Citroën’s C4 Cactus has undergone a radical transformation for its mid-life refresh, a facelift that goes much further than the typical nose job. Thierry Hospitel, design manager for the updated car – revealed in Paris yesterday – says 80% of the exterior panels are new, with the roof and fenders the only carry-over sheet metal.
“One of the objectives was to make the car look lower and wider,” adds Hospitel. “It’s a little bit more aggressive, more dynamic, and at the rear of the car the lamps extend now onto the tailgate, which changes the aspect of the rear to make it look wider.”
At the front, the existing benign Cactus expression has been replaced with a more aggressive demeanour. The main headlamp units are bigger and more angular, while the separate islands of the DRLs and chevron badge have been gathered into a single chrome element slashed across the full width of the face.
The chevron now pushes up into the bonnet, in place of the clean rounded form and straight cutline used before. Side repeaters have been tidied away into the mirrors.
Chunky roof bars, previously a standard fit with an option to delete, are now offered the other way around, with a cleaner roof as the default treatment. Surprisingly, contrast paint on the floating roof is not offered with the new Cactus, despite a high level of take-up on the smaller C3.
Of course, it’s tricky to carry off a facelift without leaving scars. The most noticeable blemish from Citroën’s surgery is a nasty right-angle corner in the cutline between the rear fender and bumper, due to the reshaped tail lamps.
Much more obviously, the C4 Cactus’s signature Airbump panels have all but vanished. The protective thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) mouldings, able to sink inwards by two centimetres and pop back out again, were a striking feature of the C4 Cactus when it debuted in concept form at the 2013 Frankfurt show.
Available in four different colours, and typically chosen to contrast with the body, Airbumps added a strong graphical element to the sides and corners of car – in addition to their practical merits, of course.
The new Airbump treatment is much closer to conventional cladding, with slimmer deformable mouldings running along the bottoms of the doors and bumpers. The palette is also reduced, with the new graphite Airbumps enlivened only by rings of customisable colour on the front doors and around the low-mounted foglamps.
“We wanted to put full body paint on the car and to make the Airbumps, the protection, a little bit more discreet,” says Hospitel, adding that the updated version is intended to look more upmarket.
Pushing upmarket is the overriding theme of the update, with Citroën attempting to give the C4 Cactus a less ambiguous role. The original design was a crossover-ish hatchback pitched between the B and C segments. The redesign attempts to propel the car more firmly into the hatchback camp, as well as up into the mainstream C segment.
It’s no coincidence that that C4 Cactus is rejuvenated just as the hatchback C4 is pensioned off…
Driver assistance systems, engine upgrades, clever new suspension (with twin hydraulic dampers replacing the usual rubber bump stops, as Citroën returns to its old calling card of a “magic-carpet ride”) and extra soundproofing swaddle have also been added to better compete with sophistication levels in the C segment heartland.
Alas, as well as its Airbumps, the C4 Cactus has also lost much of its original ethos – the car was named after plants that thrive with modest resources and was itself a clever attempt to achieve more with less. Noticeably lighter than similarly-sized rivals (by roughly 200kg versus the regular C4 hatch, in fact), the C4 Cactus saved weight by sitting on a stretched C3 platform and through features like pop-out rear windows and a roof-mounted airbag to liberate storage space in the dashboard.
These features remain – and the car is still light for its size – but pop-out windows seem distinctly incongruous given the car’s repositioning as mainstream hatchback.
Hospitel admits that cost came into the decision not to engineer new drop-down glass. Cash was found, however, to create a new centre console with added storage to fill the barren gap between the front seats. The bench-effect front seat, seen previously with automatic editions of the C4 Cactus, is thus sadly absent.
New paint and new interior materials have also been chosen to lift the car’s aspirations. “The current model fits between B and C segments and the purpose was to make it more valuable as a C-segment car,” says Chie Yanagisawa, project manager for colour and materials.
“We’ve reduced the flashy colours, like Hello Yellow and Hawaiian blue, and replaced them – still with colourful choices but a little bit more expensive-looking.”
The interior palette has also been reined in, Yanagisawa adds. “The purple City Pack interior, we replaced with a light grey interior with a red accent combination,” she explains, adding that this is both sportier and more neutral than the old off-beat option.
“Purple is good, but in the C-segment we need to make it more valuable, so we reduced the colourful interiors.”
Seats have gained a quilted stitching pattern as well as a new internal structure to deliver “Advanced Comfort,” according to Citroën. The company’s seating expert Gaël Hansen explains that the seat base employs a 60mm layer of high-density foam, providing firmness and good vibration absorption, overlaid with 15mm of low density foam to give a soft initial feel. The new seat innards will be combined with both textiles and Nappa leather options.
Frédéric Duvernier, Citroën’s head of concept cars and exterior designer of the old C4 Cactus, might easily have loomed like a spectre at the feast over the relaunch, but he takes a philosophical view to the amendments. Pointing to the newer C3 and C3 Aircross, he suggests that the C4 Cactus had to evolve to get out of their way.
“It has to fit in the range, into a hatchback world more than an SUV world,” he says. “And it has to be global also. The new Cactus will go into other countries than where it is today – it's not going to be only a European car, but worldwide, so it makes sense if you think this way.”
He adds that it’s harder to make a distinctive car work across diverse markets. “The Cactus had the Airbumps, which I'm particularly proud of, but some people hated it and some people loved it. So, we have to find the best compromise for the car to sell worldwide.”
“What's important for us is that we still do strong products, strong designs, even if they are worldwide. Some brands in the past they said, ‘ah this is a worldwide car’ and it was very... well, if you want to have some fun go on YouTube and look for Mediocrity Cars.”
Hospitel adds that while the C4 Cactus update has completely transformed the car’s appearance, it still looks very different to other cars. “If you buy a Focus or Mégane, you'll find more or less the same car, but with this you'll find something completely different,” he argues.
The original C4 Cactus was a much admired car – winning CDN’s production design of the year in 2014. Many will lament its move from left-field towards the mainstream, but Durvenier simply shrugs and observes that cars must be judged on how well they sell.
If the redesigned Cactus can appeal to more people, it will help fund the next round of inventive new ideas from Citroën.