The worldâ€™s gone crazy for SUVs and crossover so, in an act of apparent deliberate contrariness, Citroen has suddenly decided to reposition the C4 Cactus.
The first generationâ€™s clear crossover pretensions have been pushed aside and itâ€™s now being sold as a straightforward hatchback. The reasoning for this is that the C3 Aircross now ticks the compact crossover box and Citroen need something to replace the discontinued C4 hatch.
The biggest indication to this repositioning comes as soon as you look at the Cactus. The first generation was unlike anything else on the road thanks to lurid paint options, huge door-mounted rubber airbumps, standard-fit roof rails, raised ride height and plenty of chunky black cladding.
It was a â€œMarmiteâ€ car to be sure but it had character in spades and I, for one, loved the looks.
Citroen C4 Cactus Flair Puretech 110 auto
Price: Â£21,165 (Â£23,010 as tested)
Engine: 1.2-litre, three-
cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
CO2 emissions: 105g/km
In an effort not to scare off buyers much of what made it so individual has been toned down for this second generation. The plastic around-body protection remains but the airbumps have been reduced to a single thin strip at the bottom of the doors, the roof bars have been deleted and thereâ€™s a host of muted, mature colours.
Itâ€™s still a good looking car and the gentle tweaks to the lights and grilles are all to the good. The slit-like headlights atop huge square running lights ensure it still looks like nothing else on the market but the Cactus has definitely lost a little of its charm.
Thereâ€™s been less change in the cabin, which is a mixed blessing. The attractive, tactile luggage strap motif and door pulls remain but the cupholders are still as much use as a chocolate teapot, the infotainment system is still small, slow and fiddly to use and the lack of physical heating controls remains a personal bugbear.
The biggest change, however, is a good one. The seats are still wide, armchair-like things but they are now â€œAdvanced Comfortâ€ seats. This means theyâ€™re constructed from various densities and thicknesses of foam. Theyâ€™re more supportive and comfortable than before and the presence of lumbar support is a much-needed addition.
Those new seats reflect Citroenâ€™s clear aim for the future â€“ it wants to be the benchmark brand for comfort and the C4 Cactus is one of the standard bearers for this.
Soundproofing has been upgraded and the C4 Cactus is the first car to feature Citroenâ€™s Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension, which adds two hydraulic cushions to the standard shocks and dampers arrangement. These help absorb road imperfections without sending the car pogo-ing down the road.
The first generation Cactus rode brilliantly but the PHC has improved things even further. Citroen deliberately sent us out on routes pock-marked with huge potholes, speed bumps and crumbling surfaces and the car soaked up everything without fuss. Surface damage that would have you gritting your teeth in other cars barely intruded into the C4â€™s cabin. Itâ€™s the sort of smooth, calm ride youâ€™d expect from cars costing five times as much.
That smoothness definitely makes for a softer feeling drive than some rivals but the body control is still impressive. It doesnâ€™t feel overly floating or bouncy on undulated roads and although there is some roll in corners itâ€™s fairly well controlled.
The soft feeling extends to the controls where the pedal response and steering feel â€œrelaxedâ€. The steering, in fact, feels like itâ€™s not connected to anything. The weight varies according to speed but at higher speeds itâ€™s vague and lacking in feedback. Given the comfortable, relaxed aim of the car, however, itâ€™s not the end of the world.
The Cactusâ€™ engine line-up retains the Puretech 110 petrol and the Bluetech diesel but adds a 128bhp petrol and an 81bhp petrol. As before, the 110 is excellent in this car, producing performance you wouldnâ€™t think possible. The diesel is no louder or rougher but unless youâ€™re doing huge miles I canâ€™t think why youâ€™d take it over the Puretech 110.
From now until the end of May thereâ€™s a special Feel Edition model priced from Â£17,295 which comes only with the 81hbp engine and without the PHC suspension. Regular Feel models start at Â£17,965, with the upper spec Flair priced from Â£19,865.
As befits any car in 2018, the Cactus comes with an array of assistance and safety features. Depending on specification, you can have everything from driver alert warning and lane keep assist to autonomous emergency braking, park assist and the torque-managing Grip Control to aid traction in low-grip situations.
The seven-inch media system houses voice-controlled 3D navigation, Citroen Connect Box with emergency and assistance calling along with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink connectivity. Itâ€™s all most drivers will need but the system overall lags behind the best from rivals in operation.
By turning a crossover into a conventional hatchback Citroen might seem to be swimming against the tide. But thereâ€™s still a strong demand for this type of car and by offering class-leading comfort rather than cutting-edge tech or the sportiest ride, the Cactus could well carve a niche for itself.