The Citroen C4 Cactus offers the potential of good economy in diesel form, but the character of the first-generation Cactus has been watered down in this latest model.
When the Citroen Cactus first appeared, it had the image of a lightweight, efficient crossover. It has now been updated and, at least visually, it has lost its unique look, including the large ‘airbumps’ on the doors. So what is its unique selling point now?
The Citroen C4 Cactus Feel Blue HDi 100 Manual has a 4-cylinder, 1-6-litre turbodiesel with a 5-speed manual gearbox.
Externally,the airbumps, which used to occupy a priority space on the doors, have moved and have been made smaller.
The dashboard is very basic, with most controls being on the touchscreen. It’s also dark, and like the exterior, it seems to have lost its interesting design. It even seems to have lost the central armrest for front seat occupants. Rear seat passengers have windows that need to be pushed open rather than having any electrical assistance.
One of the strong points of the Cactus is when it’s sitting on the motorway, when it’s efficient (more of that later) and it’s comfortable. The primary ride is good, helped by relatively high profile tyres and small wheels. There’s also decent handling, helped by what is still a relatively lightweight body, despite the diesel engine being heavier than the petrol unit.
However there’s not much refinement, with too much road and wind noise coming into the cabin at motorway speeds, and the noise issue is worse at low speed, when the diesel reminds you it’s a diesel. Not only is it noisy, but it’s also slow around town (and there’s not much performance generally), with the manual gearbox and clutch combination not helping with smooth progress.
And then there’s the steering: the whole chassis/suspension/steering set-up results in steering that doesn’t feel at all precise.
Virtually all controls are on the touchscreen, even those for the temperature – which is a bad idea in our view – and there are no separate shortcut buttons, which makes it very difficult to use when driving, and the satnav isn’t the most user-friendly system.
The official NEDC combined fuel economy for the Citroen C4 Cactus Feel Blue HDi 100 Manual is 76.3 mpg, with CO2 emissions of 94 g/km. This is a good economy figure, however it’s the real-world result that’s important. Motorway driving resulted in an average of 58.7mpg – which is impressive. Overall, after a week of mixed driving, the Cactus averaged 48.6mpg. With careful eco-driving, this could be more. But because there’s not much power, you end up having to drive the car harder to keep up in traffic. There’s also only a 5-speed gearbox; a 6-speed box would likely help with better economy. There’s also a 400-mile plus range in real-life driving.
The Citroen C4 Cactus Feel Blue HDi 100 Manual costs £19,020. Our test car had options of metallic paint (£495), navigation (£800), and ‘auto pack’ (£300), bringing the total price of our test car to £20,615. This is a lower figure than many rivals in this class. Trim levels are Feel, Feel Edition and Flair.
We liked the concept of the Cactus when it first appeared. It was essentially a hatchback, but it had individuality in terms of a lightweight ethos, and characterful design, with the image of an SUV/crossover. That personality has now been watered down, resulting in the Cactus not standing out from the crowd.
In the form of our diesel manual test car, the Cactus is economical, but the slow and noisy driving experience falls short of the petrol engine-Cactus, and falls short of most rivals. If you were to drive the diesel Cactus after driving one of the latest electric hatchbacks, you’d feel as though you’d gone back in time.
So we’d like to see a genuine lightweight ethos – resulting in greater efficiency, with some characterful, fun design – and more SUV-styling would surely be a hit with buyers? In the meantime this latest Cactus feels like a missed opportunity, and it ends up with a Green Car Guide rating of 6 out of 10.