Living with the Citroen C4 Cactus

We’ve already reviewed the diesel Citroen C4 Cactus on the car’s launch, but surely this lightweight car is better suited to a lightweight petrol engine? – we’ve had a week to find out…

  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
  • Citroen C4 Cactus
Green Car Guide Rating: 9/10

Key stats

  • Model/Engine size:  C4 Cactus Flair PureTech 110 S&S manual
  • Fuel:  Petrol
  • Fuel economy combined:  60.1mpg

Summary

  • Feels refreshingly lightweight
  • Lightweight design results in lots of benefits including efficiency and agile handling
  • Characterful
  • Having all controls on the central touchscreen is the one thing that spoils the car

BACKGROUND

Cars need to have lower emissions to avoid fines for their manufacturers. One of the main ways to lower emissions is to have lighter cars, but despite there being much talk about lightweighting, very few new cars are genuinely much lighter than their rivals. The new Citroen C4 Cactus however is one exception to this rule. So is it an experiment that has worked?

Citroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 Cactus

DESIGN & ENGINEERING

Most people will look at the Citroen C4 Cactus and realise that there is something different about this car. The Airbumps on the doors are the main styling feature that gives the Cactus a sense of individuality, then there’s the crossover styling, and the narrow front headlights. The exterior design looks ‘slim’ rather than heavy, and this theme carries over to the interior.

Inside, there’s no tall, overpowering dashboard, just a thin shelf running across the interior. The main feature is the touchscreen in the centre of the car, which we’ll come back to later.

But it’s the fact that the car as a whole has been engineered to save weight that really sets the Cactus apart. Which is why we wanted to take this concept as far as we could and live with the petrol engine model, as we’d already tried the diesel engine on the launch, and as impressive as its official fuel economy figures were, we wanted to experience the lightest engine in the lightweight car.

Citroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 Cactus

CITROEN C4 CACTUS DRIVING EXPERIENCE

In a world where the vast majority of new cars have been getting heavier and heavier, driving the C4 Cactus is genuinely refreshing. This car weighs 1190Kg, compared to around 1500Kg for the average car that we drive (or a whopping 2.5 tonnes in the case of a Range Rover Sport Hybrid). This results in the C4 Cactus feeling genuinely light, and leads to a driving sensation similar to that experienced in a Caterham 160 – you’re no longer wrestling with a 1.5 tonne car to get it round corners, everything just seems less effort.

The light weight means the car is easy to steer and stop, it has agile handling, and a comfortable ride. It also means that the C4 Cactus is also driveable when fitted with the 3-cylinder, 1.2-litre petrol engine in our test car. Such an engine in a family car would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but thanks to the combination of a turbocharger and the car’s low kerbweight, performance is perfectly adequate for the vast majority of situations. The main exception is when needing to accelerate up a hill at motorways speed, when a torquey diesel would work better.

Like the engine, the five-speed manual gearbox is mostly fit for purpose, although it’s not the most precise of units. However it’s vastly preferable to Citroen’s ETG (Efficient Tronic Gearbox) transmission (please avoid).

So from a drivetrain perspective, it’s generally a thumbs-up. In terms of the interior, the low and simple dash helps to give a spacious and airy feeling. The first black mark comes with the lack of reach-adjustable steering, meaning that many people will never be able to find the perfect driving position.

The second black mark, and in our opinion the one big thing that spoils this car, is the location of virtually all controls on the central touchscreen. As any regular visitor to Green Car Guide will be aware, our view is that it’s not a good idea having to look away from the road to the centre of the car and press various buttons on a screen that’s constantly moving due to the fact that most roads are not perfectly flat.

This is much more apparent when living with the car for a week compared to a short launch event drive; every morning you get in the car and want to increase the cabin temperature you have to wait for the screen to start-up, then press the button for the climate controls, then repeatedly press buttons to increase the temperature, press different button for the fan speed, and press different buttons to control which vent the heat comes from. A good old-fashioned rotary dial on the dashboard to instantly turn the temperature up or down is a much, much better solution! (car interior designers please note).

Two final last rants are that there’s no rev counter, and if you set the satnav and drive on the M6 toll road it constantly tries to re-route you off it – even up until the very last junction before it meets the M6; engineering some intelligence into the satnav so it realises that you consciously want to be on the toll road rather than the car park that is the M6 through Birmingham would be good.

Citroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 Cactus

CITROEN C4 CACTUS ECONOMY AND EMISSIONS

The official combined economy figure of the Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 110 S&S manual is 60.1mpg, with emissions of 107g/km CO2. We managed 56.4mpg at 70mph on the motorway, 61.3mpg at 60mph on A-roads, and overall after a week we averaged 47.0mpg. As always, this is down on the official figure, but we would say that this is impressive for a petrol family hatchback that is also good to drive.

Citroen C4 CactusCitroen C4 Cactus

PRICE, EQUIPMENT AND MODEL RANGE

Our test car cost £17,290 – or £19,310 with options which included the ‘Blue Lagoon’ paint (£250), black leather and cloth pack (£695) and panoramic sunroof (£425).

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.

Conclusion

We like the Citroen C4 Cactus. This is because it succeeds in delivering the main thing that we look for in a car: a combination of a good driving experience and efficiency. It is also refreshing in its concept, as well as being practical. You notice the light and easy manners of the Cactus most once the car has goes back to Citroen and you hop into the next press car which feels decidedly heavy and ponderous in comparison.

The one main thing that spoils the car for us is having all the controls on the central touchscreen – how long will it be before car designers realise that having climate controls hidden away in a sub-menu of a sub-menu on a touchscreen isn’t a good idea?

However overall the Citroen C4 Cactus should be rewarded for its originality and it therefore gains a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.

Car facts and figures Living with the Citroen C4 Cactus

  • Fuel economy, extra urban: 70.6 mpg
  • Fuel economy, urban: 48.7 mpg
  • Test fuel economy: 47.0 mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 107 g/km
  • Green rating: VED band B – £0 a year
  • Weight: 1190 Kg
  • Company car tax liability (2014/15): 14%
  • Price: £17,290
  • Insurance group: 16A
  • Power: 110 hp
  • Max speed: 117 mph
  • 0-62mph: 9.3 seconds
  • Euro 6: Yes
Paul Clarke

Review by:
Paul Clarke, GreenCarGuide Editor