In redesigning the Cactus, Citroen have dropped – or at least massively toned down – the most distinctive thing about the car: the black plastic, door-mounted ‘airbumps’.
They’d argue that they are still there, but they are lower down, smaller and altogether less obtrusive than the old ones. I’d argue that makes the car less instantly recognisable than the pre-facelifted version.
When the Cactus launched, it gave the Citroen brand its je ne sais quoi back and it looked like nothing else on the road. While I preferred the old airbumps, the re-nosed front end is a definite improvement as are the nips and tucks to the car’s derriere.
C4 Cactus Flair PureTech 110 manual
Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
CO2 emissions: 106g/km
Our test car was powered by the 110bhp, 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine which strikes a decent balance between performance and frugality and thrives being worked hard. It’s limited, however, and can feel a little woolly until the turbo kicks in.
The six-speed manual transmission could be shorter and punchier and feels a little agricultural for the cabin’s refined surround.
A detuned, 82bhp version of this engine is available, but given performance of the 110 I’d imagine it feels quite anemic in what is a fairly well-proportioned car.
A more expensive, 130bhp option is also available which comes with a six-speed manual transmission. There’s also a 1.6-litre diesel.
Citroen have shown little interest in competing with the likes of Ford, or VW group in the handling stakes and the Cactus wobbles and floats on its ‘progressive hydraulic cushion’ suspension system like a ferry wafting into Calais.
Comfort is prioritised over sports car handling and by and large it works. The steering is too light for my liking, however and, at speed, an unexpected bump or change in camber can be a slightly unpleasant sensation as the car tries its best to pretend nothing is happening.
I still love the interior of the Cactus, which has changed little in the 2018 revision. There’s nothing like it on the market in terms of look, which is a nice balance of retro and ultra modern. That’s not to say it’s the last word in luxury, it’s not, but it is a design that works and looks good across trim levels.
Two much-needed improvements which Citroen did make to the cabin were to drop a poorly-placed and annoying middle arm rest and to improve the cupholders which previously would send your bottle of water flying across your lap at the slightest bump.
The cupholders are better, but still not great.
Which would be an equal parts unfair and accurate way of describing the Cactus in general. The facelifted car is better in many respects compared with the launch model, but against all objective measurements it is not the best car in the segment.
There are mid-sized hatchbacks with better handling, equipment, range of engines and at a better starting price than the Cactus.
Where the Cactus will win fans is in the way its strong points pull together in a stylish and, at times, very competitively priced package.
It still has its je ne sais quois and, for a large proportion of the market, that plus value is more important than sports car handling.