The French carmaker is dealing a successful blow to its detractors with the C4 Cactus, a crossover model that has been successful enough for the company to envision a production expansion and the introduction to new markets.
The European market turnaround has played well with PSA Peugeot Citroen’s own recovery from the brink of collapse just last year, when it was saved by a cash infusion from the French government and the automaker’s Chinese partner Dongfeng. The salvage strategy also came with a new management structure, which has changed the emphasis of all brands from the group. In its new quality, Citroen has been retasked to secure consumers in the affordable portion of the market – but the French brand has not been relegated to a low cost status.
By all means, the brand will compete with rivals such as Renault instead of Dacia, for example, because of clever strategies that can be extrapolated to the C4 Cactus we tested for a second time. The first time around when we had the crossover we noticed how the company made cost cuts in certain areas, which in turn sometimes brought certain slips and in other parts brought more clever integration of elements. This time around we’re testing the model in a more upscale version, equipped with a diesel engine and an automatic gearbox, complete with a Start/Stop engine function instead of the lowest ranked gasoline engine mated to a five speed manual.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
The Citroen C4 Cactus will forever be remembered as a polarizing model – with the auto industry today having more examples than ever in this category, especially when taking into account the popularity of sport utility vehicles and crossovers (we can also notice the Citroen C4 Picasso, the Nissan Juke or the Jeep Cherokee in this growing niche). It’s an out of the world design that has nothing to do with anything across the Citroen lineup – and the brand is finally looking able and willing to experiment again with styling, forms and design languages. Time will tell if the C4 Cactus will remain a timeless design, but at least in terms of pure brand recognition, the model might be able to do wonders in the markets where it’s available. Unfortunately for the French brand, the company has never opted Citroen as a global competitor, which will undoubtedly compress its appeal from other awkward peers, such as the Juke or the Cherokee.
Nevertheless, where it’s available the C4 Cactus sold well, which means consumers today are more likely to respond positively to such eccentricities than before – also because in the past we didn’t have all the automakers so willingly breaching confinements and establishing new niches that also required a styling personality. Those willing to see past the interesting design, will recognize a compact model that has put functionality on a high level as well – we don’t have any problems with ease of access or interior space. In all, being a crossover, the C4 Cactus will certainly look bigger than it really is (just below 4,2 meters in length), as the model sits firmly at the lower end of the compact segment. The interior is not an obvious testament to that fact, thanks to a generous wheelbase and the way designers and engineers resolved the issues between design and geometrical dimensions. The seats in front offer ample space, being designed to resemble what we usually encounter in a chic lounge. That means they’re comfortable on the long haul and don’t really bother to offer the greatest lateral support. Because we drove the version that used an automatic gearbox, the central part between the seats has an extension that levels the space and those (able and willing) prone to romantics can journey touching each other – in a way that only older American cars with front couches once allowed.
That kind of saves the very odd placement of the gearbox buttons – reduced to the absolute bare necessities (D,N and R). That also allowed the introduction of a hulking parking lever that will resemble an aircraft lever – though any relation to the world of aeronautics is absent from the habitable area. In all other respects, the dashboard looks exactly the same as it would if we had a manual gearbox. That means you get all the information and command buttons focused towards two specific areas – the steering wheel and information cluster assembly and the infotainment display. In an effort to simplify everything to bare essentials, the latter also houses the specific command zones – from telephony to climate control and navigation. While again it won’t be to anyone’s taste, these are innovations that might one day become common – though Citroen needs to work a little and improve the feedback times of the various functions, especially since we’re living in an era when blazing fast smartphones are the norm, not the exception.
The position behind the wheel can be easily found by all types of drivers, even though the steering can only be moved on one axis, mainly because of the ample chair guidance tolerance. Going in the back, the C4 Cactus offers space akin to any other compact car, thanks to the ample knee and head lengths. That means three adults can reside in the back seat – which is also rather level, with no lateral support, thus favoring the times when you have a full complement of passengers. The only time you’ll clearly see the dimensions are actually at the far end of the subcompact class is when trying to house the luggage of those passengers, with just 348 liters on offer.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
We already felt the potential of the C4 Cactus when equipped with the base gasoline engine that delivered just 82 hp and had given us enough satisfaction because of the very low curb weight. Naturally, having a 1.6 liter diesel engine instead of a 1.2 liter gasoline will add some heft to the front axle – but the difference is smaller than we envisioned, at just 95 kilograms. Citroen, an expert in diesel engines – just like its Renault rival – has taken a lot of time refining the 1.6 HDi lineup, which is today among the best in terms of technology, sound and fuel consumption. The C4 Cactus can be had with two versions of the diesel powerplant – 100 horsepower when mated to the five speed manual or 92 horsepower with the ETG6 automatic gearbox.
The two have slightly different performance characteristics – the manual version will be aster off the line and top out higher. The automatic will come up with the same fuel consumption and gain points in terms of convenience. Actually, saying the ETG6 is an automatic gearbox is slightly wrong – because we’re talking here about an electronically actuated manual gearbox. That saves money and some kilograms for Citroen and comes with another awkward trait – the gear changes will call for some getting used to from the motorist. They’re also painfully slow and entirely up to the car’s computer unless you fiddle all the time with the two paddles positioned behind the steering wheel for some manual override. In our opinion, while the ETG6 will be excellent if you only use the C4 Cactus in the city – especially in those with heavy traffic – we would opt for the slightly more powerful engine with the manual gearbox. That’s because the C4 Cactus has been engineered carefully to deliver above average fuel economy – even the 1.2 VTi gasoline delivered better than expected numbers.
Naturally, the diesel offerings are the champions, with official numbers that don’t get past four liters per 100 km. In real life that’s not the case but crunching an average below 5 liters/100 km is a breeze even if you drive on a mixed route that combines heavy town traffic with high speeds on the motorway. Speaking of such a situation, the C4 Cactus is equally great in all scenarios, in the city being frugal thanks to the Start/Stop system and on the highway because of its overall efficiency. Our only beef with the C4 Cactus is that its all rounder capabilities won’t include rapid courses on sweeping mountain scenery – the entire car is geared massively towards comfort. That means an ample feedback from the body roll when attacking too valiantly a turn and very limited feedback from the steering assembly. Fortunately, safety is as always a priority and the driver will understand that moderation is always in order long before the ESP will be needed.
Pro: distinct design, interior space, technologically advanced but reduced to almost absolute simplicity in terms of usage, excellent diesel engine that has ample torque and will avoid with obstinacy the trips to the refueling station – also helped by the Start/Stop system.
Against: long and very slow electronically piloted manual gearbox that has been delivered instead of a proper automatic. Certain details do give away the fact that Citroen tried to cut down on expenses.
Starting price – Citroen C4 Cactus 1.6 e-HDI Feel – 17,360 EUR
Tested Car – Citroen C4 Cactus 1.6 e-HDI Feel w. optionals – 20, 323 EUR
Engine: 1.6L four cylinder, direct injection, turbo, diesel (1560 cc)
Power: 92 HP (68 kW) at 3,750 rpm
Torque: 230 Nm at 1,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, electronically actuated manual
Dimensions: length – 4,157 mm, width – 1,729 mm, height – 1,480 mm, wheelbase – 2,595 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 50L
Trunk Capacity: 348 – 358 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 11,4s
Top Speed: 176 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 3,8L/100 km, highway – 3,4L/100 km, average – 3,5L/100 km
Rating: 4.1 / 5