Test Drives

Citroën C4 Cactus review: Prickly Heat



Citroën’s decidedly different crossover tickles the senses with its quirky features

SINGAPORE – Crossovers are by nature rather odd vehicles. After all, the genre itself is built upon the basis of ‘crossing’ different body styles to create some sort of Frankenstein-esque automotive monster, and given the fledgling trend, it’s no surprise that most crossovers come across as rather, shall we say, strange. Witness the funky Renault Captur, or the opinion-polarising Nissan Juke, for example.

But when it comes to unique vehicles, no one does it better than Citroën. For decades, the French carmaker has often done things differently, for both style and engineering.

Considering the brand’s history and innovations — like the original DS with its active hydraulic suspension — it’s sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Features like the fixed-hub steering wheel, and cars like its latest Grand C4 Picasso show that the French company almost doesn’t see the point in making something straightforward and boringly normal. So when it decided to make a crossover, one could imagine the brief: Make it stand out like hell, even if it pokes some eyes.

The result is this, the C4 Cactus. At first glance, it looks like a concept car that has just driven off the floor of a motor show. And that’s because it almost is, with this production version looking almost unchanged from the C-Cactus concept which spawned it. We certainly applaud Citroen’s boldness in bringing the concept to life almost untouched, but it seems like most people aren’t quite used to such audacity. Indeed, the Cactus is quite prone to curious stares from passers-by and fellow motorists, with the reaction often inevitably along the lines of “What on earth is this thing?”

The result is this, the C4 Cactus. At first glance, it looks like a concept car that has just driven off the floor of a motor show. And that’s because it almost is, with this production version looking almost unchanged from the C-Cactus concept which spawned it.

We certainly applaud Citroën’s boldness in bringing the concept to life almost untouched, but it seems like most people aren’t quite used to such audacity. Indeed, the Cactus is quite prone to curious stares from passers-by and fellow motorists, but hey, this is Singapore and not Las Vegas after all.

Probably the single outstanding feature that will strike you most about the Cactus’ exterior is the large plastic panel on each side of the car.

Dubbed Airbumps, these panels are dotted by ‘bumps’ filled with air, and the idea is to help the car withstand small dings and hits from errant car doors, or runaway supermarket trolleys. This is no doubt a useful feature, even if here in Singapore cars get treated better than children, unlike in France, where they’re treated like shopping trolleys, but it does also prove that Citroën’s oft-spouted ‘creative technology’ theme isn’t just marketing.

There’s more weirdness/fun on the inside too, as once again Citroën has opted to bless the Cactus with its legendary sense of eccentricity. So you get peculiar ergonomic design features such as the large airplane-style handbrake lever, the button-operated gear selector on the dashboard, while the rear windows pop-out slightly, rather than wind down fully. 

The passenger airbag has even been relocated onto the roof, simply to accommodate the large, upward-opening glovebox, with its ‘dimples’ on its cover that is said to resemble the design of a luxury luggage bag.

It’s very hard not to smile at such idiosyncrasy, but the interior is certainly not the only thing about the Cactus that can force a grin out of you. Despite its odd looks, the Cactus is actually a massive hoot to drive.

There’s a certain chuckability to it when you introduce it to some corners, and while the car is not hugely powerful, it makes up for it in its eagerness, always willing and game to indulge you in some cornering fun in spite of its deficiencies, thanks to its precise (if light) steering and superbly controlled chassis.

Local Cactuses (Cacti?) come with a 1.2-litre three-pot petrol engine that churns out 80bhp and 118Nm of torque, which are arguably miniscule figures, but they do prove adequate in moving the car about in an urban environment.

It’s not fast, for sure, but it’s definitely good enough to zip about in town in, and it does help as well that the car is pretty light, weighing in at a mere 975kg, which is much lighter than some Japanese compact hatches. Speaking of which, given the price and size, the Cactus is obviously aimed at people who would otherwise choose a Nissan Almera or a Hyundai Accent.

Probably the only other letdown though, aside from the lack of power, is the six-speed automated manual transmission (the one which you have to operate via buttons), which, although much improved from previous iterations, still come across as a bit jerky, most notably in the first two gears. 

As such, you often get an uneasy lurch if you ever wanted a quick blast out of a slow corner, for instance, which can be a touch unsettling. It smoothens out quite significantly at higher speeds though, so at the very least you get to cruise along comfortably without any uneasy jerking movements.

Within the CarBuyer office, feedback on it that ranges from raging rage to shrugging acceptance, but we should point out that it’s a key feature of the car’s efficiency: robotised manuals are very light and, like real manual gearboxes, very good at making an engine sip instead of slurp fuel.

In any case, we can accept the odd gearbox, just as we can accept the sheer curiosity of the Cactus as a car that stands out in a sea of similarity.

Even with the prospect of supposedly strange-looking crossovers dominating our automotive landscape, it is quite something for Citroën to come up with a car that challenges convention and boldly breaks the mould. We love the fact that it dares to be different, and such bravado certainly brings a smile to our faces.

And if you find yourself mostly poked rather than stoked about the Cactus, here’s something to burst your taste bubble: Go take a look at all the other cars that cost less than $110k, then come back here. What the Cactus does is offer a little, much needed, joie de vivre that really contrasts with the rest of a budget segment that largely keep their heads down and carry on grimly with work.

NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,199cc, 12V, in-line three
Power 80bhp at 5750rpm
Torque 118Nm at 2750rpm
Gearbox 5-speed automated manual
Top Speed 172km/h
0-100km/h 15.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 4.3L/100km
CO2 98g/km

Price $109,988 with COE
Availability Now

Also Consider: Renault Captur, Suzuki S-Cross

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