Overall rating: 4.5/5
Comfortable, cool, innovative and likely to be incredibly good value: that's the new Citroen C4 Cactus, a completely unique take on the compact crossover concept, which sheds weight and complication in the bid for efficiency. We love it.
In the Metal:
And, err, plastic. The metal looks good; proportionally the C4 Cactus looks pleasingly chunky, but it's the adornment that's the talking point here. Those patented 'Airbumps' don't just provide an eye-catching contrasting panel on the Cactus' flanks, but thanks to their pocketed air filling they give some useful protection against door knocks and dings. Four colours are offered and the same thermoplastic polyurethane surface covers areas on the front and rear, though those panels are not filled with air. The C4 Cactus certainly standing out from the crowd.
That's true inside too; there's a simple digital display in front of the driver, while all the info and entertainment functions are covered by a large touch-screen central display. It's all very easy to use, connecting to your smartphone easily for additional functionality. The cabin is smartly detailed too, including retro case-style door pulls for instance, though the material quality throughout is very impressive given the Cactus' mainstream pricing. It is the seats that are most of note inside: they're wide (if you've opted for the paddle-shift automatic you effectively have a front 'bench') and supremely comfortable and supportive. The heavy weave fabric coverings are reminiscent of the 1970s and the feel and look very cool. If there's a comfier car seat around we've not experienced it. In the back there's ample, if not overly generous, space, while the boot - deep sill excepted - is usefully sized and accessible.
After the striking looks and the smart cabin the drive could be considered a bit of a let-down. It isn't though, its rounded competence and unfussy nature among the car's most appealing facets. The 1.2-litre turbocharged triple is pleasingly smooth given its three-cylinder design, with plenty of low-speed torque meaning you don't need to rev it out. There's no rev counter inside either, underlining this nature. The steering is pleasingly direct, if not loaded with feel, and the curious squared-off steering wheel is an unnecessary sop to form over function.
What's immediately obvious from the lounge-like seating is that Citroen has sensibly looked back in time for its dynamic make-up. The Cactus wouldn't see which way an ordinary hatchback went on a challenging, twisting road, but the relative softness to the suspension is pleasingly comfortable and cosseting; no bad thing given most of Ireland's road surfaces. There's some body roll in the bends, and a modicum of pitch and squat under braking and acceleration, but it's never so wayward as to feel uncontrolled. The people that set up the Cactus' suspension should be seconded to Citroen's DS department and set to work on the DS 5.
Even though it's soft it feels more hatchback than 'crossover' in its make-up. No bad thing really, though a crisper, shorter gearshift for the five-speed manual wouldn't do it any harm. That's a minor complaint, and certainly not enough to detract from what's overall a capable, if ultimately unremarkable, drive.
Key to the Cactus' concept is weight-saving, Citroen claiming it's around 200kg lighter than the competition thanks to some clever weight reduction. That all helps with economy, too, and comes without any penalty in space. Indeed, inside, neat details like a roof-mounted passenger airbag means there's a sizeable, top-opening glovebox.
The C4 Cactus is something of a return to form for Citroen. After many crushingly average cars the French firm has come out with a hugely appealing, stylish and quirky car that oozes cool yet offers mainstream appeal. All at a price that'll ensure it's looked at as a rival for not just other 'crossovers' but a host of more ordinary hatchbacks too.