Almost a week with a Citroen C4 Cactus

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CitCactus01Day one: The Cactus arrives at the office. ‘Is that the one with the bubble things on the outside?’ asks one of my colleagues. It is. The sides and parts of the bumpers are covered in rubbery plastic with air pockets inside. Citroen calls this ‘Airbump’. ‘So how quickly can you drive it into things?’ she adds. Erm, I think it’s meant to repel shopping trolleys and carelessly opened doors. A bigger problem for me would be resisting the urge to pop bits of your own doors like massive bubble wrap. Before I get in the car this evening I try it, but the rubbery plastic stuff seems quite thick. Wise move Citroen, wise move.

First impressions of the car itself, aside from its unpoppability: Nice quiet thrum from the three cylinder engine. Strangely long throw gear shift. Ride seems okay. I’d been led to believe it was sensational but it’s not. It’s okay.

Day two: I’m going to upgrade the ride to ‘quite good’. I can’t work out the suspension. If you brake with even moderate force, the car seems to pitch a bit like the springs are very soft or the shocks are knackered or it’s an American car from 1974. Yet it also seems like the suspension is fairly stiff and the car is skipping over bumps because there’s no weight to it. Obviously there’s some weight to it, but not loads. This spec is claimed to weigh 1020 kilos. For comparison, a bog-basic 1.2-litre Golf is 1205kg. The lightest Citroen C4 is 1280kg. The Cactus is a bit smaller than both, as it would be since it’s built on a stretched DS3 chassis, but not that much smaller. You can feel the lightnessititude in the way it zips about. On the downside, when you hit a bump in the middle of a corner you can feel it shifting off its line. In general though, lightness good.

CitCactus02Day three: Use the Cactus to pick up my mate Chris from the station. Chris likes cars. He seems to like the Cactus. At first you might assume it’s all a bit designer-wank for the sake of it. But there’s some real cleverness to it, and some genuinely unusual engineering. The quest for lightness is part of it, but also the way they wanted to give it a massive and useful glovebox so they moved the passenger airbag to the ceiling. We’ll have to take Citroen’s word that this works. I’m not about to deliberately drive it into a wall. I might pop my Airbumps. Chris reckons the Cactus feels a bit like a Renault 4. I was going to ask him more about what he thought of it, but we got distracted talking about Renault 4s.

Day four: I think Chris is right about the Renault 4 thing. For starters, this is not a sporty car. Which is good. Too many cars try to be sporty and frankly it’s all a load of bollocks. The Cactus doesn’t even have a rev counter. That’s how unsporty it is. And you drive along with the whirring little engine and the long throw gear change and the generally quite decent ride and after a while, if you’re in the right mood, it’s quite relaxing. Although, from memory, the Renault 4 had panel gaps so huge you could get into the car without opening any of the doors whereas the Cactus feels quite well made. There’s one exception to this. Under acceleration sometimes you hear what sounds like a heat shield making hollow vibration from under the car. It feels like an unfortunately side effect of lightness rather than shiteness.

Day five: I give my wife a lift in the Cactus. ‘This is the ugliest car I’ve ever seen,’ she says flatly. But… but… but.. the Airbumps and… ‘And why has this bit got blobs on it,’ she continues, jabbing at the top of the enormo-glovebox. It’s meant to look like an old travelling trunk. Look, the door pulls are like trunk handles. ‘Those are okay,’ she concludes. ‘The rest of it is just stupid.’ I thought the Cactus was quite cool. But maybe it’s only cool if you obsess about cars and find it interesting when someone does something different. Maybe normal people aren’t that fussed. They might just find the Cactus weird. Citroen itself appears prepared for this. The whole tone of their ads seems to be, We know this is strange and it isn’t for everyone. Which I suppose works for Marmite. And Dr Pepper. And the Liberal Democrats.

CitCactus03Day six: Poking around the Cactus there’s a bit of a mixed message. Some bits of it feel like they’ve been made to save weight but also money. The steering wheel doesn’t reach adjust, for example, and the electric windows don’t one-touch. Some of the dash plastics are a bit scratchy and nasty. Conversely, some of it feels very swish. Those suitcase handle door pulls for a start. And although the main dash is minimalist, it’s in the clever, upmarket manner that once made the iPod a success rather than the grim, bleak way that makes going to prison unappealing. Most functions are on the central touch screen but the few buttons left on the dash are of decent quality. Even so, sometimes it feels like a cheap car that’s been trimmed up. And sometimes it feels like a swishy car that’s been cost cut. It depends on which bit of the interior you’re touching at the time. You get the sense that they stopped short of making it all as nicely trimmed as the door handles or the dash buttons and selling it exclusively as a beautifully designed item for people who like nice stuff because they needed to make version to dirt cheap hire car spec.

Goodbye: I’m off to Scotland but the Cactus can’t come along. Bye bye unusual Citroen. It’s an inoffensively pleasant car to drive, it has a decent amount of space in it, you could imagine it serving very well as a family car. But there’s also real intelligence to some parts of its design that goes beyond superficial stuff. For that reason alone, I hope they sell a load of them and that encourages them to keep doing things like this. The C4 Cactus is different, and not just for the sake of it. That makes it interesting. And when it comes to hatchbacks, interesting is better than grey mush.

The car talked about here is a Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 110 Flair. It has a 1.2-litre three cylinder turbocharged petrol engine making 109 horsepower. Citroen says it can go from 0-62 in 9.3 seconds and on to 117mph. This spec without options costs £17,190.


  1. Fear not, Richard, I too think it looks excellent, especially in the dark grey.

  2. It does have a certain Tonka Toy charm about its appearance!

    Although I bet the designers would give their left testicles for Tonka Toy reliability and build quality!

  3. Funny this should publish today as I took delivery of one today (press car, I’m a blogger) and it’s BRIGHT YELLOW. My 12 year old son reckons it’s the best car he’s ever seen in his life

  4. Yay! A french Rover Streetwise. Awesome.

    To be fair, bravo Citroen. Whilst your other French competitors are struggling, lost even, you are returning to your roots. Lightweight, interesting and with a certain gallic flair. May the lessons of the forgettable eurobox Xsara stand you well.

    Out of all the cars I have ever driven, the most smiles have come from cheap lightweight french pieces of rubbish with no rev-counter. I can’t wait to own this in 15 years time, it’s gonna be a blast!

  5. Hopefully Citroen will offer ‘Dolly’ and ‘Charleston’ special editions further down the line.

  6. Interesting. We have a DS3 that replaced our C4 VTR+, love em both. Oh, & an Isuzu tfs 3.1 t/d doublecab. I reckon Sniff should do fb posts, not weblinks, ditto you brilliant adverts. Oh yes, could I submit a test drive or two for publication?
    Thank you,
    Steve Clarke
    07879 673038
    Plus half a dozen tb pages…

  7. What’s with the “Flair” name? Surely after “Touch” and “Feel” the top-of the-range car should be called “Behind bars in forty years, mate”.

  8. I second, or maybe third, the fact that Citroen have gone back to making things that genuinely stand out from the crowd again. It’s got a funny shape, oddball trim, copious space and the good old wonky steering wheel.
    It certainly looks better without the chocolate coloured Airbump things.

    Vive la wierd Gallic cars.

  9. We bought a tatty Citroen ZX a few years ago, for the dog. Well, for dog walking to be precise. Brilliant – never cleaned, all soft and spongy in that delicious French way and I could leave it unlocked and half in a hedge at the station when in a hurry. Perhaps the Cactus will be the same.

  10. Eyyy, who nicked me parka man and wrapped it round that car. It’s cold up 1990s North.

    I fear you have confused “interesting” with “hideously ugly.”

  11. In some ways Mrs Warts is a funny lady – Sneers at Porsches, Jags, BMWs, etc. – but likes this Cack-tus? Vous ne pouvez pas être sérieux!

  12. Un plafond Mans est un autre étage mans vous ennuyer insupportable.

    And no, I never said I “liked” it.


  13. This one is more floor that ceiling in my view, San Fairy Anne

  14. Hmm, won’t take my wife long to rip those panty pads off the side. Now I know these foreign johnny’s like to make ‘interesting’ cars, but I’d rather they concentrated on ‘reliable’ and ‘not going to devalue like the zimbabwean dollar’. Nope, I shall allow the wife to continue to remove various parts off the scene until that’s worth less than the sum total of took all and 10% of nowt (4 years into ownership).

  15. My worry is they’re legitimising or accepting people opening their car doors in car parks like utter wankers, instead of rightly demonising it as something only an utter wanker would do.

  16. Looking at those pictures all I see is the usual SUV-variant form factor: A bubbly blob sat too high for a city car, but too low to safely call the driver a wanker right away. Take away the stick-on door condoms and there’s nothing particularly innovative in that shape. A glovebox that makes you think twice does not immediately titillate my innovation detectors.

  17. Cactus? What a stupid name! In Australia we use cactus as a substitute for the f-bomb, haha! How apt; “She’s really cactus mate!” Or “That’s the most cactus looking car ever!”.

    Only the French …

  18. As a general rule, I find French cars to be rubbish. They last more-or-less until the end of the warranty period, then bits start falling off them. I am sure that all the plastic parts on this car with start to discolour, then tizz and vibrate within 18 months of new.

  19. …but they can be very loveable, my first car was a second-hand renault clio phase II and I loved here to bits. Did well too, great little driver. Not a tank but it did what it said on the tin and did it well.

  20. finally a car that stands out. i’ve waited years driving in an 20 year car because i couldn’t find anything interesting to buy and here it is. looks cool and the simple things like a foot rest in the right place tempted me to place my order. i found it very comfy to drive, easy on the eyes and a stress free experience. not sporty but then if i want to go mad i have a weekend car.

  21. Interesting. I like the look of the Cactus and you’ve confirmed my suspicions about what its strengths and weaknesses would be. Thanks to Citroen’s legendary depreciation, this might be my next car once my V50 finally belches its sooty last in a few years time. The only fly in the ointment is that steering wheel: for a long-legged, short-armed person like me, reach adjustment tends to be a necessity rather than a nice-to-have.

  22. My good God, what in hell are those ridiculous pop-tart things plastered on the outside of this car? Pop-Tarts? Feminine hygiene pads? You mIght as well spray-paint the words “I can’t drive – stay away from me” down the side of your car. And what’s with the red mirrors on a blue car? Did someone steal the proper ones? Have you no pride?

  23. I didn’t think it was possible for anything in this universe to be uglier than the Nissan Juke until I laid eyes on this horrible crime against humanity. How anyone can find this atrocity even the slightest bit attractive is beyond me.

  24. Imagine being run over by this hideous dustbin of a car. I’d die of shame.

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  32. Hope this depreciates like a lead balloon ….. Then I can buy one cheaply in 3 years yippee , best car I’ve seen in years 😉

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  36. Imagine being run over by this hideous dustbin of a car..

  37. Bloke at work has one and insists on calling it a Catcus.

    And WTF were they doing when they fitted pop out windows on the rear doors?

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