2016 Citroen C4 Cactus Review

The new Citroen C4 Cactus is one of the quirkiest and coolest cars on the road. And, it comes with airbumps — what more could you want?

Have you ever wondered what a car designed by a child would look like? You’re looking at it: the Citroen C4 Cactus. It’s certifiably one of the quirkiest and coolest looking cars on the market. And, it’s coming to Australia at the end of the year.

Because we couldn’t wait for it to arrive in Australia, we jumped behind the wheel of the C4 Cactus in Queenstown, New Zealand, to see if all the hype around its local arrival is justified.

Available in 10 body colours and four 'airbump' colours, the Citroen C4 Cactus is available with two petrol and one diesel engine option. While pricing hasn’t been announced for the Australian market, it’s expected to start around the $25,000 mark and will compete against cars like the Nissan Juke, Mazda CX-3, Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008.

The original Cactus C-Cactus concept spawned the Cactus Concept, which eventually became the Citroen C4 Cactus, which uses the C4 platform. The exterior sports a unique design that uses a split-headlight cluster at the front that focuses on aerodynamics.

Rubber components called airbumps, featuring on the sides and edges of the car, were designed to protect the C4 Cactus from accidental damage at shopping centres and car parks. The car’s airbumps don’t require maintenance and are made of a highly durable thermoplastic polyurethane material designed to resist impact damage.

Distinctive roof rails flank the gigantic panoramic glass roof that stretches almost the entire length of the car. Cleverly, the panoramic glass roof is thermally insulated and acoustically designed to remove the need for a sliding blind, which also saves up to 6kg of weight.

Speaking of weight, in some configurations, the C4 Cactus weighs in at less than one tonne — considering the size of the car, that’s incredible.

Under the bonnet, the C4 Cactus is available with two engine types: petrol and diesel. Producing 55kW, 60kW and 82kW of power in three-cylinder 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol form, the diesel option is a four-cylinder 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that produces 63kW of power. Available gearboxes include a five- and six-speed manual and six-speed automated manual.

Our 1.6-litre turbocharged diesel test car was mated to a six-speed robotised clutchless manual gearbox, producing 63kW of power and 230Nm of torque. While that may not sound like much, it’s over 230Nm of torque per tonne, which is better than the competition in this segment. It’s also front-wheel drive only, despite its rugged appearance.

Equally as impressive is the claimed fuel consumption. While the fuel consumption evaluation cycle for the vehicle may be different when it launches locally, the diesel with this gearbox consumes a combined 3.6L/100km in New Zealand, where it is also available for sale. That would place it as the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid or electric vehicle in Australia — a mean feat by any stretch.

The quirky design continues inside the cabin where a simplistic design skewed toward design and function takes over. Everything from the door handles — a leather strap — to the built in seat airbumps make the interior an awesome place to be.

The steering wheel contains most of the car’s functions and is supported by two LCD screens — one for the speedometer and critical car functions that sit in front of the driver, while the other is a seven-inch touchscreen used for the vehicle’s navigation and infotainment.

The screen may look familiar. That’s because it’s almost identical to the one used in the new Peugeot 308. Shortcut buttons flank the main touchscreen, which integrates satellite navigation, temperature, audio and vehicle settings. It’s easy to use and presents information in high-resolution, which is easy to read when on the move.

The six-speaker sound system pairs with a 16GB internal hard drive for music storage, while Bluetooth audio streaming and USB connectivity are also available for music streaming.

Similarly simple is the gear selection system. Instead of a traditional gear lever, the C4 Cactus uses a three-button arrangement that allows the driver to move between Drive, Neutral and Reverse, with the neutral mode used in conjunction with the handbrake when the vehicle is parked.

Gear selections can be made manually, using static paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel tunnel. The system can select gears manually at any time while the vehicle is moving.

Leg and headroom up front is excellent. Comfortable seats and great visibility out the front, sides and rear help make the cabin feel open and airy. While storage in the door pockets is great, centre storage is limited by the emergency brake handle and a large centre armrest.

Citroen makes up for this by moving the passenger airbag from the regular dashboard position to within the roof lining. This opens up an 8.5 litre storage cavity in the dashboard.

Rear seat leg and headroom is surprisingly accommodating. The comfortable rear seats fold down, but don’t offer any split folding. This, in addition to pop-out windows in place of wind-down windows, is a chase for weight loss.

Cargo capacity is good at 358 litres with the second row up. Drop the second row and that space increases to a usable and cavernous 1170 litres. While it’s more than the Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke, it sits behind the Renault Captur’s 377-litre capacity.

Citroens are known for their excellent ride quality, and the C4 Cactus is no exception. Our New Zealand road trip included suburban driving, along with a stint to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, which required snow chains — and woollen mits.

The ride stood true to Citroen’s comfort oriented philosophy. Bumps and rough surfaces were dispatched with ease and the pliant damping kept the ride smooth. Even the handling on some of the icy mountain roads was impressive with the electrically-assisted steering rack offering ample amounts of feel and feedback.

The strong diesel engine offered impressive in-gear acceleration for overtaking and climbing mountain switchbacks.

But, the entire package was let down by the robotised manual gearbox. While a robotised manual requires pre-emptive throttle lift to avoid jerkiness, even this wasn’t enough to prevent unpleasant lapses in torque during gear changes.

This was made even worse when pulling out in traffic where throttle lifting wasn’t possible, or when the gearbox would kick down during a tight hairpin turn on a mountain road where second wouldn’t offer enough torque, but first would sit too high in the rev range.

On the move, the gearbox is fine, but it’s one worth avoiding if you don’t mind shifting manually instead.

The Citroen C4 Cactus is the ultimate in cool and quirky motoring. If our stint behind the wheel in New Zealand is anything to go by, this car will sell in droves to punters wanting unique, fun and practical motoring.

Now all you need to do is figure out which body and airbump colours best match your life and style.

The Citroen C4 Cactus will be launched in Australia close to the end of 2015. If you are after more information about the Citroen C4 Cactus, check out the Citroen C4 showroom.

Click on the Photos tab to see more 2016 Citroen C4 Cactus images by Glen Sullivan.
Video by Glen Sullivan.