ROAD TEST: Citroën C4 Cactus

By: Brendan Seery

Johannesburg - There is an oft-quoted (and sometimes incorrectly, so I understand) Latin saying, “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi” (always something new out of Africa).

Given that there is a lot of “same old, same old” (such as war, corruption and famine) on the continent these days, I am not sure that saying is all that accurate.

Don’t get me wrong: Africa has lot of things to amaze and bring joy - but I think if you really want to define something from which new things always emerge, then there really is only one word: Citroën.

Tribute: Citroen's goddess turns 60

From the Light 15 to the 2CV to the DS series, the French carmaker has always been one to throw away the rule book.

Those who have been able to live with that sort of iconoclastic behaviour - and frankly, over the years, many car buyers have been unable to - have been rewarded with sublime carriages.

There are still few cars - either in the past or the present, for example - that could match the magic carpet ride of the DS range on their pneumatic suspensions. And few that had the unpretentious simplicity and practicality of the 2CV.

In the past two decades, though, Citroën has toned down its quirkiness in an acknowledgement that not everyone is able to adjust to things which are so far outside their normal terms of reference.

So, many of the marque’s models have been logical, easy to live with and practical.

Citroën has managed to do that without entirely losing the cute (or, when required, sexy) factor, though, and its cars are still something which stand out in a market place where many vehicles seem to have come from the same bland imagination and been executed under the strict watch of the same boring accountants.

PADDED FLANKS

The Citroën C4 Cactus is nothing like anything else on the market. It has a sort of high stance, which means it has a bit of the SUV aspect about it.

But it is clearly not meant to tackle off-road stuff. It has a space-optimising wheel at each corner and a snub, different-looking nose.

Its main party trick is the pads on the flanks which go by the name Airbump (don’t use that word anywhere else, people, because Citroën has copyrighted it) and which are made of something called thermoplastic polyurethane.

Little bubbles filled with air help to absorb the minor shocks of encounters in car parks. It’s clever and it works - and when you see it (as I did next to our family Subaru Forester, which bears the scars of a number of thoughtless drivers in parking garages), you wonder why no one thought of it before. Bubble wrap for cars. Clever.

The cladding also adds a touch of adventure to what is, essentially, a family car.

In that role, the Cactus acquits itself well. There is a decent enough boot, and good legroom behind the driver and front passenger, so the smaller kids can kick away to their hearts’ content and not cause too much mayhem.

Although it looks like a quirky mom’s taxi, it is the dynamics of the C4 which are as much of a surprise as the design and the Airbumps.

THREE-POT GROWL

The ride is very good – as you’d expect from the brand which defined the word – and the Cactus absorbs road imperfections with aplomb, even with a steel suspension.

Despite that level of comfort (which is emphasised by comfortable chairs), the Cactus handles reasonably tightly too. Tossing it around corners is a pleasurable experience - although it will understeer safely if you’re too enthusiastic, forcing you to tap off.

The three-cylinder engines, all of 1.2-litre capacity but ranging in power from 60kW to 81kW (the turbo version), are a joy. The offbeat three-pot growl is highlighted in the turbo motor by a decent 205Nm of torque, which means the Cactus is not slow away from the robots or in overtaking on the highway.

Citroën claims the car will hit 100km/h in under 10 seconds, but on the highveld I would put it at closer to 11 seconds.

Still that’s where some “hot” family cars were 25 years ago…

Fuel consumption is excellent, with the example we had on test easily able to beat five litres per 100km on the highway and using less than seven in the city.

The top version will set you back R269 900, but it does come very well-equipped.

And you’ll have something no one else has… individuality. - Saturday Star

FACTS

Citroën C4 Cactus

Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder turbo/petrol

Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Power: 81kW @ 5500rpm

Torque: 205Nm @ 1500rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 9.3 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 188km/h

Price: R269 900

Warranty: 3-year /100 000km

Service plan: 5-year /100 000km

Talk us to us via Twitter and Facebook.

IOL Motoring on Twitter

IOL Motoring on Facebook