We were fans of the previous Citroen C4 Cactus, and we’re not afraid to admit it.

We loved its unique take on modern motoring, with its jacked-up ride height, comfort-first handling, and its bubble-wrap-adorned doors.

Not enough to buy one, though. And perhaps therein lies the problem, because it seems fewer people parted with real money for one than Citroen hoped.

As a result, the company has responded with this, a new C4 Cactus, which seeks to tone down a little of the old car’s overt Citroen-ness.

Regrettably, that means the demise of the Airbump; the air-filled capsules that used to adorn the doors and bumpers of the old car are now mere vestiges of their former selves, relegated to the bottom of the doors where they do little to protect from errant shopping trolleys.

Gone, too, are the more vibrant options from the shade chart, replaced with a more monochromatic palette of nine colours, three of which are grey.

It’s the same for the interior, too, now offered in any colour you like as long as it’s grey, although the luggage-inspired design is carried over from the previous model largely unchanged.

While that means it inherits a few of its foibles – large areas of rattly hard plastic, rear windows that don’t open, touch-screen-only climate controls, and still no rev counter – it does retain that sense of light and airiness we’d grown to appreciate. Doubly so if you opt for the top of the range Flair model with its panoramic glass roof, although be prepared to endure whingeing from the rear seat over the subsequent lack of headroom. There’s not a tremendous amount of legroom, either.

The front seats make use of a new high-density foam that’s said to enhance comfort over long distances, although we found the lack of support and rather curious joint between squab and base meant we never quite felt at home.

Citroen’s comfort-first approach is, however, readily obvious in the way the Cactus drives. New Progressive Hydraulic Cushions make their European debut on the Cactus – don’t get too excited, the name doesn’t signal the revival of Citroen’s famed hydro-pneumatic suspension. Instead, think of it as a pair of springy bump-stops for when things get really bouncy.

Whether they help or not is difficult to say, but either way the Cactus does ride well. There is, perhaps inevitably, a fair degree of pitch and dive during braking and acceleration, plus a similar degree of roll when cornering. But align your driving style with the Citroen’s more relaxed nature and the Cactus will oblige by wafting away much of what our maintenance-free roads have to offer.

Five engines are available – three PureTech three-cylinder petrol units of 82, 110 and 130ps power outputs (the latter two turbo’d), plus two BlueHDi diesels with 100 and 120ps. Transmissions are five- and six-speed manuals with an optional auto on 110 petrol and 120 diesel units.

The PureTech 110 will probably prove to be the sweet spot for most people, but we spent a week with the 130ps petrol which quickly charmed us with its off-beat engine note and punchy power delivery. Tall gearing makes it necessary to drop a cog or two at times, but in everyday use it positively hums along, with the bonus of a surprising turn of pace when requested.

Despite that, it still recorded an average of just under 49 mpg over the course of a week’s testing, with the occasional foray into the low fifties on longer journeys.

At launch, prices for the old Cactus started with a twelve, but today an entry-level Feel PureTech 82 will require handing over £17,265.

All models get cruise control, hill start assist, rear parking sensors, air con, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, while the full suite of digital annoyances such as lane departure warning and coffee break alert are reserved for the range-topping Flair model, along with active safety brake, road sign recognition, and so on.

Judged on price alone, we’d be tempted to steer prospective punters towards the new Citroen C3 and C3 Aircross, neither of which are exactly short on style or appeal.

And while it’s easy to bemoan some of the changes as a loss of character in the interests of gaining wider acceptance, the Citroen Cactus remains a distinctive and likeable choice.

Tester’s Notes

  • Punchy power delivery from turbo petrol units, appealing off-beat engine note
  • Front seats appealingly soft, yet lack support; curious join between squab and base
  • Poor rear leg and headroom, particularly with panoramic roof
  • Decent size boot, but with high boot sill
  • Plenty of pitch and drive under braking and acceleration, rolls into corners
  • Comfortable ride, but road noise over coarse surfaces still very evident
  • Traditional Cactus issues remain: no rev counter, rear windows only pop open, some displays hard to read
  • Super-light steering great for parking
  • Not convinced about lack of sunblind for panoramic roof
  • Impressive 49 mpg on test
Entry-level Price£17,265Price as tested£21,715
Engine1199cc 3-cyl turbo petrolTransmissionSix-speed manual
Power130hp @ 5,500rpmTorque230Nm @ 1,750rpm
0-608.7 secsTop speed120 mph
Economy58.9 mpgCO2110 g/km
Dimensions4170 x 1714 x 1480 (LxWxH)Kerb Weight1185 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.