Citroen C4 Cactus

Citroen rediscovers its roots with the 2CV-esque Cactus

PETER ROBINSON

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

IS CITROENíS new C4 Cactus a conventional five-door hatchback or a compact SUV or, as we suspect, something quite different? In reality, the Cactus sits midway between the two classes, combining imaginative styling with rational thinking in a clever package that is smaller than it looks, light of weight, modestly powered and comfort oriented, yet purely conventional in its mechanicals.

Different, yet also pragmatic.

A front drive-only crossover thatís taller than hatchback rivals, but shorter than an SUV, Australian Cacti are expected to have an 81kW 1.2-litre turbo-petrol threepot manual and a 68kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel (73kW with the manual gearbox test car) using PSAís clutchless-manual (ETG) gearbox. Sadly, the Cactus drivetrains donít include the brilliant six-speed auto from the new C4 Picasso and Peugeot 308.

The Cactus arrives early next year and has the potential to become Citroenís best-selling model. Two days in a manual turbo-diesel (a possibility for Australia) convinced us that this is Citroen rediscovering its roots. The Cactus is as close as the French have come to creating a 21st century 2CV; defiantly non-sporting and comfort-biased with soft springs, small engines and a spacious, minimalist, yet immensely comfortable interior.

Any way you look at the C4 Cactus, itís a beautiful piece of real design, combining both practicality and desirability in a truly unique form. Itís a style that instantly distinguishes the Cactus from its more convolutedlooking rivals via a mix of straight lines and pure curves.

We welcome a look that is utterly non-aggressive.

Citroen wants customers to personalise their Cactus and offers 92 colour and trim combinations with (mostly) vivid exterior colours and a choice of four colours for the innovative protective Airbump, so the chance of seeing two Cacti the same is highly unlikely.

The crossover elements include a slightly raised ground clearance, that protective perimeter, and a not-quite-SUV height. Thereís no pretension of being an off-roader.

The Cactus is no dynamic marvel, but delivers driving serenity and effortlessly meets real-world requirements without ever feeling straitlaced.

On the relatively large 17-inch alloys fitted to the test car (16s are likely to feature on the entry model in Australia), the soft suspension soaks up big bumps, noisily absorbs most small irritations and settles happily on the motorway. The steering is light enough to make the Citroen easy to manoeuvre and park, requires just 3.0 turns lockto- lock, and gains weight at faster speeds to provide reasonable confidence. Though thereís also plenty of body roll, the Cactus doesnít pitch to inhibit the driver.

The 73kW turbo-diesel majors on refinement rather than power.

Widely spaced ratios and a tall top gear make for plenty of gear changing, yet the performance is surprisingly strong. Itís no slick MX-5 change and a high clutch take-up requires initial concentration, but the drivetrainís manners are relaxed. Itís simple to drive, easy to live with and remarkably frugal at 3.2L/100km.

Cactus needs to be keenly priced Ė $25,000 or less Ė to convince customers itís a worthy rival to the CX-3 and HR-V. In no way is this a car for young, thrusting drivers. Its basic philosophy is to be comfortable, charming and clever with a distinctiveness of styling that perfectly defines its role.

PLUS & MINUS

No proper automatic; driving position compromised for the tall Charming to drive and in appearance; supple ride; atypical character

01 INTERFACE EASE

Air-conditioning and sound system controls are all on a central touchscreen. The passenger airbag deploys from the roof to allow a huge glovebox, and the door pulls are luggage-like straps. The dash is confined to a big digital speedo and coloured-strip fuel gauge.

02 SPACE ODDITY

Cactus is spacious, with soft armchair front seats. The interior feels roomy and unpretentious, though tall drivers will like more steering wheel travel and space around the pedals. Weight/cost-savers include non-split-fold rear seat and pop-out rear windows.

03 FAT BUSTING

Cactus is built on the same 2595mm wheelbase and platform as the C4 hatch, not the new EMP2 platform of the C4 Picasso and Pug 308. Despite this, Citroen managed to reduce weight by around 200kg over the C4 hatch. The entry-level Cactus petrol weighs just 965kg.

Bump & grind

THE ĎAirbumpí plastic cladding on the Cactusís bumpers and doors (where it looks like a giant magnet), is there to prevent scratches and dings in the bodywork.

The system works, too.

The oval pads of air are embedded in sheets of a soft yet durable plastic.

And it comes in four colours: black, brown, grey and off-white.

OR TRY THESE...

Mazda CX-3 Maxx $22,390-$26,790

BROAD CX-3 range brings four equipment levels, petrol or diesel engines, six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes, front- and allwheel drive, and a low starting price of $19,990. Striking design, good to drive, especially as an AWD.

Likely to dominate the class.

Nissan Juke ST $23,490-$24,490

RECENTLY facelifted and improved, though styling is still divisive. Has six-speed manual tied to a new 1.2- litre turbo four, or a CVT auto tied to an old atmo 1.6 petrol. A turbo 1.6 with front- or all-wheel drive is also available. Cabin materials feel dated and interior styling mismatched. Best in base form.