Review: Citroen C4 Cactus.

Citroen's rubber department spent three years inventing, perfecting and then copyrighting the name of its Airbump system of body protection on the C4 Cactus.

The new Citroen C4 Cactus hatchback comes with a choice of 1.2 litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, or a 1560cc 100hp four-cylinder turbo diesel.

This padding on the doors would protect panels from minor scuffs – the everyday knocks which can cost hundreds of pounds to repair.

On reflection, the commonest contact areas are the two ends and four corners of a car – particularly in town and city traffic. Were the Airbumps little more than a styling gimmick? Because on the latest C4 Cactus they have been almost eradicated.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

We are left with a subtle reminder along the sills of the doors. Flank protection has been surrendered to the vagaries of carefree and careless parking. Gone, too, is the black sheet applied to the tailgate.

Some of us, well, me actually, wondered whether the airpods on that first Cactus body were needed to make the body look interesting, rather than for protection. Now Citroen has given us the answer and I like it. From being a somewhat dumpy dodgem car, the Cactus has grown into something tolerably smart.

The original Cactus had its UK debut in September 2014 UK and this Golf-sized hatchback was priced to sell, costing between £12,990 and £18,190. It was heralded as “a bold response to the changing needs and priorities of today’s car owners, offering a real alternative to the traditional compact hatchback, with a fresh and distinctive approach”.And “visually striking, the new C4 Cactus stands out in the competitive C segment with its concept car looks, crossover styling cues, wide, sofa-style front seats, and the industry’s first roof-mounted passenger airbag and a fully digital display with most main functions operated by touching a symbol on a screen”.

Well, less than four years on, much the same is being said about the 2018 Cactus. The Airbumps have been emasculated – suggesting the idea wasn’t popular. Or maybe the bump protection was needed lower down. Citroen’s explanation is that the “overall look has been updated to further enhance its appeal amongst C-segment hatchback buyers, while strengthening its powerful and energetic image”.

Cactus prices now start at “just” £17,265 – almost top price of the last one. Harrumph, I say. However, it’s an improved car. The last Cactus was likeable but the suspension could be harsh. Not any more. The new one has progressively acting hydraulic cushions in the suspension for a “magic carpet ride” over troublesome roads.

These dampers are part of the “advanced comfort programme at the very heart” of this car with “features and technologies designed to emphasise a feeling of reassurance, comfort and calm.” More, we sit on “advanced comfort” seats having their “world premiere”. No shortage of hype, then, for this car. World premiere, indeed.

There’s more soundproofing, plus an update on passive and active safety kit and the option of extra grip in the front wheels for slippery surfaces. This is the Peugeot GripControl traction system which when combined with all-season tyres is effective in snow. Vauxhall Opel has inherited the same system following its immersion in the Peugeot group.

The two-model Cactus range is Feel and Flair, with a choice of sweet running 1.2 litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engines offering 110 and 130hp, or a 1560cc 100hp four-cylinder turbo diesel. The price gap between Feel and Flair is £1,900. All have stop/start ignition. Automatic gears are offered with the 110hp engine in Flair trim only (£21,165 – making it the most expensive model).

I loved driving this car. The ride comfort is indeed advanced. The interior is a matter of taste. They say: “Spacious, light and welcoming, the passenger compartment is a true cocoon of comfort, with soft fabrics and soothing colours.”

Ho and hum. The seats were weirdly trimmed in three coloured bands of boring brushed fabric which may be more resilient to abrasion and stains than it looks. They don’t give much lateral support, either. The Cactus does lean on bends and my passengers reached for the roof grab handles, except there aren’t any. This is remiss.

The two information panels provide information digitally. There’s no rev counter – an unusual omission but not much missed. For me, too much of the input is by touch on the central screen – for example the temperature and airflow settings, and the audio options. There is voice recognition for many requests but it wasn’t always helpful. Viz, bringing up the wrong setting.

The three-pot engine was smooth and quiet, a match for the refinement of any triple cylinder engine – now used by the PSA and VW groups, plus Volvo, BMW, Ford and others. They are lighter, take up less room and give good economy and emissions.

Verdict: Sleeker looks, more refinement, I’d have one.