By: IOL Motoring Staff
Paris, France - A cactus, as any six-year-old will tell you, is a spiky plant found in Mexico. The new Citroen C4 Cactus, by contrast, is anything but spiky - it even has bubble-wrap on its sides to protect it from car-park dings.
No, we're not kidding - it would seem Citroen is back to its quirky old self.
The production version of the C-Cactus concept, revealed to the world on 5 February, and due for South African release in 2015, is intended to offer a real alternative to the traditional compact hatch in the very competitive C segment, with distinctive styling, practical features and reduced running costs.
Its styling is smooth, with flowing line and no harsh edges; the floating roof and quarter-lights echo Range Rover practice going back to the 1970s but the distinctive LED daytime running lights are pure new-millennium, as are the panoramic glazed roof with polychromatic heat protection.
It's called Airbump and it's actually a thermoplastic polyurethane material with closed-cell air capsules to absorb minor impacts without permanent deformation.
It's used on the sides of the car and the bumpers and available in four colours - black, grey brown and tan, which can be matched with ten body colours and three choices of interior trim to offer more than 100 combinations.
And the colour is moulded in, rather than pointed on, so it needs no specific maintenance.
The production Cactus is built on a 2600mm wheelbase (same as the current C4) but with very short overhangs, placing the wheels as close as possible to the corners of the body and keeping overall length down to 4160mm.
It's built like a compact hatch - 1730mm wide and 1480mm high - with a classic one-third glazed, two-thirds solid profile.
Inside, a low dashboard with horizontal lines makes the most of the available volume by moving the passenger airbag to the roof and using a fully-digital interface.
The conventional buttons and switches for the air conditioning, media, navigation, vehicle settings, telephone, connectivity & driving aids are replaced by a 180mm touchscreen, while the traditional instrument cluster is replaced by a digital screen
On auto version the gear lever is replaced by three push-buttons for neutral, drive and reverse, near the bottom of the centre stack, while on-the-move shifting is by means of paddle shift.
That makes more space for sofa-style seating, while one-piece folding rear seat saves both weight an space.
The cactus provides the same legroom as a C4 - as it should, with the same wheelbase - but in a smaller package, while still providing 358 litres of boot space.
The lines of the cabin trim are derived from luggage design, with leather straps for door handles and a hinged storage compartment on the top of the dashboard.
The Cactus comes with park assist - all you have to do is operate the accelerator and brake, the car does the rest - a reversing camera that displays its image on the touchscreen, hill hold and static cornering lights.
Rather than go to the weight and expense of swivelling headlights, Citroen has used small additional projectors in the headlight clusters that light up the inside of a corner or intersection, depending on the position of the steering wheel and indicator switch.
And by using high-tech polychromatic class for the roof, the need for a blind and its mechanism has been obviated, saving another six kilograms right at the top of the car where it will do the most good.
Even the windscreen washer nozzles are built into the tips of the wipers, releasing only a small amount of fluid; this helps to maintain visibility during washing as well as saving running costs ion detergent.
LOSE WEIGHT, USE LESS FUEL
At 965kg the Cactus is 200kg lighter than a C4, thanks to smaller, new-generation engines, high-strength materials including high yield-strength steel, aluminium front and rear beams, an aluminium bonnet and pop-out rear windows; those alone are worth 11kg.
Citroen has not yet given any details of engines or drivetrains, beyond saying that both petrol and diesel options will emit less than 100 g/km of CO2, while the diesel gets by on less than 3.2 litres per 100km.
That, as they say in TV courtroom dramas, we will take under advisement until the Cactus is released in South Africa next year, and we've had an opportunity to drive one.