Cactus' Airbump cladding on the body sides is sure to get bystanders talking.
Cactus' Airbump cladding on the body sides is sure to get bystanders talking.
The Cactus is around 200kg lighter than most similarly sized hatches.
The Cactus is around 200kg lighter than most similarly sized hatches.
The interior is generously appointed.
The interior is generously appointed.

ROAD TEST

Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 e-THP Shine

Johannesburg - You can look at this in one of two ways. Why didn’t anyone else think of this? Or, what the heck were they thinking?

Citroën says the broad plastic bumpers that run down the sides of its new Cactus are not only there for door-ding protection, but also add “compelling visual interest”. They’re right about that. Over a week long test I saw several baffled stares and could lip read quite a few “what the hecks” from fellow road users.

These trademarked Airbump panels are made of thermoplastic polyurethane, the same stuff they make cellphone cases out of, but it feels like everyday Tupperware with the scientific bang-with-fist test. They’ll certainly safeguard against dents and scratches inflicted in parking-lot battlefields, but then so would glueing a set of pool noodles to your car’s flanks. Which is more attractive I’ll let you be the judge of.

QUIRK FACTOR APLENTY

While these bubble-clad doors add the majority of quirk-factor to the Cactus, it doesn’t stop there. The torpedo-shaped front end with squinty panda bear face could get necks craning on its own, and the Citroën-typical “floating roof” C-pillar ensures the eye-catching design oddities wrap all the way around to the back.

Citroën made a risky move with the inoperable back windows in its now four-year old DS4, and it’s up to its old tricks again with the Cactus. This time though, the rear glass can be popped open with side latches to at least offer around 10cm of ventilation. Given the Cactus will likely appeal mostly to female buyers, and that back seats will often be filled with kids, this probably isn’t a bad thing. Even as a toddler-less male, I hardly roll down the back windows in any car anyway.

Those back seats are probably best suited to kiddies too, as there’s not a huge amount of legroom. Enough for full-sized people if need be, but definitely not for long trips. From a side view the Cactus has an almost station-wagon-like profile which creates an illusion of interior space, but in actuality there’s not much more here than in your average five-door hatchback. The boot’s good for 358 litres, or 1 170 with the rear bench folded, but that’s less than what’s available in a normal Golf on both accounts.

In fact, aside from its eccentric styling, the Cactus is an average five door hatch. It’s front-wheel driven just like most. It has a lifting tailgate. It shares its chassis with its sister Citroën C3 and cousin Peugeot 208. And its dimensions are right on par, or just a touch smaller, than Focus, Golf, Astra and Auris.

PEARL OF A MOTOR

In top-of-the-range Shine specification, as on test here, it also uses the same 1.2-litre turbo engine as the Peugeot 308 we road tested last week. This is a very good thing. Recently presented with top honours in its displacement category at the International Engine of the Year awards, this little three-cylinder petrol motor is an absolute pearl.

In Cactus application it gets 81kW and 205Nm, but you’d think it’s actually much more with the way it unfurls torque across a broad rev range. Reasonably efficient too with our on-board computer reading around 6.5 litres/100km.

This three-pot engine’s a notably smooth runner, although with an obvious lack of sound deadening material its triple-chortle is more prevalent than in the well-insulated 308. With this car, Citroën purposely skimped on heavy materials (efficiency, you see) with the result of a kerb weight of just over one ton. That’s around 200kg lighter than most similarly sized hatches.

A BIT NOISY THOUGH

The weight saving does create some compromise though, as it’s a relatively noisy drive especially at high speeds. At least you can hear the engine – a good thing when there’s no rev counter or auto gearboxes on offer.

I doubt if most Cactus buyers will miss sound deadening and rev counters, or one-touch window switches, or temperature gauges. I also doubt they’ll notice the very basic suspension system which I found a little crashy over rough roads, or that the five-speed manual’s gear lever is quite sloppy in action.

Not to generalise, but these things might not be that important to people who find value in shopping-trolley-proof door cladding and curious, ‘look-at-me’ styling.

It does come well specced though, with cruise control, a full size spare, 7” colour touchscreen, USB sockets, steering controls, ABS brakes, stability control, and six airbags (one in the roof for passengers, to free up cubbyhole space). Top-of- the-range Shine models add navigation, a fancier climate-control system, parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, a reverse camera, and rear disc brakes among other things. Three-year/100 000km warranties and five-year/100 000km service plans are also included.

VERDICT

A peculiar alternative to the usual run-of-the-mill C-segment hatch brigade. Ranging from R224 900 to R284 900, the Cactus is set smack in the middle of a raging hatchback price war – a place where some extra body armour might come in handy.

Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd

FACTS

Citroen C4 Cactus 1.2 e-THP Shine

Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Power: 81kW @ 5500rpm

Torque: 205Nm @ 1500rpm

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

Top speed (claimed): 188km/h

Consumption (claimed): 4.7 litres per 100km

Price: R284 900

Warranty: 3-year/100 000km

Premium plan: 5-year/100 000km