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What we're driving: Citroen C4 Cactus

Its birth may have been way back in 1955, but any mention among auto-industry technology aficionados of Citroën’s then startlingly radical DS will generate a sigh of admiration that echoes the sighs of the car's radical hydropneumatic suspension and the velvety ride it delivered.

Now, Citroen's mid-term update for the funky C4 Cactus has been given at least a soupçon of that technology with its use of what the company terms “progressive hydraulic cushions."

Citroën worked with supplier KYB Suspensions Europe (based in Spain) to develop an alternative to conventional shock absorber bump stops and introduce new standards of compression and rebound (see earlier story here). Some 20 technology patents were filed by Citroën’s parent, PSA. Sampling the system's competency was keenly anticipated, not just for its motorway ride but its performance on poorly-surfaced secondary roads. The UK has a plethora of the latter, promising a tough test of Citroën’s claim the system provides a “flying carpet” effect.

The results were mixed. Complemented by new, wider seats with added foam density and textured foam near the surface, the Cactus provides a fine immediate impression of comfort and the occupants are well-isolated

On main highways, the suspension can feel slightly floaty, a little like American sedans of yesteryear; it is not unpleasant, just surprising. However, it isn’t the gentle, almost lulling, insulated high-speed cruise sensation that the Citroën DS, and later CX, hydropneumatically-sprung cars were able to provide on long journeys across Europe.

But the Cactus’ suspension does not pretend to be that sophisticated. On minor roads, lateral ridges, small potholes and rough surfaces are generally dealt with effectively. But when hurried on winding roads, roll is noticeable. However, this does not detract from roadholding in general and in a curious way harks back at least a little to Citroën’s delightful, softly sprung 2CV and Dyane models, both of which could assume extraordinary roll angles—yet end up delivering tenacious grip. On narrow-rim, Michelin X-shod wheels, this could surprise bystanders even more than passengers unfamiliar with the Citroën way of doing things on these quirky models.

The Cactus, too, copes well—but far less dramatically! Overall, the new suspension is a good try, with the technology expected to be developed further and used on forthcoming models.

The latest Cactus also gets styling changes, including a move of its distinctive “Airbump” thermoplastic polyurethane exterior cladding—designed to give protection against minor damage —to a more discreet locale on the lower section of the doors.

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