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Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 Puretech 130 2018 Road Test

The C4 Cactus is proving a big success for Citroen, so this mid-life facelift is designed as perfecting the formula rather than radically changing it. Citroen is focussing on comfort with an all-new suspension set-up that it claims offers unrivalled comfort among family hatchbacks. Hence the tagline ‘comfort is the new cool’.

This new suspension would normally be enough of an innovation for a revamp, but it comes as part of a major update that sees as many as 90 per cent of the exterior body panels replaced, while there have also been tweaks to the engine range and improvements to the cabin.

It may not be as quirky as before - and we think that's a shame - but the more demure look is down to the fact that there's no longer a standard C4 in the Citroen range, the Cactus taking its place. As a result, it is now being pitched as more of a hatchback rival to conventional models like the Ford Focus and Toyota Auris than a low-riding crossover.

The looks are now a lot more sensible than before, with the most notable changes being the removal of the standard fit roof bars (they are still available on the options list) and the fact that the ‘Airbumps’ have moved down to the bottom of the doors. Not as useful against shopping trolleys. The funky paint colours have also been replaced by a more anonymous selection of blues, greys and whites.

Citroen C4 Cactus 2018 (8)

Citroen has beefed up the seats and added higher quality density foam to make them more supportive. The feeling of serenity is also added to by a selection of new sound proofing measures around the cabin. The rear windscreen and side windows are thicker than before, while the door seals, dash panel and floor all have new sound proofing, which helps make the interior a remarkably relaxed place.

The interior is adequate in terms of space, but not exactly spacious. At 358 litres the boot is bigger than rivals such as the Ford Focus, but smaller than the likes of the SEAT Leon and Peugeot 308. The rear seats are acceptable for space, although anyone taller than six foot will find themselves a little short on leg and head room, the latter due in part to the standard fit panoramic sunroof that comes on the higher trim level.

The standard-fit touchscreen looks great and is easy to navigate. It is much quicker to respond than earlier versions of it, but having to change the cabin temperature using the screen is still an annoyance that remains.

The danger with a softer suspension set-up is that it can leave a car rolling around as soon as you get to a corner, but Citroen has managed to avoid this. Sure, there is a little more pitch and roll than you would get on a stiffer set-up, both side to side and forwards and backwards over big speed bumps and the like, but it stops well short of feeling out of control. The ride isn’t so soft that it completely cuts out all bumps, and you will still notice rougher surfaces, but it is really very serene.

Citroen C4 Cactus 2018 (4)

There will be four engines available initially, but the 82PS petrol version will only be offered in the UK for a few months to start off with, so is best avoided. The 1.2-litre Puretech 110PS petrol is carried over, while it is joined by a 130PS version. A 1.6-litre HDi diesel completes the range. The two Purtech petrols are expected to be the most popular, and the 110PS version is the one that feels better suited to the relaxed nature of the Cactus, with the extra pace of the 130PS a bonus, but not one that feels strictly necessary.

The manual gearbox is disappointing though. It's jerky and tricky to get it into gear smoothly plus the space around the clutch pedal is cramped and the brake pedal is quite sharp as you initially press down on it. Driving the Cactus smoothly is possible, but it will take a little practice. The automatic gearbox is not bad, but it is a little slow to respond and it dulls the performance slightly.

The problem with making drastic changes to the C4 Cactus is that, for all the improvements, it makes the car’s shortcomings stand out that bit more. The superb ride and quiet cabin don’t really fit with the basic and rugged interior, the rear windows that only open on a hinge and the small boot aperture.

The C4 Cactus is still an appealing alternative to the mainstream and its positive elements will entice many buyers in, but its flaws will put as many people off. While it is smarter looking, it doesn’t offer as much in the way of charm as it did, which is a real shame.

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