We drive: Citroen C4 Cactus

Time of article published Oct 10, 2014

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By: Minesh Bhagaloo in Brussels, Belgium

Are South Africans ready for Citroën’s bold new C4 Cactus? It’s obvious that the newcomer is as much a fashion statement as it is an all-new car, with the French carmaker set to polarise opinion firmly between love it or hate it.

Either way, it’s aimed at capturing the imagination of both the young and young at heart. It represents a fresher direction for the carmaker and, strictly speaking, replaces the current C4 worldwide.

The carmaker calls it the Feel Good factor, and from the Airbump cushioning (automotive bubble-wrap which absorbs parkade bumps - but probably won’t fare too well against our taxis) to the plastic panelling and crossover styling, you have to give Citroën credit for putting into production what still looks like a concept.

The Cactus, which is built on the DS3 platform, plays in the same segment as the VW Golf and Ford Focus, but its lighter new-age bits and pieces means it tips the scales at just 965kg - a full 200kg saving over the C4.

Dubbed a Crosshatch by its maker, it gets hints of crossover in the form of a slightly raised ride height, wheelarch protection, and roof bars while other design highlights include short overhangs, a floating roof, sci-fi headlights integrated into the front bumper, and a large weight-saving panoramic glass roof (tinted to upper-end sunglasses spec - a market first that obviates the need for a sunblindt).

And just about everything - from those airbumps to rear-quarter panel inserts to roof bars - can be colour-coded to suit your style.

The interior looks like a project from a final-year design student, with trendy and minimalist finishes in the form of luggage straps for door handles, a top-box glove compartment, wide sofa-style front seats, a slick 7-inch touchscreen, pop-out rear windows, and a roof-mounted passenger airbag (to save interior space).

Doors can hold 1.5-litre bottles, while the boot will swallow 358 litres (1 170 with the one-piece rear bench folded). In terms of wheelbase the Cactus is virtually identical to the C4, meaning that even though it may look quite compact the five-passenger lodgings are fairly roomy.

There are various upholstery and trim levels options, a fancy Magic Wash wiper system (with washer jets integrated into the wiper arms), and the latest media, connectivity, and satnav tech. There’s even a Multicity Connect app to keep you and your new jammy in touch.

Turning the front wheels of the Cactus, when it arrives in SA in March 2015, will be just two petrol engine offerings: an entry-level, naturally-aspirated 1.2-litre three-cylinder (from the DS3) making 60kW/118Nm, and an all-new force-fed 1.2-litre three-pot pushing 81kW and 205Nm - with each engine paired to a five-speed manual ‘box.

The little turbo was served up at the international media launch event in Belgium last week and, like similar powertrains we’ve sampled recently, this replacement for displacement is a pearler.

Bolted into that lighter body and complemented by gear ratios which keep things perky, the Cactus never feels overwhelmed by anything you ask of it. The lack of a rev counter in the slim digital instrument cluster was a little disconcerting, but the Cactus matches three-cylinder thrum to fizzy performance, making it a rather entertaining package to pilot.

The suspension is more comfort-biased than dynamic, with the front end feeling especially soft at times. But in terms of overall feel the lighter body weight hasn’t resulted in a wallowy-feel, the steering isn’t overly soft or vague, and general handling is surprisingly capable and confident. Let’s just say that the Cactus has no qualms exploring a more prickly driving style.

And Citroën has thrown in all the bells and whistles. Depending on spec level and options list ticks, you can access functions such as park assist, reversing camera, hill hold, cornering lights, climate control, interactive car manual, you name it.

And kudos to that tint on the glass roof; at no time did the sunny weather fry my scalp.

Should the Rand hold steady we can expect the entry-level 1.2 naturally-breathing Cactus in SA at around R225 000, with the turbo in mid-spec landing at the R250 000 mark and the range-topper turbo closer to R300 000. One thing’s for sure, though, the Cactus is gonna send conservative cuzzies running for cover. - Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter @MineshBhagaloo

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