Naming a car after a particularly prickly succulent usually found in arid, rain starved environments around the world, could either be seen as a win as much as it could be seen as a fail. Personally, announcing to friends and family that I would be driving a Cactus, elicited as many furrowed brows as it did guffaws.
Of course, leave it to the French to defy convention whilst simultaneously polarising opinion and with the Citroen C4 Cactus you see here, there can be no denying that you’re either firmly in the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp. Without exception, no one is seems ambivalent to the Cactus’s (Cacti?) quirky exterior.
I love it/I hate it! Is that bubble wrap on the doors?
Like the desert dwelling counterpart who’s spines (the prickly bits) are great at warding off hungry herbivores with their prickly spines, the C4 Cactus similarly has a special adaptation in preventing dents and scratches on its doors from careless shoppers and parkers. It’s called AirBump technology and yes, it looks weird.
Simply, it’s a pliable protective strip made from thermoplastic polyurethane and indeed it looks like a scaled up, automotive adaption of bubble wrap. Actually, that’s a pretty good description because it works in exactly the same way acting as a flexible bumper for the side of your car.
It works too. I invited a friend to intentionally park too close to the Cactus and encouraged him to carelessly open his door against it and voila, no dings or scratches. Similarly it’ll provide protection against errant shopping trolleys carelessly abandoned by their operators.
Funky door trim aside, the Cactus is as unique a crossover on the road as you might find, with its three-tier light arrangement up front, rising waistline and minimal glass area and stubby rear end, even the glossy black roof racks are out of keeping with the norm, further setting the Cactus apart from everything else on the road.
And what powers this road going Cactus?
Before we getting into what powers the Cactus, it’s interesting to note that with some optimisation Citroen has managed to reduce the weight of the C4 platform employed for the Cactus by roughly 200kg bringing the kerb weight to 965kg and 1020kg respectively. I say respectively because the Cactus is powered by a 1.2-litre 3-cylinder in two states of tune. The entry level 1.2 PureTech Feel 60kW/118Nm weighing in 55kg lighter than the PureTech e-THP engine which makes 81kW and 205Nm.
The PureTech e-THP is available in two specification levels, namely Feel and Shine and it’s the latter top-of-the-range Cactus which I was fortunate to drive for the week.
Immediately obvious as you set off in the Cactus is the responsiveness of the engine. Sure, it feels heavily turbocharged (because it is), but once the turbo boosts up which is impressively quickly, it is very nippy, deceptively so. The low weight contributing nicely to the Cactus’s performance.
The 205Nm of torque, while on paper seems underwhelming, in the real world is more than enough with even steep hills dispatched of in top (fifth) gear. Speaking of, the gearbox is a slick shifting 5-speed manual with well-spaced ratios, never feeling like it needed a sixth cruising gear.
Is that a 7-inch touchscreen I see or are you just happy to see me?
Indeed, the Cactus packs a slick high-resolution 7-inch central touchscreen which houses functions like climate control, fan speed and multimedia. As a result the dashboard is clean and minimalistic without a plethora of buttons – there is knob for volume/radio on/off and 6 buttons directly beneath the touchscreen the touchscreen for front/rear demister, central locking, stability program on/off and hazard light functions – which plague most modern cars. (In general I’m no fan of full touchscreen technology in cars, they tend to be complex and require the drivers full attention which means eyes off the road.)
Ahead of the driver is another digital display, not a full screen as such but rather a group of individual digital readouts for cruise control information, seatbelt warning light, handbrake light and fuel readout amongst others. It works well and looks the technological part, the absence of a tachometer is strange considering there is enough space to incorporate one within the digital cluster. That at it is a useful driving aid.
Overall the interior is as quirky as the exterior with funky details like the dashboard arrangement with textured inserts, and material type door pulls. Rear space is very good too with decent legroom and headroom however, rear occupants have to do without traditional up/down opening windows rather getting old-school tilt opening type units reminiscent of older three-door cars. Odd, and seemingly becoming a Citroen C4 trademark.
Boot space is decent too at 358 litres ensuring the Cactus’s promise of appealing to families who require a little more load space than that of a regular hatchback.
Okay, let’s wrap this up
On pure head-turning ability alone, the Citroen C4 Cactus is a winner in my book because nothing I’ve driven recently has turned as many heads or sparked random conversations in public than the Cactus has. At R284 900.00 for the top-of-the-range 1.2 e-THP Shine model it represents decent value for money with a stacked standard specification list.
Of course there is stiff competition from the likes of the brand new Renault Captur (88kW Dynamic R239 900.00), Nissan’s updated Juke (1.2T Acenta+ R277 900.00) or Kia’s quirky Soul (2.0 Street R284 995.00) all of which are definitely worth a look-in. But if you’re really looking to stand out from the crowd then C4 Cactus will be a sure-fire hit.