We lauded the original Citroen C4 Cactus for its quirky styling when it arrived in 2014. In the 2018 update, the car's status has changed from crossover to more conventional hatchback, despite keeping a similar silhouette. Citroen is channelling its rich heritage for producing a car with supremely comfortable suspension, and at the same time it manages to deliver a reasonably engaging drive while retaining character.
In the metal
The overall cabin layout hasn't changed save for the addition of larger seats and some new upholstery options. Detracting from that is some cheap plastics in prominent places, such as along the door tops. In contrast, the funky flat dashboard design gets a better quality covering, so it's a shame that Citroen didn't extend that into the doors. The multifunction steering wheel also comes clad in some pretty cheap feeling material. Given that this is the one point of the car that you're always going to be in contact with as a driver, it's a disappointing detail.
On a more positive note, the new 'Advanced Comfort' seats are as comfortable to sit in as they look. Feeling more like your favourite armchair than a seat in your car, we found them to be supportive enough even over several hours of driving. If there was one complaint, it's that the base is a little on the short side and you can't extend it to support your legs.
Space for rear passengers is on par with most of its rivals, but having a car fitted with the panoramic glass roof will eat into rear headroom. Meanwhile, the middle seat is on the tight side for both shoulder- and legroom. A feature that may also catch out some potential buyers is that you can't lower the rear windows. Due to their design, you can only pop them open a small bit.
The PureTech 130 model tested here uses the more powerful version of the two 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engines available in the C4 Cactus. Power output is 130hp, which, given the relatively low weight of the car, helps to deliver a reasonable level of performance. Three-cylinder engines often have a buzzy nature, but this is less prevalent in the Citroen. It does emit a distinctive thrum under harder acceleration, but it's not enough to give cause for complaint.
In the past, we had sometimes criticised Citroen for producing manual gearboxes that didn't always feel the slickest, so we're pleased to report that the six-speed manual transmission is lovely to use. The gear shifts are precise with a shorter throw when changing across the gate than before. A well-chosen set of gear ratios gives the car an eagerness around city streets, but affords the engine a chance to settle when you reach a motorway cruising speed in top gear. Wind noise does start to whip up as you surpass 85km/h, though, even with the inclusion of an acoustically optimised windscreen. It's not deafening by any means, but you do notice it during longer drives at higher speeds.
That said, it is around towns and cities that the C4 Cactus feels most at home. These environs are also where the new suspension setup shines. It uses a technology called Progressive Hydraulic Cushion, which was developed and patented by Citroen. Essentially it uses two hydraulic cushions instead of the traditional coil spring and rubber bump stops. The result is most apparent when driving at lower speeds on poor surfaces and going over speed bumps and the like.
You aren't isolated from the movement of the car as the wheels fall into any dips or hit cracks in the road, but rather than feeling a sharp jolt the compression moment is softer and rebound is more gradual. In a world where so many cars are tuned to feel more dynamic by simply stiffening up the suspension, this is a welcome departure and will undoubtedly resonate with anyone that recalls the original hydropneumatic suspension from Citroen models past.
As soft and pillow-like as the ride can be in town, get the Cactus out on a good back road and it retains a surprising amount of composure. It's worth pointing out that Citroen's motorsport division has been using this form of suspension arrangement in its Dakar and WRC cars for many years. Not that we're making some tenuous link between those and the Cactus, but you can still have a decent bit of fun, at least as much as the 130hp three-cylinder engine will allow. The steering isn't full of feel and most of the feedback you get through it comes in the form of vibration from the road surface, but chuck it into a corner and you won't be scraping the door handles as you would be in a Citroen 2CV. Sure, there is some body roll, but it's not something that we would complain about.
What you get for your money
Most of the choice with the Citroen C4 Cactus boils down to what engine you want, as it is only sold with one specification-grade in Ireland. The range starts with the 1.2-litre Puretech 110 petrol engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Alternatively, the 1.5-litre BlueHDi 100 and this engine also comes only with a six-speed automatic transmission. The diesel is the most affordable from a road tax perspective, costing €270 per annum, but the Puretech 110 costs only slightly more at €280 per annum.
That Feel trim level includes 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels but you will have to pay extra for metallic paint (€695) or €795 for the pearl effect, and if you wish to have the fog light surrounds painted (€250). On the inside, the look is what Citroen calls 'Wild Grey' and features the Advanced Comfort seats. As standard, the touchscreen display includes Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity.
The evolution of the C4 Cactus into a more refined hatchback competitor has been well executed by Citroen. By introducing its new comfort-focused suspension, it brings something unique to the table. Its distinctive look, while less polarising now, sees it remain one of the standout choices in a segment that is being increasingly filled with bland cars. Bravo, Citroen.