Good: unique styling, economical engine.
Not so good: limited rear windows, gearbox feel could be better.
When crossovers first came onto the scene they got quite a bit of attention thanks to their different proportions and image. But over time we've all become somewhat accustomed to them and many have drifted slowly towards the homogenous styling trap. No such risk of this happening to Citroen's latest addition to the C4 family - the C4 Cactus.
Most people would probably consider this to to be a crossover, however not ones to be left behind in the marketing-speak, Citroen calls the C4 Cactus a 'crosshatch' as it is more hatchback than SUV. Um, isn't that what a crossover is? Either way, the Cactus comes with what is easily one of the most radical designs in recent times and unlike the much maligned C3 Pluriel, the Cactus makes quirky styling work on an aesthetic and practical level.
Even though Citroen does offer some pretty good petrol engines it still expects well over 60 per cent of sales to be diesel. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit does have plenty of poke for town driving and thanks to some good sound insulation doesn't make too much of a racket. On longer drives that engine really starts to prove itself, thanks not only to its high torque output at low revs but also its fuel efficiency. We know to always take manufacturer's quoted fuel economy figures with a pinch of salt but Citroen really has made this engine work well.
The driving characteristics are still more SUV than car thanks to a degree of body roll in the corners, but that softer suspension does help to give the Cactus good ride comfort over a variety of surfaces. There is little to complain about in the steering department, though the manual gearbox could do with feeling a little more precise - as it is, the throw between gears is a touch long and vague.
Buyers in Ireland will get a choice of three different specification levels - Touch, Feel and Flair - and with a starting price of €17,795 it means that for the price of most entry-level compact crossovers you can plumb for a full-spec C4 Cactus Flair for virtually the same money. That will get you 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights with cornering functionality, tinted rear windows and LED interior lighting, as well as air conditioning, a reversing camera and satellite navigation. The Cactus also allows customers to opt for quite a high degree of personalisation between the colour palette, wheels and those unique 'airbumps' along the side.
Rear passengers do get a fair amount of space and as good as they look from the outside the lack of wind-down windows in the rear will annoy some, especially in summer. The large panoramic glass roof may be becoming more commonplace these days, but is still a welcome addition, albeit for a €600 premium, and even though it doesn't have a sun-blind, Citroen says that the thermal insulation on it helps to prevent heat build-up and stops UV rays coming into the cabin.
Undoubtedly the Cactus will prove to be divisive, but if the styling does appeal to you, underneath all that Citroen has also put together a pretty good package.