The Citroen C4 Cactus is one of those rare cars that truly looks ahead of its time, and has more design quirks than almost any other new car on sale. After all, how many other cars can effectively wear bubble wrap to protect against supermarket parking dings and pass it off as a styling feature?
UK buyers, however, are often steadfast and buy what they know – the unremarkable-but-dependable cars that we see on our streets day-in, day-out. Shouldn’t we be embracing cars as novel as the C4 Cactus? Or is it secretly all show and no go? The carwow team borrowed one for a week and set off on a 700-mile trek to Germany to find out.
Here’s what life with the C4 Cactus is really like…
When we trundled through British and German villages, more often than not pedestrians would do a double-take. The car we tested wasn’t even in the lairiest colour combination (you can choose some truly eye-watering colour clashes), but it grabbed attention like no other £19,000 car we’ve driven.
On the ferry back to the UK a retired gentleman unashamedly walked around the car several times before telling us ‘it looks extraordinary – what a delightful thing’. He isn’t wrong – get a Cactus and you won’t go unnoticed.
Those bumpy panels on the side (officially called ‘airbumps’) serve a purpose – they’re made of a semi-rigid rubberised plastic to save your doors from dents caused by careless shopping trolley pilots, or those who swing their car doors open with gay abandon in small car parks. It’s a car that admits it’s going to be used in real life, and comes prepared.
The C4 Cactus is a rare thing not just in terms of its looks, but also its engineering. It’s astonishingly light for a modern car at just 1,225kg, meaning the 1.6-litre diesel may only have 99hp, but its decent amount of torque (more than an equivalent Volkswagen engine) means it never feels sluggish.
This light weight means we easily managed more than 60mpg over a 700-mile trip at motorway speeds – with four adults and their luggage. That’s the sort of fuel economy that’ll make long journeys far cheaper than in more old-fashioned, less efficient cars.
It’s comfy in the front, less so in the back
The Cactus’s front seats are a weird mix of basic and comfy. They’re old-fashioned comfortable things that hark back to times when we were less bothered about being held in place through corners and more worried about comfort. They excel in the squidgy, buttock-supporting stakes but after a few hours on the motorway you do start to wriggle about to find a new bit of foam to sit on.
The back seats, however, are just basic. It’s a bench seat that folds down as one piece (rather than splitting), and they feel cramped if you’re close to 6ft tall. Don’t be fooled by the Cactus’s SUV looks – it’s not huge for rear seat passengers.
You’ll become a Cactus person
Despite these misgivings, the Cactus has serious amounts of charm. Have you ever owned a car that makes you wave at owners of identical cars? You know – the moments that make your kids cringe their way ever deeper into the seats as dad waves at total strangers? Well, the C4 Cactus is one of those cars.
They’re so unusual you can’t help but feel a bit smug about driving one, and you’ll find yourself waving and flashing your lights at people who were as cool as you are when it came to buying a new car.
Get a Cactus of your own
After a week with the Cactus we were sad to see it go – it’s been ages since a mainstream manufacturer made such a boldly different car. British Cactus buyers can even be a bit patriotic too, because it was designed by Citroen’s British Head of Design Strategy, Mark Lloyd.
Use carwow’s C4 Cactus configurator if you’d like to see how much you could save on a Cactus with the UK’s best Citroen dealers – and let us know if you’re brave enough to buy a purple one – it’s a dead ringer for a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk!