Citroen has a long history of producing unconventional cars. 2CV, DS and C6, all vehicles that combined quirky looks and engineering with a focus on comfort above all else.

Although recent efforts from the French marque have been a little soberer, the C4 Cactus looks to recapture Citroen’s weird and wonderful heritage in a Ford Focus-sized hatchback with more than a hint of SUV about it. Is it a case of style over substance though? Let’s put it to the test.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about the Cactus are the knobbles on the doors. Called ‘Airbumps’, they consist of air pockets in a rubbery material and are designed to protect paintwork against unwanted attention from trolleys, car doors and other urban attacks. You may not like how they look but they certainly offer a decent amount of protection and come in a range of colours. Black is standard but you can also choose grey, off white and brown. Opt for the latter and you’ll probably be craving a bar of Dairy Milk every time you see them.

The Airbumps may be a bit Marmite (for the record, I love them) but the rest of the Cactus is much easier to like. Black plastic wheel arches, skidplates like lower bumpers and roof rails suggest SUV while the slim daytime running lights make for a distinctive face. The floating roof looks good as do the standard fit alloy wheels on both Feel and Flair models. One thing is for certain, you’ll have no trouble finding it in a car park especially if you opted for ‘Hello Yellow’ as modelled by the test car.

Inside things are also on the unconventional side; look around the cabin and you’ll notice very few buttons, switches or knobs. That’s because almost everything including climate control and stereo functions are controlled by the standard and easy to use 7” touchscreen infotainment system. Another digital display behind the steering wheel replaces conventional dials while the front seats are more like armchairs. Choose the automatic gearbox and the front seats are replaced by a sofa-like bench while those that have difficulty parking may appreciate the surprisingly effective optional self-park feature.

Legroom for rear seat passengers is impressive for this size of car although headroom may be a little tight for taller adults. The seats are comfy however and you get a great view out of the panoramic glass roof. To save weight you don’t get wind down rear windows, instead they pop out at the rear edge and only open an inch or two. While this may be annoying, it has allowed Citroen to create a cavity for additional elbow room and space for a 1.5 litre bottle of drink.

Saving weight is a theme that runs throughout the Cactus and while it has resulted in plenty of low rent plastic (including a very bendy rear panel under the tailgate) it has worked. Even top spec models come in at less than 1100kgs or lighter than a Ford Fiesta. That means engines don’t have to be big to get the job done keeping fuel consumption low. There’s a 1.6 litre diesel for maximum economy and a considerably cheaper normally aspirated 1.2 petrol in two power outputs.

More interesting is the turbocharged version of the petrol engine with a decent 110bhp. The three cylinder unit has bags of torque to give 0-60 in a zingy 9.3 seconds and makes an appealingly thrummy noise in the process. Throttle response is a little soft and it is easy to hit the rev limiter although overall it was a characterful little engine that gave around 44mpg over a week of mixed driving. Without trying too hard, I was able to get over 50mpg helped by a start & stop system for the engine.

Don’t be misled by the Cactus’ surprising turn of pace though, you wouldn’t call it a driver’s car. There is entertainment to be had in a roly poly kind of way and you can even feel the tail getting edgy like an 80’s or 90’s French hatchback. What you never get is any detailed feedback or sense that the suspension has been carefully set up. It’s softly sprung and softly damped but the big wheels rob the car of a properly plush ride. It is however more comfy than much of the competition though.

Overall there’s a lot to like about the Cactus range. All share the same distinctive styling, user friendly touchscreen and spacious interior while the turbocharged petrol engine is a good little motor. Complaints? Well the boot may be capacious but there’s an awkwardly high loading lip while it does feel a little cheap inside considering you can pay nearly £19k for one. To be fair though, even lower rung models have a fair amount of kit while you can save a few quid by not opting for the turbocharged motors. Citroen have a habit of heavily discounting cars too. If you’re in the market for a distinctive and roomy runaround then the Cactus should be on your list of cars to try.

PROS

Punchy engine

Distinctive looks

Roomy

CONS

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Can get expensive

Cheap feeling plastics

Handling can get ragged

THE LOWDOWN

Car – Citroen C4 Cactus Flair PureTech 110 S&S

Price – £17,290 (£18,985 as tested)

Power – 110hp

0-60 – 9.3 seconds

Top Speed – 117 mph

Co2 – 107g/km

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