25cm more than a Holden Spark. I managed to fit a child’s seat into the back of the Cactus with plenty of legroom for my four-year old. And I managed to sit behind the driver’s seat with it set to my preferred driving position and I’m 5ft 11in.
Over in the boot there’s a usable 358 litres of storage space, although if you fold down the rear seats this grows to a good 1170 litres.
In terms of safety, the Cactus hasn’t been tested by ANCAP but gets airbags, traction and stability controls as well as hill-start assist, static cornering lights, programmable speed limiter and cruise control as well as a reversing camera with guide lines that displays on the seven-inch touch screen in the centre of the dashboard.