2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel manual review

Citroen C4 Cactus?

You’re bound to have seen Citroen’s crossover – the C4 Cactus – out and about on the road at some point. Its opinion-dividing bold, (kinda) futuristic styling and lairy colour choices cannot be missed, and… what the heck are those bubbly plastic sides for? Yes, those are noticeable too, and rather useful as it turns out.

With the car on test for a week, I’m here to tell you what’s good about bad about the 2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel manual…

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

rear 3/4 view Citroen C4 cactus in black

Okay, whichever way I go on this, one person will agree and the next won’t, for that’s exactly how I found the reaction to the Citroen Cactus’ looks. Personally, I’m still unsure whether I like it or not, as rather weirdly sometimes it really gets on my nerves and I’ll think it looks ridiculous, and other times I nod my approval and think “well, at least Citroen are trying to be interesting and different to all the other homogeneous boxes driving about.”

Is it funky or just freakin’ ugly – that’s for you to decide, but I’ll go over the design anyway. First thing everyone notices are the strange plastic sides of the Cactus, and they’d always ask what they’re for. Well I’ll tells ya kid: these are called ‘The Airbump’, and are made up of air capsules underneath a soft thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) skin, and they’re there to stop your car doors from being dented by uncaring and dishonest car park scoundrels opening their car doors onto yours, or lazily letting their trolleys glide away.

2015 Citroen C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel airbump

 

Let’s be honest here, those people are scum, and these things are going to continue to happen until the end of time, or until you install anti-denting flame-throwers to your car, so in actual fact the Airbump is a rather cool idea, and it actually works – I tried it.

Up front, there are narrow LED running lights mounted high up at the bonnet line, and below in contrast sit huge light clusters set back from protective plastic bumper trim.

Viewed from a front three-quarter angle, it’s hard to get a grasp on what the Cactus is as there’s a mix of compact SUV, estate and hatchback all rolled into one. I anded on it being a kind of urban warrior that’d happily tackle a muddy country road, mainly because of all the thick plastic trim going all the way around the car.

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I like the aerodynamic roof rails, which feature on the mid-spec ‘Feel’ and upwards, as they give the Cactus a purposeful appearance. Depending on the trim level you choose, there’s a choice of up to 10 colours, and a couple of different Airbump hues. Some of the colours choices are quite lairy, but that’s part of the individualism of the Cactus – a kind of ‘dare to be different’ attitude.

You can actually make the car fairly low-key if you don’t want so much attention too, and the black-on-black Cactus I was sent actually looked quite menacing – the sort car the baddies would have in a Hollywood car chase. If you’re going down that route anyway, spec the no-cost 17-inch black ‘Cross’ alloys to finish off the stealth look.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Driver's seat dashboard and steering wheel on the 2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel

 

Open the door to the Cactus and peer inside, and you’ll see an interior as funky as the exterior. It appears Citroën have designed it to take in elements of the home environment, alongside a travel theme.

From the moment I sat inside the Cactus, I noticed it is spacious, airy and clean in design – a warm, welcoming and friendly cabin, in fact. The dash is flat right the way across, giving a feeling of openness and allowing lots of light in through the large front windscreen.

The travel theme includes an unusual glovebox, which looks like a suitcase and opens upwards from the dash, just like you’d open your case normally. I like the idea, because it allows for plenty of space and easy access, plus you can see everything inside without craning your neck into weird angles. There is a problem with this design though – I noticed on a warm day (around 28˚C) that on taking a set of keys out, they were actually so hot I could barely hold them. I’d normally leave bottles of water and snacks in the glovebox, but you can’t in this car, unless you want it cooking in summer.

Glove box on the 2015 Citroen C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel

 

The inner door pulls are designed like suitcase straps too, and I rather like them, as they give the Citroen a slight retro edge. Instead of the usual instrument cluster housing, the Cactus features a digital LCD driver’s information display, which itself looks like an Eighties throwback. It’s a simple design, with no rpm gauge – just the speed, warning lights and gear change indicator – and I quite liked it for that.

On a side note, the steering wheel is comfortable to hold too, and the controls on it are large and ergonomically laid out.

information console screen 2015 Citroen C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel

You’ll notice there are very few controls on the centre console, only the basics for windscreen heating, door locking, volume knob, traction control and hazard warning. Everything else can be controlled via the 7″ Touch Drive interface, which is a standard feature on the Cactus.

Using this is a lot like using a tablet. The full-colour graphics are slick, the simplistic menus are nicely laid out for ease of use, and when flicking through things like music albums the system copes well, and doesn’t go stuttery or slow. As well as controlling things like the air conditioning, multimedia system, driver aids, satellite navigation (included on the highest grade ‘Flair’ version) etc, the touch screen also allows you to use Citroën Multicity Connect, a 3G and GPS enabled app-hub.

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Although the Cactus is a relatively inexpensive car, that doesn’t mean it’s basic. There’s some clever tech and nice gear to be had (either by option or model choice), such as the self-park system with reverse camera, cruise control with speed limiter, cornering fog lamps, a hi-fi upgrade with 16GB jukebox and amplifier, a thermally-insulated panoramic sunroof, roof and Citroën eTouch Emergency and Assistance system and a front passenger ‘Airbag in Roof’ system, which allows for more storage space.

There are only front electric windows as the rear are the hinged type, which I think are a terrible idea, and while the interior is in no way claustrophobic those type of windows do take away from the general airy, open feel of the cabin.

 

Rear hinged windows on the 2015 Citroen C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel

The Cactus’ front seats are designed to be the sofa-type – wide, flat and roomy. They’re fairly comfortable, but myself and others noticed that there’s a horizontal bar-like piece at the back end of the seat cushions (where the upper and lower half of the seat hinge) which pokes into you when you shuffle your bum into the back of it to sit upright. I don’t know what it was, but I do know that it was annoying unless you sat slightly slouched.

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Something else myself and front passengers noticed was that we kept connecting elbows. This is likely because of the sofa-like design, and the fact the side bolsters perhaps aren’t as deep as most seats. It’s not really an issue, but worth a mention.

Rear seating isn’t bad at all as there’s decent legroom, the backrest angle is good, and an almost flat bench-like seat means there are three proper places, not just two and an uncomfortable humpy bit, which a lot of manufacturers are happy to call a ‘seat’.

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I liked the Cactus’ handily large, wide boot area, which is measured at 358 litres below the parcel shelf, and 1,170 litres with the rear seats folded down. The only real issue I have is that when folded the rear seats sit quite high, and it seems like wasted space. A hinged bottom cushion section – like the Dacia Duster has – to allow more room would have been a better design.

Overall, the Citroen Cactus’ cabin has been well thought-out, and modern, has a clean, funky design with nice materials used, and the build quality is actually good – a massive improvement on Citroens of even a few years ago. There are a couple of points that need improvement, like the glovebox which gets super-heated when the sun is on it, and the strange bar that digs into one’s derrière on the front seats, but aside from that it’s a nice interior – especially considering its starting price of just under £13,000.

Engine & gearbox

The front-wheel-drive Cactus is offered with a choice of either a 1.2 litre, 3-cylinder PureTech naturally-aspirated petrol in three different horsepower outputs: 75, 82 or 110 bhp. The 82 is also available with an ETG automatic. The other engine is the one in the Cactus I was sent – a BlueHDi 100 with a 5-speed manual gearbox.

The BlueHDi 100 is a 1.6 litre, 4-cylinder in-line unit, which is turbocharged and intercooled. This is one of Citroen’s new Euro 6 engines, with super-low emissions and astounding fuel economy. The car itself has a really low kerb weight of just 1,070 kilos/2,359 lbs (1,225 kgs/2,700 lbs ‘in service’) – to put that into perspective, that’s just a few kilos off the Fiat Panda’s weight.

diesel engine 2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi

Fuel economy and emissions vary slightly depending on which wheels you go for, but with a set of 17″ alloys the official UK mpg figures are quoted as: urban: 74.3, extra urban: 88.3, combined: 83.1. You can spec a set of eco-type 15″ wheels, and you’ll get an extra 6 – 9 mpg more. At 89 g/km, CO2 emissions are so low that you’ll currently (July ’15) have to pay no tax. Fit the 15″ wheels and you’re looking at only 82 g/km, and that, my friends, is quite amazing.

The BlueHDi produces 98 bhp at 3,750 rpm, and 187 lb ft (254Nm) of torque at 1,750 rpm. 0 – 62 mph is done in 10.7 seconds, and it maxes out at 117 mph. Okay, not the fastest car but it suits the Cactus fine.

The fuel economy stats aren’t always reflected in real-life driving situations, but after taking the Cactus for a 120-mile drive in the Yorkshire countryside, taking in road routes mainly consisting of 60 mph limits, lots of tightly twisting sections meaning constant gear changes, heavy braking, and then hard acceleration up long, steep hills, plus the overtaking many, many dawdling, daydreaming oldies doing 25 mph under the speed limit, the Cactus still managed almost 63 mpg. Impressive stuff, and even urban driving with a 33 mph average speed saw over 54 miles per gallon.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

It’s not long after I’ve set off that I realise the Cactus is providing a better ride and drive than expected. The BlueHDi turbo-diesel is well muffled under the bonnet, keeping noise impingement into the cabin to a respectably low level.

Winding through city streets, the clutch is light and shifting through the 5-speed manual ‘box is a slick affair as each gear clicks into place with satisfactory ease. The ratios are longer than I’m used to with the 6-speed transmissions of most cars, and so it takes a little longer to settle into a rhythm of staying in gear longer before changing. Most modern cars will allow 4th or 5th at thirty miles per hour, but the Cactus struggles and grumbles should you try anything above third gear at that speed.

Driving the 2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel manual

While the max. 187 lb ft of torque is produced at just 1,750 rpm, I noticed the BlueHDi really doesn’t like those lower revs, and it’s much happier tootling along in the mid-range, which has surprisingly good punch for overtaking and getting up to higher speeds.

Although there’s ‘only’ a five-speed manual, I never felt it lacked for a sixth in any way, and I never once grabbed for one either, as I’ve had the habit of doing in older cars. Once in top gear, the Cactus BlueHDi cruises in a relaxed manner at seventy and eighty miles per hour, and any wind or road noise is kept decently muted, meaning the Cactus is actually a rather good car for covering long distances.

Although the supple suspension keeps things comfortable over bad road surfaces at both higher and lower speeds, I noticed that when taking on the type of bends where the corner suddenly tightens unexpectedly, and you have to brake hard, the rear of the Cactus squirms around just a wee bit too much for my liking. Of course, the Cactus isn’t a sports car, and I didn’t treat it as such, but the above is noticeable even on a normal drive. Some of the comfort could easily be sacrificing without effecting it too much, in order to tune the suspension and make it slightly tighter and less wallowy.

String wheel on the 2015 Citroën C4 Cactus

Another point I noticed is that the steering lacked weight at higher speeds, making it seem somewhat vague, and it would absolutely benefit if the feedback were better.

I know I’ve already mentioned this, but fuel economy from the 1.6 litre BlueHDi 100 is really remarkable. On that run through the Yorkshire Moors, I genuinely didn’t drive in an economical manner whatsoever, and yet the lightweight Cactus still returned a ridiculously good 65 (UK) miles per gallon. Should I have pottered along on a straight-road at around sixth mph, I believe the car would’ve given 70 – 75 mpg without a problem.

Price

(figures correct July ’15) The Citroen C4 Cactus starts at £12,990 and tops out at just over £18,000 for the top model. The range goes up in about £500 – £1,000 increments between each spec, allowing a wide choice for varying budgets.

Similarly-priced rivals include the Dacia Duster 4WD, Fiat 500X, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, Ssangyong Tivoli, Suzuki S-Cross/Vitara, Renault Captur and Kia Soul.

2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel manual verdict & score

2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel manual review

Without the Citroen Cactus, the roads would be a duller place. Yes, its styling divides opinions but there’s no denying it’s very different from pretty much everything out there. This is a good thing, and so are those dent-combating Airbump sides.

The same with the interior too. That travel/homely design works well, allowing for comfortable seating and a comforting airy cabin. Yes, there’s some daft ‘looks good but not thought out well’ stuff, like the glove box that’d cook a pie in 10 minutes on a hot summer’s day, plus a slightly random Eighties-esque LCD display for the speedometer.

You do, however get that neat touchscreen as standard, which also does the job of keeping the cabin design clean and uncluttered, and an absolute ton of big storage compartments around the cabin to stuff all your gear.

rear badge 2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel

Positive points include the excellent fuel economy from the 1.6 BlueHDi 100, supple suspension to soak up bad roads, it’s adept at distance-driving – great for those family hols – and quiet at higher speeds. The Cactus range is competitively priced against rivals too, and you certainly get good value for your money overall.

However, I believe the Cactus would absolutely benefit from the rear suspension being slightly firmer so it doesn’t wallow or squirm as much when braking into tight turns (which it does even at lower speeds), and the steering needs to be weightier too, as currently it’s too light and lacks feel.

Do you own an Citroen C4 Cactus, or have questions about it? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8.5
Interior  7.5
Engine  8.5
Gearbox  8
Price  9
Drive & Handling  7
Ride  7.5
Overall Score  8.0 / 10 

Specs

Model (as tested)  2015 2015 Citroën C4 Cactus 1.5 BlueHDi 100 Feel manual
Spec includes  7″ Touch Drive Interface with DAB radio, MP3, USB socket & Bluetooth for music and calls, electric power steering, cruise control & speed limiter, front electric windows, hinged rear windows, air conditioning, LED running lights, 16″ alloy wheels, roof bars. Safety: ABS, EBD and EBA, ESC, Hill Start Assist, Driver & front passenger front lateral & curtain airbags. See website for more details
Options you should spec  City Camera Pack: £395, Thermally Insulated Panoramic Roof: £425
The Competition  Dacia Duster 4WD, Fiat 500X, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008, Ssangyong Tivoli, Suzuki S-Cross/Vitara, Renault Captur, Kia Soul
Price  (July 2015) £12,990 – £18,090
Engine  Diesel, 1.6 litre, 4-cylinder (in-line), turbo-intercooled
Power, Torque  Power: 100 bhp @ 3,750 rpm | Torque: 187 lb ft (254Nm) @ 1,750 rpm
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Front wheel drive | 5-speed manual
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 114 mph | 0 – 60 mph: 10.6 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: 4/5 stars
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Urban: 70.6, Extra urban: 91.1, Combined: 83.1 | CO2: 90 g/km
Boot size, Weight  Boot (litres): rear seats up (below shelf): 358, seats folded: 1,170 | Weight (kerb): 1,070 kilos (2,359 lbs)
Websites  Citroen UK, Citroen worldwide

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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