Buying used: Citroen C4 Cactus v Suzuki Vitara

Buying used: Citroen C4 Cactus v Suzuki Vitara
Buying used: Citroen C4 Cactus v Suzuki Vitara

We look at two bargain secondhand SUVs and pick the best

If you quite like the idea of a compact car on the outside, one that offers decent small family space on the inside, with the added appeal of tough body styling and a raised seating position, then you’re in luck. The small SUV sector is booming these days and there are no end of challengers out there.

However, one characteristic of the sector is the fact brand-new small SUVs cost that bit more than the family cars they’re derived from. The solution to this? Buy secondhand – so here, we’ve bought together two of the best small SUVs, the Citroen C4 Cactus and Suzuki Vitara, to decide which is best.

Citroën C4 Cactus 1.2 PureTech 110 S&S Feel 

Engine: 1.2-litre petrol
List price when new: £15,890
Price today: £9000
Power: 109bhp
Torque: 151lb ft
0-60mph: 9.5sec
Top speed: 117mph
Economy: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 107g/km

The Suzuki is more of a traditional downsized 4×4, whereas the C4 Cactus is more novel and creative – particularly its eye-catching ‘Airbumps’ on the doors, which are meant to shake off car park scrapes. It has the more intriguing interior as well, meaning these two cars are surprisingly different despite competing in the same new car sector.

Driving

They drive differently as well. They have similar on-paper performance, but the Citroen has a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, whereas the Suzuki has a non-turbo 1.6-litre. You thus have to rev the Vitara, which can be noisy; the C4 Cactus responds better from lower engine revs and is the quieter, more relaxing drive.

The Citroen rolls more in corners though, which unsettles occupants. While this is good news for slower-speed bumps, it’s less able to deal with potholes as ably. They send a loud crack through the interior, and it also wallows over undulating roads.

The stiffer Suzuki is more fun for the driver and although there’s a pay-off in a firm ride at times, it’s overall better able to deal with challenging roads. It has good front-end grip as well, which will please the driver. The only disappointment is its over-light steering.

Interior

In terms of user-friendliness, the Suzuki interior is hard to fault. It’s practical, comfortable and spacious, with a really good driving position and supportive seats for all but the very tallest. What lets it down is a lack of perceived quality. There are too many hard, cheap-looking plastics throughout, which a fancy analogue clock fails to offset.

Suzuki Vitara 1.6 SZ-T 2WD

Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
List price when new: £15,499
Price today: £11,500
Power: 118bhp
Torque: 115lb ft
0-60mph: 9.5sec
Top speed: 112mph
Economy: 53.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 123g/km

The Citroen is much more stylish, with its classier trims and innovative digital pods. What a pity the infotainment system is so unintuitive to use – even altering the temperature requires prods of the screen. The Citroen’s seats are also a weakness: the initially feel soft and indulgent, but it’s soon clear that they lack support and long-distance comfort. The driving position is compromised by a lack of steering wheel reach adjust too.

In the rear, the Vitara is surprisingly tight on headroom, probably due to its panoramic glass roof. The C4 Cactus had a glass roof option too, but this wasn’t as compromised in terms of headroom. At least the Suzuki has a practical boot, with split-fold seats that fold flat. The Citroen has a fixed backrest, that flops onto the rear seats at quite an angle. The Suzuki’s dual-height boot floor is another practicality bonus.

Costs

On paper, the more efficient engine tech of the Citroen shines through in terms of economy – 60.1mpg instead of 53.3mpg. However, on the road, they’re both much of a muchness, averaging around 50mpg. The only reason you’ll have to fill the Suzuki up more often is because its fuel tank is smaller.

Where the Suzuki has a clear advantage is in terms of safety, with a five-star Euro NCAP rating instead of the Citroen’s four stars. We also noted it has a better level of standard equipment in test SZ5 guise, although there was a pay-off for this – used car prices £2500 more than the similar-age C4 Cactus Feel.

Verdict

This is why it ultimately is such a close-run thing: overall, the Suzuki is the better performer, but the Citroen is such a bargain, it’s hard to ignore for less than £10,000. We’d ultimately still advise you to go for the Suzuki, as its talents are broader, but if you’re a bargain-hunter who simply can’t ignore the value of the Citroen, we wouldn’t blame you. Even it is a four-star car that shows just how desirable the small SUV sector is these days.

Price today is based on a 2015 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

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