Car manufacturers are introducing various technologies to reduce emissions, yet the weight of cars generally continues to rise; however Citroen has achieved some genuinely significant weight savings with the C4 Cactus, which has led to an improved driving experience as well as efficiency.
Manufacturers have to reduce the emissions from their cars, and so many technologies such as hybrid systems have been introduced to achieve this goal. However a basic way to get better fuel economy is to make the car lighter. Unfortunately the vast majority of cars have been getting heavier throughout living memory. Very recently some manufacturers have been claiming to shave figures such as 10-25kg off their cars, but Citroen has attacked this area in a radical way and cut around 200kg from its new C4 Cactus.
The C4 Cactus is innovative and refreshing from a design and an engineering point of view. This really is a clean sheet of paper approach. The aim has been to develop a car that does everything that a ‘normal’ family hatchback does (which it achieves), but to get rid of anything unnecessary, so saving weight (ending up with a kerb weight from just 965kg for the petrol PureTech 75 and 82 manuals).
The C4 Cactus styling is also individual, with a crossover theme in order to benefit from market demand. It’s also hard to fail to notice the ‘Airbumps’, the plastic cladding on the doors that Citroen believes will reduce dents and scratches – probably with Paris drivers primarily in mind, but also potentially useful for most owners.
The interior is a pleasant place to be. The dashboard is low, with a central touchscreen in the middle of the dash (which comes with the challenge of trying to push the correct bit of the screen at speed on bumpy roads). There’s a large glovebox, due to moving the passenger airbag into the roof. Although the ETG 6-speed automated manual wouldn’t be our choice, the gear selector on this version consists of just three buttons on the dashboard (drive, neutral, reverse), so freeing up space in the interior for a bench seat incorporating a funky-looking triangular, upholstered central armrest, helping to give the feel of a lounge. The trouble is, the three gear selector buttons are positioned very low and far away, so you have to reach down every time you want to change gear.
Unfortunately there’s no reach adjustment on the steering wheel, which will compromise the ideal driving position for many people.
The weight saving of the Cactus has a real emissions and economy benefit, but you’ll really notice this when you’re driving. It does feel like a light car (although not ‘flimsy’-light in case anyone has memories of a 2CV), which translates into a genuinely enjoyable and fun driving experience. The handling is agile, and the car changes direction easily, without any over-light artificial steering assistance. The Cactus is also comfortable – both in terms of its interior and its ride.
On the launch we drove petrol and diesel models, and manual and the ETG 6-speed automated manual. The diesel Blue HDi 100 has the headline-grabbing miles per gallon figure, and although it’s good to drive, for most people the petrol engine will be fine – and this helps with making the car even lighter and more agile, so this would be our recommendation. We’d also stick with the manual gearbox, as the ETG 6-speed automated manual makes you feel sea sick when forward progress stops when it changes gear.
The C4 Cactus may look like an off-roader but it’s only available with front-wheel drive. However the car still coped well with driving over the Waddesdon Estate on the launch event – in the spirit of the 2CV.
The C4 Cactus Blue HDi 100 manual that we drove is capable of an official combined economy figure of 91.1mpg, equating to 82g/km CO2 – however this is only possible on 15-inch wheels. On 16 or 17-inch wheels, as fitted to our test car, the economy drops to 83.1mpg in both cases, although bizarrely the emissions are different – 87g/km and 89g/km respectively. The 91.1mpg economy figure is impressive, however it’s the same as the Peugeot 308, which is a heavier car, so you would expect the Cactus to improve on this further.
If you’re regularly heading up and down the nation’s motorways, the 4-cylinder, 1.6-litre diesel is the best choice. However high motorway miles are unlikely to be the typical usage for this car. For the average person using it as a family runabout, the petrol engines would be the best choice. They’re quieter, more fun to drive, and accentuate the lightweight feel of the car. The economy for the petrol engines – all of which are 3-cylinder, 1.2-litre units – are still good, with official combined figures ranging from 60.1 to 65.7mpg depending on the engine.
The C4 Cactus is offered with six powertrains: four petrol – PureTech 75, PureTech 82, PureTech 82 S&S & PureTech 110 S&S; and two HDi diesels – e-HDi 92 & BlueHDi 100. Engines are mated to either 5-speed manual or 5 or 6-speed ETG (Efficient Tronic Gearbox) transmissions.
There are also three trim levels – Touch, Feel, and Flair – with prices starting from £12,990 for the petrol PureTech 75 manual Touch, rising to £18,190 for the ETG6 equipped e-HDi 92 Flair.
Citroen claims that the C4 Cactus has running costs 20% lower than conventional C-segment hatchbacks.
The Citroen C4 Cactus is a refreshing car. It reverses the trend of most cars becoming heavier as time marches on, and although this assists with better economy and emissions, it’s the driving experience where you really notice this – the handling is agile and the car changes direction easily – it’s fun to drive. We’d recommend to stick with one of the petrol engines unless you’re covering high mileages, and mated to the manual rather than the ponderous ETG 6-speed automated manual.
The styling of the car, with its crossover theme, certainly has character, although it might not be to everyone’s tastes. The interior is modern and comfortable, and with the central touch screen, high-tech.
Overall we think that this is one of the best Citroens for a number of years. All manufacturers need a unique selling point, and Citroen has been struggling with this of late, apart from being known as offering ‘good value’. However good value isn’t enough, but being known as a car company that stands for innovative, lightweight, characterful cars that also drive better due to their weight savings is a more powerful proposition. The Citroen C4 Cactus is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.