Citroën unveils new C4 Cactus as it abandons traditional hatch format

Boss of French brand talks of Brexit plans, Irish concerns and the Opel takeover

 

Citroën has revealed its new C4 Cactus in Paris. The current C4 family hatchback is due to go out of production by mid 2018 and there are no plans to replace it. In fact you can only buy a C4 hatchback in Ireland by special order. The vibrant C4 Cactus, that was due a mid-life face-lift, has been given a promotion and will now be Citroën’s sole representative in this highly competitive class.

An eyebrow or two were raised when Citroën listed regular hatches and not crossovers as the new car’s rivals. While Citroën is a tiny player in the Irish new-car market, the IM-owned distributor here says it will target the Ford Focus, Opel Astra, Renault Megane, Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30 with the new C4 Cactus. In France and Ireland C4 Cactus outsells the C4 by a large margin.

Comfort is key

The revised C4 Cactus dimensions remain the exact same as the original but the exterior design has been altered using the best of design trickery. The famed air-filled plastic airbumps that dominated the 2014 car’s flanks and tailgate have been given a workover. The tailgate is now bump free and new 3D effect lights add sophistication of its derriere. Fake air vents placed low down on the bumpers enhance and help widen the car. The airbumps that were the car’s USP at launch in 2014 are restyled and less prominent, repositioned lower down on the flanks. The signature split-level front face of the car has been tweaked to broaden the car’s stance. The original’s cool roof rails are now optional and none were fitted to the cars on display to us in Paris. Overall the exterior changes will ease the transition for many C4 owners to the new C4 Cactus while Cactus owners may feel a little aggrieved.

Inside the 4.17 metre long machine, the emphasis is still on comfort: Citroën’s trump card. The new advanced comfort seats are simply ridiculously comfy. I found my modest form (cough) being fully supported both in the front and rear seats.

Price negotiations are under way but it is expected that Citroën Ireland will skip a level-one grade entry point that accounts for only 5 per cent of sales and start with a well-equipped level two grade that features the newly developed seats as standard. Currently Irish C4 Cactus prices start from just under €18,000 with the level three grade at €23,500 the best seller.

The drivers and centre digital displays have been tweaked to allow new fonts and also to facilitate speed-sign recognition. The centre cubby space has been improved also. Otherwise the interior is as before, so you get a roof-mounted passenger airbag that allows an impressive top opening glove box that front seat passengers will praise.

Homage to older entrants

The rear doors seem to pay homage to the Ford Anglia with space and weight-saving (11 kgs) fly-opening windows. The boot is a decent size but the sill height remains quite high next to a C4 hatch. The cabin is airy and there is plenty of space for quite a small footprint on the road. At one of the many workshops we attended the C4 Cactus when parked beside the new C3 Aircross looked very car like and this is what Citroën wants people to see.

New hydaulic suspension will feature in the C4 Cactus. The fantastic sounding progressive hydraulic cushions in reality are very clever shock-absorbers. They use clever springs and hydraulic fluid to deliver, according to Citroën, a very comfortable ride. A throwback to the magic carpet ride of the original DS.

The system is simple unlike the DS with its leaky spheres (I owned one). The new type of shock-absorber will be exclusive to Citroën in the PSA group for the next four to five years we were told. Conventional springs still feature and the units are maintenance free. The engine range will remain pretty much unchanged powered by petrol and diesel units. A new 130hp petrol will top the range. The new C4 Cactus is due to arrive in Ireland next Spring.

Brexit plans

Chief executive officer Linda Jackson told The Irish Times that Citroën will use eight core models on which to build its passenger car business (excluding partnership vehicles like the C1). It is currently in its SUV rollout phase and in 2020 we will see a saloon phase deliver more conventional cars to the market. Electrification of Citroën’s new platforms is on the way. It has a modest history of building EVs so has skin in the game. In Q4 next year the C5 Aircross will arrive (a version is on sale in China now) but 2019-20 will see the C5 Aircross PHEV plug-in hybrid kick things off.

On Brexit, Jackson said instability is the enemy and that the fact no one knows what is going to happen is the big issue. She went on to say that the PSA group has a couple of plans in place for either a hard of soft Brexit. The UK and Ireland represents her third-largest market after China and France and she is acutely aware of the precarious position Citroën Ireland is in. Presently, she has no plans to interfere with the running of the brand here.

As for Opel joining the mix, Jackson feels the brand has a clear place in the expanded PSA group. Jackson says that the German brand is still in its 100-day plan and is finding its feet but expects great synergies going forward. With Opel PSA can lay claim close to 17 per cent of the European car market. She remembers how PSA turned itself around in 2014 with its “B in the race” strategy.

Linda Jackson says the new C4 Cactus points to the firm’s direction to deliver cars that are big on 21st century comfort that includes connectivity, etc and vehicles that are also big on stylish design. These are the key identifiers for Citroën going forward.