The Citroen C4 Cactus marks the dawn of a whole new era for the French brand. Rather than build yet another competitor for the Volkswagen Golf, the company was determined to create a car that broke the mould, to address the needs of modern customers by taking radical steps both in its design and innovation.
The result of this ambitious project was the Cactus concept and now the brand has revealed the full production version at the Geneva Motor Show. As you can see from the pictures the road car has hardly been watered down from the stunning concept we saw in Frankfurt.
It keeps the same floating roof, split front lights and rugged plastic panels from the show car. Buyers will be able to choose between ten different exterior colours, with four hues for the ‘Airbump’ panels and three interior ‘themes’.
The Cactus is set to be a template for all the ‘C-line’ models in the future. The ‘DS’ sub-brand will continue, but cars from the standard range will all feature the same striking design, simplified interiors and clever technology as the Cactus.
At a special preview event held in Paris, designer Mark Lloyd told Auto Express: “People have moved on in the way that they use products, but the car industry is very traditional, and has not moved at the same pace of change as consumers.”
For the Cactus, that means offering C-segment styling and space with B-segment running costs. Thanks to clever packaging and extensive use of lightweight materials – like for the bonnet – the Cactus is a huge 200kgs lighter than a standard C4.
The newcomer shares the same 2.6m wheelbase as the C4, but it’s actually based on the smaller chassis that underpins the DS3. The roof rails and chunky body give it a big car look, but the Cactus is shorter than hatchbacks like the VW Golf.
With a 358-litre boot and decent rear legroom, it also boasts better practicality than compact crossovers like the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur - both of which Citroen sees as key rivals for the Cactus. To save weight the rear windows pop-out rather than winding down, and there is no split/fold action for the rear bench.
In fact, the entry-level petrol tips the scales at just 965kgs – almost 300kgs less than rivals like the Nissan Juke and Fiat 500L and as a result the cleanest diesel model will emit just 82g/km while returning an amazing 91.1mpg.
Four engines will be available at the UK launch in October. The first are a pair of three-cylinder petrol engines, one turbocharged and naturally-aspirated, making 81bhp and 109bhp respectively. The diesel models both have a 1.6-litre capacity, and both meet the strict Euro 6 emissions regulations, with 91 and 99bhp each.
The Cactus is just as cutting-edge inside too, with a number of innovative touches that are designed to make it comfier and easier to live with than a normal hatch. Two digital displays have replaced the traditional dials and dash buttons, with a seven-inch touchscreen in the centre console controlling all major functions. The infotainment system features several apps including live traffic updates and auto versions get a set of three buttons instead of a conventional gear selector. This six-speed gearbox is an updated version of the ‘ETG’ semi-automatic gearbox.
Citroen says it has improved the throttle response and changing times of this gearbox, and also made it less susceptible to creeping in traffic and at low speed but manual versions are predicted to make up the majority of Cactus sales.
On higher spec models a full-length glass roof will be optionally available, which uses the same glass technology as high-end sunglasses to block UV radiation and control the temperature in the cabin and remove the need for a heavy blind. The passenger airbag has also been built into the roof, which means the dash can be mounted further down the cabin to provide a greater feeling of space inside.
Citroen is planning on giving people a new way to pay for their Cactus too. Buyers will be able to choose a monthly price plan similar to a mobile phone contract, with insurance, finance and other costs rolled into a single monthly payment or even choose to pay per mile covered – although at this stage they were not clear on the details of how this kind of scheme would work in the UK.
The Citroen Cactus concept, which was the star of the French firm’s 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show stand, picks up where the 2007 C-Cactus concept left off. It introduces a new back-to-basics design philosophy for the French firm’s non-DS, C-line models. And it directly previews a model called the C4 Cactus that has now been revealed.
This won’t be a budget model, though, according to Citroen CEO Frederic Banzet: “We’re not aiming for low cost, but the price will be competitive. We are trying to replicate what we did in our history.”
The showroom-ready C4 Cactus will be an addition to the range, rather than replacing the current C4.
But the simplistic approach is expected to diffuse through all future C-line products, creating a much clearer line between them and the more elaborately designed and premium-feeling DS models. In turn that will leave a little more room for Peugeot to establish itself in the mainstream gap this shake-up should help to create.
The Citroen Cactus concept design
With dimensions of 4.21m long, 1.75m wide and 1.53m tall, the Cactus concept is slightly shorter than a C4 and the same height as a DS3, but features a raised floor pan for a slimmer profile and a semi-crossover stance.
The original C-Cactus concept was a more conventional hatchback shape – this is a clear reaction to the booming demand for slightly raised and rugged family cars.
When the concept was unveiled at Frankfurt, Cactus designer Mark Lloyd told us: “We asked ourselves what was really important to customers. One theme that emerged was a need to reduce the stress and complexity of living with a car, our aim therefore was to simplify everything.”
Evidence of Citroen’s less-is-more mentality - something it’s excelled with in the past with models like the 2CV - is everywhere on the Cactus concept.
There’s barely a crease on the rounded bodywork, while the slim and simple headlights are lifted from the new C4 Picasso. Exterior flourishes are limited to a novel ‘floating’ C-pillar and roof rails that look like a pair of up-turned skis – both will be toned-down, but carried over for the production car.
Citroen are particularly proud of a new innovation called Airbump – the grey inserts you can see at the front, rear and sides of the car. Made of a durable material dotted with supple pockets of air, it’s designed to protect the Cactus from small everyday dings and scrapes, while giving the car a distinctive look.
For the production car a choice of four Airbump colours will be offered and it seems durability test have been going well: “At one point we tried slinging a shopping trolley full of car batteries against the side of the car, and it was fine,” Lloyd revealed.
The Citroen Cactus concept interior
The minimalist theme is even more pronounced on the inside, where the designers have created a serene and laid-back atmosphere.
“Comfort is at the heart of what Citroen is all about,” Lloyd told us. “And that’s not just physical comfort, but mental comfort, too.” Two reclined bench seats, front and rear, create a more sociable setting, while all the usual clutter of buttons on the dashboard and centre console has been removed entirely.
In place of an instrument cluster is a seven-inch screen, while a second, central eight-inch screen controls all the climate and infotainment functions.
A full-length panoramic roof floods the interior with light, while unlike the concept, the production car will get B-pillars and windows. Soft tan leather and organic-feeling fabrics are used throughout the cabin, but you can expect less-expensive materials in the production car.
The Citroen Cactus concept engine
Under the skin is the first real application of PSA’s Hybrid Air powertrain. By combining conventional petrol engine and automatic gearbox with a hydraulic pump and motor powered by compressed air - rather than a battery – it returns fuel economy “in excess of 94mpg.”
Conventional petrol and diesel engines will power the production car initially, but Citroen hinted that the Cactus could be the first production car to get the technology in a few years time.
Simple ‘D’, ‘R’ and ‘N’ buttons, along with paddles behind the wheel, control the automatic gearbox - a manual option will also be offered on the production car.