RUFFLING the feathers of the hatchback cartel is no easy job but that is the challenge facing the new C4 Cactus.
The targets are Focus, Golf and Astra. They have been bossing the market for years but is Cactus prickly enough to do the job?
Cactus arrived in 2015, a compact SUV designed to grab the headlines with eye catching design. And it did just that.
Adventurous, funky, it had the flair that only the French can create. And then there was the cladding along the sides. These were air bubbles, intended to protect the bodywork from those annoying car park scrapes and gave the car a unique if not controversial look.
I made Cactus my car of the year and a month later it was runner up for the European Car of the Year title, beaten by the Volkswagen Passat. What a travesty.
There have been big changes at Citroen, chiefly the creation of a separate luxury DS brand, and the C4 hatchback is no more, its role passed to C4 Cactus whose job is to make serious inroads into the family hatchback market.
To do that the facelifted Cactus has been watered down making it less niche, more mainstream. The side cladding has gone, replaced by a less obtrusive but still stylish protective strip along the base of the doors. Also gone are the distinctive roofrails although they are on the options list.
There is a debut for the new suspension set up (more on that later) and a new look front with the double chevron badge incorporated in a full width chrome strip. Looks good too.
Thankfully all the trendy design features which lit up the cabin setting it apart from any other car in its class are still there. There are so many stand out elements, the minimalist design virtually free of switches, a rectangular speedometer ‘box’ ahead of the driver, leather strap effect on the top opening glove box and carried through to the door pulls.
By the way, glove box is a misnomer. It has a capacity of 8.5 litres which is a good few dozen pairs of gloves. It means there is no room for a side passenger air vent but we can cope with that.
The majority of functions are all controlled via the central 7 inch touchscreen which I am not totally comfortable with. It looks neat but having to jump from navigation or radio just to change the temperature or fan speed is too much of a faff. Stand alone heating controls are still the best solution.
Another small irritation is the soft tick for the indicator. With the radio on you can barely hear it and I could not find a way of increasing the volume which you can on some cars. And while on irritations I was hoping the pop out rear windows might have been changed for conventional up and downers.
But let’s get back to the good stuff. The new seats, first seen on C3 Aircross, are very comfortable with excellent support and a country mile ahead of the competition.
Sticking with the comfort theme what has been going on with the suspension? Citroen has always been ahead of the game here, the hydraulic system on the fifties DS stunned the car world, while the anti roll feature on the 1996 Xantia Activa was also ground breaking.
The latest development if far less complicated than the fifties hydropneumatic system and just uses an extra set of hydraulic dampers on each corner, but the affect is staggering. There is no other car non luxury car as comfortable as Cactus and the handling isn’t too bad either.
Citroen’s description of a ‘magic carpet’ ride is pushing it a bit but the rough edges of our appalling road surfaces are just smoothed over. Okay so the handling isn’t quite as sharp as the big three mentioned at the top this article but what do you want when negotiating a B road riddled with potholes?
And there is more good news. The slack and sloppy gearbox of the first Cactus is now tight and slick.
The lightweight Cactus, it weighs 200kg less than the C4 hatchback, doesn’t need big engines so the choice is 1.2 three-cylinder petrol with three outputs, or a 1.6 litre 100bhp diesel. My test car had the top 130bhp version which is a belter and averaged around 45mpg over 450 miles.
So will C4 Cactus make the necessary impact in the family hatchback market? It could be a bit bigger but the main ingredients are there: great styling, great comfort, great price, but something tells me it is going to take a while for a French car company to totally win the hearts of the Brits.
C4 Cactus Flair 6sp manual
1.2 litre petrol; 130bhp
0-62mph 8.2secs; 120mph
Economy: 58.9mpg combined
Emissions: 110g/km Road tax £140
Insurance group 16
Price: £20,670. Range starts £17,265