Citroen C4 Cactus

Flair BlueHDi 100

Citroen C4 Cactus, front
Citroen C4 Cactus, front
Citroen C4 Cactus, front
Citroen C4 Cactus, rear
Citroen C4 Cactus, rear
Citroen C4 Cactus, interior
Citroen C4 Cactus, interior
Citroen C4 Cactus, rear
Citroen C4 Cactus, interior

WE all love a bit of bubble wrap.

There's a juvenile thrill every time a parcel arrives packaged in the stuff because it means satisfying hours spent popping the tiny air pockets one by one.

No one can resist it can they? It's therapeutic.

But when Citroen decided in 2014 to bubble wrap a car - well, sort of - eyebrows were raised and jaws dropped aplenty.

It's not often in the increasingly generic motor industry that something genuinely different comes along - but the striking ‘Airbumps', as the French car maker calls them, along the flanks of the C4 Cactus certainly fall into that category.

As a design statement it was one of the boldest we had seen in a long time and it's fair to say that it had the archetypal ‘Marmite' effect - some loved it and some hated it.

As always with anything new, people have grown used to it and reactions have mellowed, so much so that Citroen this year felt confident enough to add ‘Airbumps ' to their hugely popular C3 hatchback in its latest iteration.

Meanwhile, the Cactus is an increasingly common sight on our roads and testimony to the fact that the bold gamble has paid off.

The eye catching plastic panels aren't just for decoration either. Just like bubble wrap, they provide protection - preventing all those irritating chips and dings caused by thoughtless folks opening their doors straight into the side of your motor in crowded car parks.

And it is more than just this unique feature which give the Cactus its quirky look.

A distinctive row of LED daytime lights sits above each headlamp, while chunky plastic bumpers and wheel arches and stylised roof bars give this compact crossover the de rigeur SUV look.

But despite the rugged styling, four-wheel drive is not an option and the Cactus is a car set up for life on the road rather than off it - with space and comfort very much the focus.

A supple chassis means imperfections in the road are smoothed out nicely and light steering makes for a relaxed rather than overly engaging drive.

The soft set-up does mean some body roll if you take corners too quickly but otherwise the Cactus handles pretty well.

Lightweight construction and lack of all-wheel drive running gear reaps rich rewards in other areas - namely fuel economy and running costs.

All engine options claim more than 60 miles per gallon on average while low carbon emissions mean the most you'll pay for road tax is £20 - making the Cactus an attractive option for business buyers.

The 1.6-litre diesel in my test car, mated to a five-speed manual transmission, boasts up to 80mpg and, with emissions of just 95g/km, no road tax at all.

Acceleration is not the sharpest and you need to pile on the revs to make swift progress, but once on the move it pulls well and proves to be a willing and versatile powertrain - and surprisingly refined.

Comfort is the name of the game in the cabin too, with large supportive seats, good leg and headroom for five and plenty of personal storage cubbies.

The interior design reflects the quirky exterior, with innovative features such as the top opening glovebox which neatly prevents all your CDs spilling out over your shins when you open it.

Slightly disappointing is the fact that the rear windows are the old-fashioned pop-out variety rather than winding up or down and that the folding rear seat back is not available with a 60/40 split.

This smacks of cost cutting rather than retro chic but is a minor quibble given that the Cactus is pretty competitively priced and well equipped elsewhere.

And those ‘Airbumps' also dial-up the potential for personalisation - something which increasingly appeals to buyers.

FAST FACTS

Citroen C4 Cactus Flair BlueHDi 100

Price: £18,820

Mechanical:100ps, 1,560cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 114mph

0-62mph:10.6 seconds

Combined MPG: 80.7

Insurance Group:18

C02 emissions: 95g/km

Bik rating:19%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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