Prickly SUV fun: Citroen Cactus road test and review
SMASHING shopping trolleys into side panels and peppering the immaculate body with healthy sprays of paintball bullets isn't the most conventional way to introduce a new car.
Naming it after a prickly desert plant and trying to invoke images of a tough fun car in a country where the name is more akin to something kicking and spluttering on its last breath is hardly conventional either.
But then, the Citroen C4 Cactus doesn't do conventional.
Encased in a blanket of innovative technology with some 23,184 possible personalised combinations (yep, unbelievable but true), the C4 Cactus is Citroen's attempt to go back to its roots - simple functional design that answers the questions buyers are asking.
The Airbumps, moulded panels made up of plastic air bubbles much in the same vein as bubble wrap, protect the doors and bumpers from scratches, scrapes and dents.
Lovers of rectangles rejoice because that is the dominant shape here stretching from the front vents to the door handles, the gear lever, handbrake, storage compartments, trim, seats and everything in between.
Two electronic screens (rectangular, of course) - a 7.0-inch colour touch used to control all vehicle functions and a smaller digital instrument cluster - take pride of place in an uncluttered dash and together with a funky stylised glove box give the strongest indication, on the inside at least, of Citroen's decision to offer design that is attractive and functional.
The placement of the handbrake and the lack of a gear lever in the automated manual diesel allows for couch-like front and rear pews which are quirky and retro and pretty comfortable as well.
Materials are a mixed bunch with quality additions for most of the touched surfaces and visibly cheaper plastics for the top and bottom of doors and underneath the centre console.
There is, however, excellent attention to detail especially with customised trim and differences like a door handle strap rather than handle; the latter being one of those unusual French touches that delight. While the boot (356-litres) is amongst the biggest in the small SUV class, storage inside the cabin is limited to a handful of pockets and a single, poorly placed cup holder.
On the road
Citroen Australia had six engines to choose from for this eye-catching Cactus, eventually opting for the 1.2-litre 3-cylinder 81kW turbo-petrol paired with silky five-speed manual transmission and a 64kW 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo-diesel mated with a six-speed semi-automatic unit.
Light, strong and efficient, the Cactus is accomplished both in stop-start traffic and on longer speedier highway stretches, decidedly more car-like than SUV in its performance. It copes well with quick changes in direction, is competent and confident in and out of corners except if it has to negotiate an unexpected bump, and enthusiastic enough when urgency is required.
The steering feel isn't exactly lively but about par for what you would expect in this class and it does sometimes need encouragement on steeper climbs.
While the semi-automatic manual offering is one of the better options around, there still is that noticeable anticipation of a gear change that surprises. Steering wheel paddles help circumvent that, but only to some degree, although familiarity brings with it more skill in modulating the accelerator for a smoother drive.
What do you get?
There is obvious generosity in the Cactus's long roll call of standard features, which includes a 7-inch touch screen with bluetooth and sat nav, digital radio, auto lights and wipers, cruise control with speed limiter, reverse camera with sensors, guide me home lighting and 17-inch alloys.
The panoramic glass roof ($1250) and half-leather trim ($1600) are at additional cost. Safety inclusions number six airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, stability and traction control as well hill-start assist. There is no ANCAP rating yet but the Euro NCAP is at four stars largely because of the lack of blind-spot monitoring and city emergency brake.
A meagre 3.6l/100km for the diesel and 4.7l/100km for the petrol are the official combined fuel consumption figures. The Cactus also comes with Citroen's six-year warranty and service and support program.
More than 100,000 small SUVs were sold in Australia's compact SUV market last year, a 23% increase on 2014 and it is no surprise that all the big players, bar Toyota for now, have a contender here.
The Cactus will have to contend with the Mazda CX-3 (from $19,990), Nissan Juke (from $23,490), Jeep Renegade (from $28,000), Renault Captur (from $22,990), Fiat 500X (from $28,000) and Skoda Yeti (from $23,490).
City SUVs with their higher seating position and spacious interior seem to be popular across the age groups and the Cactus's ability to offer a unique flavouring merely reinforces that appeal. Cactus's Airbump technology and functional design are clear highlights and there is little doubt you will be spoilt for choice.
While the cabin has a number of positives, there are no rear air vents and as a weight-saving measure the rear windows have push-out clips rather than a winding mechanism. The front door pockets can hold a water bottle but only lying on its side. Interestingly there is no push button start or voice controls for hands-free calling ease.
This Cactus is all about funky design. A rounded bonnet, easy stance and flowing rather than sculpted lines hint at its laid-back nature; it's a car that turns heads and invites adventurous thought. Of course, the Airbumps and the opportunity to customise the SUV makes for a truly unique vehicle.
So the Cactus is never going to be the cheapest, most spacious or the smoothest driving city SUV but it is certainly one that stands out from the crowd. It makes a fun, quirky statement adding that little bit of French flair that makes life more interesting.
Its Airbump technology and roof-mounted passenger airbag are industry firsts and Citroen's ability here to use bold innovation to rekindle the essence of the brand, to find that unique point of difference, should be applauded both by those who prefer convention and the rest who march to their own drum.
What matters most
What we liked: Quirky design, cool glove box, personalisation opportunity.
What we'd like to see: Better auto option, rear air vents, five-star safety.
Warranty and Servicing: 6-year unlimited kilometre warranty and servicing program.
Model: Citroen C4 Cactus.
Details: Five-door front-wheel-drive small SUV.
Engines: 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power of 81kW @ 5500rpm and peak torque of 205Nm @ 1500rpm. 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 68kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 230Nm @ 1750rpm.
Transmissions: Five-speed manual or six-speed semi-automatic.
Consumption: 4.7 litres/100km combined in manual and 3.6l/100km for semi-auto.
Bottom line plus on roads: From $26,990 (manual) and $29,990 (semi-auto).