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Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 THP first drive

By raccars Published

Freshly-styled Citroen C4 Cactus offers something neat and new to family hatchback buyers.

Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 PureTech 110 Flair

· Price: £17,290 (range starts from £12,995)

· Gearbox: Five-speed manual

· 0-62mph: 12.9 seconds

· Top speed: 106mph

· Fuel economy: 61.4mpg

· CO2: 107g/km

· On sale: Now

· Insurance group: 15

Three 2015 Citroen C4 Cactus facts

1: Citroen keeps things simple with the C4 Cactus. There are three trim levels – Touch, Feel and Flair – and also just three engines: two petrols and a diesel

2: The C4 Cactus can be tailored extensively, with a large range of options. You can even pick your colour of dent-absorbing Airbumps on the sides

3: At 4.2 metres long and 1.7 metres wide, the C4 Cactus is a little smaller than cars such as the Ford Focus, sitting between this and the Fiesta supermini. Prices reflect this

What is it?

The Citroen C4 Cactus is a small family hatchback that sits between superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and larger hatchbacks like the Focus. It is aimed at the value end of the market, competing with models such as the Dacia Duster and Skoda Rapid – but its most striking aspect is its innovative design.

It uses the underpinnings of the acclaimed DS 3, so is capable to drive, although this also means it doesn’t quite offer the carrying capacity of a larger Citroen C4. The firm has made good use of the space, though.

Young families with small children shouldn’t have much complaint. It uses a mainstream line of petrol and diesel engines. The 1.6-litre turbodiesel is an obvious choice, but here we’re testing Citroen’s intriguing 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol. Its turbo-assisted pulling power gives it the feel of a larger engine, which is pleasing at this price point, and its downsized design still delivers good economy and emissions figures.

Prices for the C4 Cactus start from £12,995, which is very good value for money for a practical five-door aimed at growing families. It means the car skilfully straddles the gap between superminis and family hatchbacks, although it’s not quite as cheap as the Dacia Duster.

We tested the 1.2-litre PureTech 110 Flair, a key volume model in the range. The basic version is badged Touch, but offers just a single engine. Most sold are either Feel or Flair models, with the good-value pricing of the C4 Cactus pushing a good proportion into the well-stocked Flair. So how does it fare?

Styling and interior

Citroen used to be famous for its innovative styling and the C4 Cactus is a return to form. It looks a bit like a small crossover, with a slightly raised driving position and tough-looking body styling. Its most distinctive features are the squishy plastic ‘Airbumps’ on the sides, which are designed to shrug off car park scars, but also give a designer look. You can even choose the colour they come in.

The range of body colours itself is bold and bright, and Citroen is keen to emphasise the enormous range of affordable styling accessories also available. These include roof rails, upgraded alloy wheels and even different colour caps for the door mirrors. It may be a value-focused car but you can still configure it like a more expensive one.

Inside, the layout is modern and minimalist, but with some wonderful design details such as the strap-effect wrap on the dashboard and functional straps for the door pulls. Instruments are via a digital panel ahead of the driver, with an extra touchscreen in the middle controlling stereo, heater and, if fitted, sat nav. Buttons are few, analogue dials are zero.

It feels great to sit in because the seat is high and the view out commanding. This makes it seem confident and assured before you’ve even started up. The seats are supportive and well shaped, although the clutch bite is a bit high and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, both of which make it hard to get the perfect seating position.

The rear is a little hard to get into because the door openings aren’t the largest, but there’s decent space there and it’s good enough for young families. Parents may like the fact the rear windows don’t open, too – they simply hinge open at the rear rather than winding down. Kids may not like this, of course…

Boot capacity of 358 litres is reasonably competitive (a Volkswagen Golf offers 380 litres), although the sill is rather high, which is a bit tricky when loading heavy suitcases. Seats down, it extends to 1,170 litres. The C4 Cactus doesn’t offer split-folding rear seats, though; the backrest drops down in one piece. Also note the basic Touch version lacks a rear parcel shelf.

Performance

The sweet and ultra-refined three-cylinder 1.2-litre PureTech engine is really nice to use. It’s turbocharged, so has good pulling power at lower revs, and spins through the rev range without fuss or vibration to offer flexible family car power.

The 0-62mph dash takes 12.9 seconds according to the official figures, but it feels punchier than that on the road. Top speed is 106mph, and it will sit quite happily at motorway speeds with a decent amount of drive in reserve.

The C4 Cactus only offers a five-speed manual gearbox rather than a six-speeder, but it’s such a refined and well-isolated engine, you’re not really aware of the engine spinning a little faster at speed, while the spread of pulling power means you don’t often feel like you’re in the wrong gear.

The clutch is very light, but its biting point is very high. Combined with a light accelerator pedal and sharp initial accelerator response, this makes it a bit tricky to pull away smoothly until you’re used to it.

Handling

The C4 Cactus is set up to offer a well-cushioned ride that soaks up bumps and potholes well. Citroen hasn’t focused on sportiness here, a commendable decision as it makes the C4 Cactus a very pleasant car to drive and be driven in.

Ride quality is excellent, with a very supple feel – particularly in the city centre. Low noise levels, plus good isolation from road rumble, add to the upmarket feel. It’s a little knobblier on the larger 17-inch wheels of the Flair (compared to the Feel’s 16-inch rims), but the difference is marginal.

Although handling isn’t the focus, the C4 Cactus still drives confidently. The suspension has been set up to offer good control and a responsive front end, but also helps it to turn-in cleanly without wallow or roll. It’s not hot-hatch-like, but still gives a feeling of wellbeing.

The higher driving position adds to this confidence. It feels like it’s got tough, long-travel suspension that’s able to deal with battered roads without fuss. Accurate steering helps you place it with confidence, too.

Price and value

Pricing and value is strong. The range actually starts at less than £13,000, although this is the slow and basic Touch model that’s best avoided. Our minimum would be the 1.2-litre PureTech Feel, which makes a great all-rounder that’s missing little.

The Flair we drove costs £1,400 extra, but the extras may be tempting – particularly as even this car is still priced well to compete with more basic family hatchbacks.

Unless you need the ultimate in fuel economy, we’d be tempted to stick with the 1.2-litre PureTech petrol engine, rather than the more expensive 1.6-litre BlueHDi. The price premium for diesel is £800, which isn’t huge, but it costs a bit more to insure. And the petrol is so good, you wouldn’t feel like you’re missing out.

Fuel economy

Fuel economy of the PureTech petrol engine is diesel-like. It can officially average a remarkable 61.4mpg and emits 107g/km (105g/km with the smaller 16-inch wheels). Choose the ETG clutchless manual gearbox and this rises further, to 65.7mpg. This version also hits the 100g/km CO2 mark (although it’s rather frustrating to drive, so we’d stick with the manual).

The diesel can average 83.1mpg – or 91.1mpg in ultra-eco clutchless manual guise – making it the choice if you do higher mileages or are desperate to get a sub-100g/km car. For the premium Citroen charges, it’s a good value way to get extra miles to the gallon.

Verdict

The Citroen C4 Cactus is selling strongly, and for good reason. It’s a smart, likeable small family hatchback that looks innovative, is lovely to sit in and really good to drive. Value is excellent and economy is strong, too. For those after a fresh-faced family hatch that will take young children and their clobber without fuss, it’s an appealing alternative.

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