Citroen is a company known for the quirky, but in the early 2010s it wasn’t making anything particularly ‘out there’. And then, in 2014, the French firm revealed its take on a compact, lifestyle-oriented crossover in the striking form of the C4 Cactus. With its distinctive Airbumps, slim light clusters and pared-back interior, this had far more character and charm than all of its rivals put together.
The C4 Cactus began its life as a crossover-SUV-type of vehicle, although it has never had four-wheel drive, all models sending power to the leading axle alone. There were just two engines, a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder PureTech petrol and a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel – badged e-HDi as a 92hp variant and BlueHDi for the 100hp model. The petrol engine was available in 75-, 82- and 110hp guises, while gearbox choices were a five-speed manual or five- or six-speed robotised manual automatics called ETG5 and ETG6. These were replaced in 2016 by a proper torque-converter auto called the EAT6, which is much better than the clunky ETG units, but the EAT6 is only available with the 110hp petrol engine so far. The most distinctive feature of the C4 Cactus is its Airbumps, extrusions of plastic along the doors that help to protect the car from parking dings and dents. Citroen made such a feature of them on the early models that they gave rise to the car’s Cactus name. Sadly, a radical facelift in 2018 sucked all the character out of the C4 Cactus, as Citroen tried to turn it into more of an upmarket hatchback. The Airbumps were reduced to footnotes at the base of the doors, while super-soft went way too far, making the updated C4 Cactus feel sloppy and loose on bumpy roads. Inside, the cabin’s minimalist architecture remained, which sat at odds with the supposedly upmarket exterior of the revised Citroen. All in all, we’d avoid the facelifted models and stick to the more charismatic pre-updated C4 Cactus, available from 2014-2017.
A pre-facelift PureTech petrol manual in a nice bright colour is easily the best choice. For that, you get a super-light vehicle packed with loads of style and charm, for a very reasonable price.
Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 PureTech 110
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol
Maximum speed: 189km/h
0-100km/h: 10.4 seconds
Fuel consumption: 4.6 litres/100km
• Character of pre-facelift cars
• Lightweight construction
• Cheeky 1.2 three-cylinder petrol engine
• Soulless facelifted models
• Poor body control on updated cars
• Pop-out rear windows
The Citroen C4 Cactus is a game of two halves – pre-facelift, it’s a joyful little crossover with idiosyncratic design touches inside and out, willing engines and cheap running costs. Post-facelift, it’s a confused, amorphous blob of a thing, with soft but weirdly uncomfortable suspension and a distinct dearth of its signature Airbumps. So go for an earlier C4 Cactus to get the best ownership experience possible from this wonderful French eccentric.