Citroen C4 Cactus vs Fiat 500X: SUV showdown

October 15, 2015 by

Two of the most style-led options in the compact crossover segment are the Citroen C4 Cactus and the Fiat 500X. While both are distinctive in their own right, both have the substance to back up those looks. But which is the best? We pit the two against each other to find out.

Put either the Citroen C4 Cactus or the Fiat 500X in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. Check out our list of the best small SUVs for more options.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Fiat 500X styling

The Cactus has a futuristic style that makes it look quite unlike anything else on the road. The ‘floating’ roof design, slim, split headlights and LED daytime running lights lend a contemporary style. Most distinctive of all, however, are the rubbery ‘airbumps’ mounted to the doors and bumpers. Not only do they look quirky, but they protect the paintwork from errant swinging doors and shopping trolleys.

While the Citroen looks to the future for styling cues, the 500X takes inspiration from Fiat’s hits of the past. The cutesy retro look, inspired by the original 1950s ‘Cinquecento’ has been transferred from city car to mini-SUV. We think the modern interpretation of the 500’s styling has translated pretty well onto a mini SUV – it’s undeniably interesting and unique.

Two distinct styles are offered to 500X buyers – the ‘City Look’ is a cleaner design, reminiscent of an inflated 500, while the ‘Off-Road Look’ adds chunkier bumpers front and rear, complete with plastic skid plates and roof rails finished in black.

The 500X is the larger of the two cars – it’s 91mm longer, 67mm wider and 60mm taller than the Citroen, so the Cactus might be the more sensible choice if you frequently park in tight spaces. For those debating if an SUV will work in the city, the Cactus is a surprisingly small car so might be the better choice.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Fiat 500X interior

Those more compact dimensions show up inside, where the Cactus feels more cramped – particularly in the back seats. The 500X’s extra width means that it’s easier to squeeze a fifth person into the rear bench. In terms of boot space, there isn’t much to choose between them – the Cactus edges the 500X by just eight litres.

Like the outside, each car’s interior is styled radically different from the other. The Citroen is clean and minimalist, with the majority of functions controlled via the dash-mounted touchscreen infotainment system. Practicality is boosted by a variety of clever touches – the passenger airbag, for example, is mounted in the roof, freeing up space for a second storage bin on the dashboard. To save complication (and therefore cost and weight, too) the door pulls are simple fabric strips, and the rear windows hinge outwards rather than winding down.

The Fiat’s cabin is very pleasing on the eye. Three hooded instrument binnacles give a nod to classic models, along with the swathe of gloss trim that runs across the width of the dashboard – this can be finished in a variety of colours to compliment the exterior paint. Some testers note that certain plastics feel a little cheap but, overall, it’s a very pleasant place to sit.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Fiat 500X driving

With entry-level variants of the C4 Cactus tipping the scales at barely one tonne, Citroen engineers have been able to give the suspension a soft feel without adversely affecting the way it drives. It’ll never match a Ford Fiesta around corners, but that isn’t the point – it’s designed to provide a comfortable ride and, in that regard, it’s one of the best in the class.

The Fiat is set up to offer a slightly more engaging drive. Thanks to a more advanced suspension setup than the Citroen (and indeed many other rivals) it’s among the most fun to drive in the class – grip is strong and body roll is minimal. Although the ride can’t quite match the Citroen’s, it’s still better than most in the segment. Only slightly vague steering and an excess of wind noise lets the Cactus down somewhat.

If there’s a possibility you may need to embark in some light off-roading once in a while, the Fiat is the car to have – it offers the option of four-wheel drive, whereas the Citroen is front-wheel drive only.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Fiat 500X engines

Another benefit of the Citroen’s light weight is both impressive performance and fuel economy. Despite the most potent 108hp 1.2-litre petrol giving away 30hp to the most powerful 500X, it covers the 0-62mph benchmark half-a-second quicker. Despite the performance, the little turbocharged unit will still return over 60mpg in official tests.

If fuel economy is a priority, look no further than the Cactus’s 1.6-litre diesel. While the 99hp unit is smooth and fairly punchy, its best feature is its claimed 83.1mpg figure, making it one of the most frugal cars on sale today – very impressive considering this is a family-sized vehicle.

The Fiat’s extra weight has an adverse affect on economy too, though the 1.6-litre diesel’s claimed 68.9mpg is still impressive. It does, however, lose in refinement compared to the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol (as does the larger 2.0-litre diesel) with testers suggesting that neither feels as sprightly as the official figures suggest.

The Cactus is available with an optional automated-manual gearbox, but most testers say this is poor and it’s best to stick with the full manual. Top versions of the Fiat can be specified with a nine-speed automatic which is smooth, and makes driving in traffic much less of a chore.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Fiat 500X value for money

While both offer plenty of car for the price, the Citroen is the cheaper of the two to buy. Equipment levels are fairly generous too, with even base models featuring the LED daytime running lights, the seven-inch touchscreen and DAB radio as standard. However, many buyers are likely to stump up the additional £1,000 or so to get their hands on a mid-range ‘Feel’ model, which adds air conditioning.

Unlike the Cactus, base level 500X models feature air con as standard, plus electric windows all round and USB and AUX sockets for portable devices. Moving further up the range, an extra £1,750 will add alloy wheels, parking sensors and a chilled glove box, among other things.

Both should be fairly cheap to run on a daily basis, with the Citroen offering excellent fuel economy and the Fiat maintaining impressive residual values.

Citroen C4 Cactus vs Fiat 500X verdict

The Citroen C4 Cactus and Fiat 500X are both very talented machines, though each car’s strengths lie in different places. The modern, minimalist Citroen majors on comfort and low running costs, while the Fiat offers retro styling and more fun from behind the wheel. When it comes to the practicalities of daily use, both are pretty evenly matched.

Based on our aggregated wowscores, the Citroen wins this contest by just one tenth of a point, and both are among the highest-rated compact crossovers on the market. So, whichever you pick, you’re unlikely to regret your decision.

Save money on your Citroen C4 Cactus or Fiat 500X

Put either the Citroen C4 Cactus or the Fiat 500X in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, head over to our deals page or if you’re still struggling to pick your next car, check out our car chooser.