Ross Kiddie finds there are no prickles in Citroën’s Cactus.
You would expect nothing less from French car maker Citroën. One of its most recent arrivals – the Cactus – has landed and its styling can only be described as radical, not so much in its square-like appearance but in its cosmetic detailing.
Along the side of each flank, and the hatch door, are what Citroën describe as ‘air bumps’, they are a series of large plastic bubbles which Citroën say are designed to protect the vehicle from everyday dings and scrapes in the urban rough and tumble.
And that’s not the only design quirk, the Cactus is dramatic on the inside as well. It is funky, creative and represents all of those design elements that make French cars just that little bit different.
Yet, underneath the Cactus is still the practical five-door hatchback that will appeal to those who like to stand out in a crowd.
The Cactus is also badged C4 but interestingly it doesn’t sit on the C4 platform, instead it is based on the C3 mechanicals. Yet, it feels a lot more spacious than its dimensions would suggest. At 4.1m it isn’t big, but it does translate its compact proportions to satisfactory interior space. I’m not saying it’s a five-seater, but there are three seat belts in the rear, and for children or those small in stature it would suffice. And, what’s more, the seats are divine. This vehicle is immensely comfortable and smooth to travel in.
The Cactus lands here in two variations. Effectively, it is the same car, but with the choice of a three-cylinder petrol engine (1.2-litre) or a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel.
The test car was the latter and it would be my pick, solely for its fuel-usage claim. Citroën rate it with an amazing 3.6-litre per 100km (78mpg) combined cycle average, and I would expect that to be quite achievable. My time with the test car constantly listed around 4.5l/100km (63mpg) with 4l/100km (70mpg) available instantaneously at 100km/h. There’s no rev counter in the Cactus, but I would suggest that the engine is just ticking over.
Incidentally, the three-potter has a 4.7l/100km (60mpg) fuel-usage rating, that being the case, both models are mega fuel efficient.
The twin-camshaft diesel is listed with a 68kW and 230Nm rating; these are healthy outputs, and if you take into account the light weight of the Cactus at 1055kg, it is a lively model under acceleration. Citroën also claims a 11.4sec standstill to 100km/h acceleration time which is swift enough to keep pace with the traffic.
Power is directed through a direct shift transmission. Effectively the mechanical operation of the gearbox works like a manual, but there are only two pedals so it must be considered automatic transmission.
There is a notable point of difference with the transmission, and that is the definite points of ratio change, the shifts aren’t quick, instead there is a lull in drive between changes.
Although the engine is strong enough low down to pick up on the drop in motion, the feel from inside the cabin is one of constant power flow interruption.
I found that if you relaxed the throttle slightly, pre-empting changes or use the steering-wheel-mounted paddles then shifts would take place more naturally and would be less distinctive.
In terms of handling, the Cactus is nimble and well balanced. Riding on grippy GoodYear tyres (205/50 x 17in), there is a lot of natural grip available in the first instance, and there is controlled body balance over the suspension, that taking into account the suspension is simplistic with its torsion beam rear.
The Cactus is a bit firmer underneath than I was expecting. It’s not hard, and will certainly contain the big hits from broken roads without spoiling the ride.
The benefit is the way it attacks corners, it is agile and has beautiful steering feel, turn-in is direct and precise. In my introduction I mentioned the interior detailing, and while it looks radical it is quite functional and simplistic.
Notably, there’s no gear lever as such, three switches – neutral, reverse and drive – are all that are available, and it must be remembered that neutral isn’t a park mechanism, the hand brake needs to be applied when stationary.
The Cactus lands at $33,990, the diesel adds around $2000, for that money you get a relative level of fitment. Many of the controls are operable through a central touch-screen display, it dominates the facia and dash panel area, otherwise that area is minimalist with the emphasis on out-of-the-ordinary design detail.
Due to worldwide demand, the Citroën distributors here have been a little hampered with supply restrictions, but I’ve seen several Cactus’ on our roads and that augers well for the way it has been received.
The Cactus incorporates all things practical, yet certainly makes a statement in terms of style. You can also funky it up with a whole host of interior and exterior colour match-ups.