We tackle a prickly subject

Riley Riley

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What is it?

Citroen’s polarising Cactus.

I absolutely hated this car when it first came out.

Styling aside it had an awful single clutch, robotised manual that made driving it a pain in the bum.

I guess Citroen must have come to dislike it too, or perhaps one too many customers expressed the same sort of sentiment, because they ended up swapping it out for a regular auto —  one that works.

So here I am, back in the saddle, listening to the dying echoes of my own scathing words, forced to admit this is not the lemon it once was.

In fact, I’m happy to say I’ve become something of a fan of Citroen’s ugly duckling, warts and all — “air bumps” in French parlance.

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What’s it cost?

Cactus kicks off with the Exclusive, followed by One Tone and the Black Special Edition.

Exclusive as tested is priced from $26,990, which climbs to $28,490 with the 6-speed auto — both prices before on road costs.

That gets you cloth trim, climate air, 17-inch alloys, daytime LEDs, auto lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, fog lights that come on when you turn, six-speaker audio with Arkamys amp — plus 7.0-inch infotainment screen, with satellite navigation, digital radio and a rear view camera.

The seats are comfy and the front windows power operated, but the rear ones pop out like those in my 70s vintage Beetle.

And, like the Beetle, there’s plenty of exposed paintwork visible inside, with high door sills that you need to step over to get out (the wife complained about these).

It’s worth noting too that the rear brakes on this rig are drums, not more desirable discs, although this is not uncommon at this end of the market.

Being a funky funstermobile you also get to customise plenty of things, with bright colours, different coloured mirrors and coloured inserts from which to chose.

The safety setup isn’t bad either, with six airbags, rear sensors, reverse camera, and electronic stability control — but it misses out on the latest advances such as such auto emergency braking — for some this could be a deal breaker.

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What’s it go like?

Cactus now comes with just the one engine these days, a 1.2-litre tubocharged three cylinder petrol engine that has been International Engine of the Year for four straight years.

That’s overseas, not here of course — just to be clear.

The three pot is paired with a regular 6-speed Japanese Aisin auto, with sport and manual modes but no wheel-mounted gear change paddles.

The tiny engine puts out 81kW of power and 205Nm of torque, the latter from a low 1500 revs — with drive to the front wheels.

It doesn’t sound very impressive, but the raucous three pot is a little cracker, pulling strongly from low revs right through to redline.

It is only marred by the occasional hiccup before the transmission hooks up, but it’s nothing to worry about.

Selecting sport mode or changing gears manually using the gear lever removes the problem and delivers a much livelier drive experience — sporty to a point.

Suspension is psuedo Mac struts with coils and hydraulic dampers at the front with a torsion beam setup at the rear.

The latter, combined with car’s light weight and short wheelbase can make it a little skittish on back roads, but you won’t find it a problem around town.

The so-called air bumps on the doors of the car, which are not as pronounced as before, are designed to protect the car from carpark scrapes and skirmishes.

They’re actually polyurethane pockets filled with air that can be replaced entirely or in part by owners in the comfort of their own driveway if necessary — for a cost of course.

One thing’s for sure, the car and the air bumps attract plenty of comment, more than any other vehicle we’ve had parked in the driveway in recent times.

To my mind the bumps look like they might disturb airflow over the car and as such could contribute to an increase in fuel consumption, but if there is an  effect it must be negligible, with the Cactus good for just 5.1L/100km.

Having said that, we were getting 7.2L/100km after close to 500km, which given the size of the engine and the fact it prefers premium isn’t that impressive.

The interior is just as funky as the outside, with two display screens, a 7.0-inch touchscreen for most controls and a smaller screen that sits above the steering wheel that provides the essentials like temperature, a digital speedo and fuel consumption.

The bumps on the doors are mirrored by bumps on top of the glovebox, with straps for door handles.

Front and even rear legroom is quite good while it also boasts a good-sized boot, but the roofline is quite low and it’s easy to bump your noggin.

Cabin storage space is at a premium, however, with no centre bin and only one cupholder that won’t take a large coffee, plus shallow door bins out of which things can easily fall.

The navigation, although it’s in English, must be French because it refused to take us to our desired address on one occasion.

Grrrr . . .

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What we like?

  • Quirky
  • Cheap and cheerful
  • Doesn’t use much fuel
  • Spacious interior
  • Good sized boot

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What we don’t like?

  • Door lip catches your feet
  • Low roofline is not particularly head friendly
  • Satnav can be hit and miss

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The bottom line?

This is the kind of car that Citroen does best. Quirky to a point, but no so that it gets in the road of its primary role. It’s not too big, spacious inside, has a good-sized boot and doesn’t use much gas. That makes it a pretty good city car with its bullet-proof doors, where it’s all about style — n’est-ce pas?

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Citroen C4 Cactus, priced from $33,373 driveaway
  • Looks - 8/10
  • Performance - 7.5/10
  • Safety - 7.5/10
  • Thirst - 7/10
  • Practicality - 8/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
  • Tech - 7.5/10
  • Value - 7.5/10

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