WHEN Citroen launched its quirky C4 Cactus model back in 2014 it had a Marmite-effect reception thanks to the giant protective Airbumps along the side of the car.
Now, the model has undergone a refresh - the bumps are smaller and the emphasis these days is strictly geared towards comfort.
The five-door car features some substantial styling changes, possibly most noticeable is the reduction in size of those Airbumps. They are now far more discreet and positioned along the bottom of the door so they still offer some protection.
In addition, the 2018 C4 Cactus boasts new front light signatures, slender LED daytime running lights, a refined headlight design complemented by gloss black inserts and colour detailing around the fog lights.
There are wide air intakes, additional chrome trim and 3D-effect rear lights. In fact, Citroen proudly points out that this isn't a mild midlife refresh and that 90 per cent of the exterior components are new.
The interior is beautifully modern in its styling with a wealth of upmarket materials and soft-touch surfaces. One of the innovative new features are the Advanced Comfort Seats which have been developed using high density foam with extra lumbar adjustment on the driver's side for the ultimate in comfort.
There are still plenty of recognisable C4 Cactus design cues such as the luggage-inspired faux leather straps on the glovebox and door handles.
All models are well equipped with the likes of a seven-inch touchscreen, sat nav, smartphone connectivity, DAB radio, a USB socket and plenty more besides.
Prices start from £17,265 and buyers can select from three 1.2-litre, three-cylinder PureTech petrol engines with power outputs of 82ps, 110ps and 130ps, or a 1.6-litre 100ps BlueHDi diesel engine.
Transmissions are either five or six-speed manual or an EAT6 automatic gearbox. When it comes to trim levels, there are two core versions called Feel and Flair, although a Feel Edition model is available at launch for a limited time.
We tried a couple of models on a lengthy road route that incorporated city centre stop start traffic, sweeping country lanes and motorways - both models were up to the challenge.
First up was the C4 Cactus in range-topping Flair trim powered by a 130ps PureTech petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.
This car was priced at £20,665 although a few options such as blind spot monitoring, a smart access pack, front parking sensors and metallic paint bumped the cost up to £21,710.
It could sprint from 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds, topped out at 120mph and according to official figures, could deliver combined fuel economy of 58.9mpg with carbon emissions of 110g/km. We managed to record average fuel efficiency of 53.2mpg which is impressively close to the mark.
Citroen announced that it has focused its attentions on comfort rather than blistering performance capabilities and that is apparent with the introduction of its new suspension system with Progressive Hydraulic Cushions.
It all sounds rather technical, but in a nutshell, it is far more effective than standard suspension set-ups and will iron out many unexpected bumps and dips along the way. Yes, you will still feel the odd pothole, but the severity of the impact is reduced considerably.
The driver benefits from excellent all-round visibility and there is ample space for two adults to sit comfortably in the back - three is achievable but is a bit of a squeeze.
The car was fitted with a fixed panoramic sunroof which reduced rear passenger head room a little but does help to create a bright cabin environment as a compromise.
All controls and readouts are well positioned, but the complicated touchscreen makes supposedly simple operations such as reducing or increasing the temperature a ridiculously lengthy process when a couple of buttons would make life far easier.
Although, the C4 Cactus is not the most dynamic of cars to drive, it's no slouch either and can happily cruise along at motorway speeds with ample power on tap from the punchy engine. And when it comes to those comfort seats, they are beautifully supportive and well worth all the publicity puff!
We also took the diesel model for a drive, once again in Flair grade. This car was fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox and priced at £20,895 (£22,175 with options). It completed the 0-62mph dash in 10.7 seconds, maxed out at 114mph and delivered combined fuel economy of 76.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 96g/km.
The diesel variant is slightly heavier and actually felt more responsive and grounded in its handling. It is a little grumblier acoustics-wise, but felt punchy out on the open road where it was super assured when pushed hard into tight bends.
We fell a little short of the official fuel figure recording just over 60mpg, but the car was driven fairly hard.
Storage options on the C4 Cactus are impressive with a boot capacity ranging from 358 to 1,170 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat. Elsewhere, there are cup holders, non-slip trays, a central bin and a good-sized glovebox.
There are door pockets, but the front ones are far too shallow and even a small water bottle or notebook will topple out. They are deeper and therefore more practical in the back.
The C4 Cactus also boasts a raft of safety features and driver aids. Depending on trim level, it is kitted out with the likes of active city break, speed limit recognition and recommendation, lane departure warning, coffee break alert, driver fatigue warning, blind spot monitoring and plenty more besides. The original C4 Cactus was awarded four stars when it was tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating.
All in all, the latest C4 Cactus is an improvement in every department. It may not be quite so distinctive as the original car with its larger-than-life protection cladding, but it's practical, economical, stylish, fun to drive, exceptionally comfortable and features some excellent new technology.
Factor in the nine body colours, four body colour packs and four interior design choices and it's easy to stamp your own personality on the car too.