The previous version of Citroen’s successful C4 Cactus was a good car for the French manufacturer. Helping to reposition the brand as quirky, left-field and alternative, it was a well-designed machine, with the distinctive ‘air bumps’ along the side that it seemed to wear like a badge of honour. It didn’t care it was different, but it could also back its interesting looks up with efficiency and a lightness on the road that won it many fans. In a market where Citroen will have to battle hard to convince the hardened Astra and Focus fans to move over to the Gaelic side, Citroen are convinced that this new car will do the job.
The first thing everyone will comment on is that Citroen have done away with the bumps. It is in many ways a more conventional looking car, but it takes many of the design cues from the previous version and makes them look a bit more grown up and sensible. It’s worked, as it doesn’t look too different from the outgoing model but manages to make itself more prominent and established as a hatchback rather than a faux SUV. The clever light design is still there, and it retains a look that stands out amongst the crowd. Using a platform based on the Peugeot 208/DS3, Citroen have managed to make a relatively old platform look rejuvenated, revitalised and modern.
In years gone by, it can be said that the French manufacturer moved away from the USP that they built more refined, more comfortable and better handing cars than anyone else. However, it’s clear that’s changing, and refocussing on Citroen’s core brand value of comfort and ride quality has been a good move. In an area that required innovation, what better company than Citroen to produce a new form of technology. That new technology goes by the name of a ‘Progressive Hydraulic Cushion,’ adding a pair of dampers to each suspension corner. It replaces bump stops used in most cars, and Citroen have also used softer springs to further enhance that somewhat elusive ‘magic carpet ride.’
In terms of ride in general, the cushions appear to do exactly what they say on the tin, and on undulating roads (much like those you find in the countryside of France), the floating is impressive and the suspension compressions benign. On the more pot-holed roads of the UK, there is some noise resonation around the cabin, but that tends to die down at higher speeds and the ambience around the cockpit overall is one of calm and comfort. The layout inside is identical to the old model, and it should appease the group of Citroen fans that like their switches a bit different to the rest. The seats are worthy of note, as new cushioning, lumbar support and ‘advanced comfort’ feature seem to do the trick. They’re wide and supportive and remind me a bit of the excellent seats of years gone by found in the Citroen XM.
Engine wise, there’s one diesel to choose from twinned with a five-speed manual, and a 1.2 petrol with a range of power outputs at 82, 110 and 130 to suit mots driving conditions. Top of the range Flair editions come with a generous specification, and my top of the range test car, with 128bhp from a three-cylinder, impresses in the ‘poke’ department. It feels fast and nimble, even though the car’s size has increased from the outgoing model. Although there’s that distinctive 3-pot hum, engine noise never gets distracting or obtrusive. The six-speed gearbox is a noteworthy improvement on the previous version, with a shorter throw.
It all helps to make the new C4 Cactus feel more refined and better put together. It also feels like more thought has gone into it – as if Citroen has looked themselves in the face and asked themselves, ‘what is it that people want when they buy one of our cars?’ In terms of interior cabin layout and external looks, the car’s visual identity should still appeal to old Cactus fans, but the brand is hoping that it’ll attract a whole load of new ones too. It is a bit more mainstream and a lot less quirky, but I still liked it, and I think Citroen should be handed a shed load of credit for insisting that their core brand values of old are still relevant. Less reinvention, more recollection. Nothing wrong with that.