To the cynical eye, it would seem that there's very little that's clever, fresh and different about mainstream model automotive design. In fact, a common refrain amongst car buyers is that many small superminis and family hatchbacks look pretty much the same, delivering only slight and insignificant variations on a tired and well-worn theme. What the market really needs, it seems, is a mass maker able to bring us cars that are quirky, thought-provoking and forward thinking. A brand like French maker Citroen used to be: the kind of brand that today, it aims to be once more. For proof of that, in 2014, it delivered us this, the C4 Cactus.
This car had no direct predecessor and - if you believe its maker anyway - no direct rivals. In buying it, you get a lightweight, comfort-orientated, bargain-priced, innovatively-designed compact family car - and if you know your Citroens, you'll know the sort of thing that kind of design brief references. Back in 1948, the marque brought Europe the clever economy runabout that would come to define post-war France, the 2CV, a model created around almost exactly the same principles that have driven development of this one. OK, so the two cars aren't quite the same: we can't see too many C4 Cactus buyers bumping their machines over ploughed fields, hosing down their interiors or passing their cars on like family heirlooms. Otherwise though, the simply, sturdy, spacious formula pioneered by the 'deux chevaux' over forty two years of production was passed over intact.
There's history here then, though whether it's relevant to the modern market is another question. Many of today's buyers are certainly looking for something different from yet another standard supermini or family hatch, but they aren't necessarily attracted by wilful quirkiness. There was no place, in other words, for this car to be different simply for the sake of being so. Nor is it. All of the things that make a C4 Cactus stand out are, according to Citroen, there for a very good reason. For example, the design is full of thoughtful touches that might look strange at first glance but together will save enough weight to cut your running costs by over 20% compared against something more conventional .And, of course, you'll have noticed the 'Airbump' plastic cladding that's the first thing your neighbours will want to talk about: it's there to make light panel damage a thing of the past.
It's that cladding, probably more than any other single thing, that prompted most reviewers to class this car in amongst those in the industry's fastest growing market segment, that for compact 'Crossovers', compact family hatch and supermini-based models with an extra dose of style and attitude. At the launch of this model, Citroen agreed that cars of this kind like Nissan's Juke and Renault's Captur were probably closest in concept to this Cactus but made it clear that it also wanted this particular C4 to have an even wider brief. They called it a 'Crosshatch', referencing design and positioning that here sees individuality being about more than just 'SUV-ness'. It's an approach that the French brand hoped buyers shopping in the compact car-segment would find rather refreshing. They did and the C4 Cactus sold strongly in its original form. However, in late 2017, Citroen launched a C3 Aircross small SUV that offered much of what the original version of this car delivered, causing the C4 Cactus to be facelifted and re-positioned as a quirky family hatchback, rather than any kind of Crossover. It's the earlier model though, that we consider here.