Cactus is no thorn in the side
Top continental style and charm on a Corolla budget The new Cactus crossover is not a prickly customer after all, and proves that Citroen has lost none of its panache and ability to charm. It’s not about to break the bank either, especially when its stand
It might look like an American Footballer from the front, complete with the black-out on its ‘‘cheekbones’’ while its door panels appear to be decorated with iPad covers, add-in a pushbutton semi-automatic and the beefiest handbrake we’ve seen in years mean and it shows that the Quirkiness of Citroen’s beguiling new Cactus is on the inside as well as the outside.
Roofrails that resemble massive, black sailing cleats add to the visual charm, the shardlike lighting systems and the availability of a range of lollipop colours for the body as well as the iPad bits - officially known as ‘‘airbumps’’ – provide a lot of style to a basic five-door silhouette that would look quite ordinary without them.
The airbumps are designed to absorb minor impacts, as a flexible skin to protect the vehicle from minor scrapes and bumps – the sort you get in supermarket carparks. Mind you, it’s hoped that other motorists don’t regard them as decorative targets for their lousy driving.
However, enough of the cynicism, it’s difficult not to love such cheek and chic. During my working week with the car, I could hardly keep my eyes off it, despite it being finished in its least flattering colour combination of white with black airbumps.
Nine other colours car be had for the body, with names like Sport Red, Hello Yellow’ and our favourite: Blue Lagoon, while the airbumps have four colourways, with Grey, Chocolate and Dune offered as well as black.
The car’s upholstery too offers colour choices, with purple, black, coffee and stone on offer in cloth and extra cost part-leather.
As well as airbumps and other detailing to set it apart, the Cactus also packs has what Citroen calls Magic Wash and a roof mounted airbag.
The Magic Wash works by having windscreen-washer jets fitted in the tips of the car’s wipers to provide a bead of liquid rather than a spray.
It results in no loss of visibility during washing, while removing overspray and reducing consumption of washer fluid by half, thus solving a problem many of didn’t know we had. The roof-mounted rather than dash-mounted front airbags help maximise storage space, allowing for an 8.5-litre stowage box in the dash which is also cleaner and simpler over all.
For $1000, each New Zealand Cactus models can have Panoramic glass roof with advanced heat protection which filters incoming light and heat to such an extent that a sunblind is not needed. I was cynical about this, but using the test car on up to 30 degree heat, it’s possible to say that it works. Another advantage is that without a sunblind the car weighs less, what weight there is contributes to a lower centre of gravity and headroom is totally unaffected. It’s also cheaper without all those moving parts.
The transmission is effectively a manual with all the clutchwork taken care of electronically, but most drivers will likely drive it like a conventional automatic, which really doesn’t do it justice, but more about that later.
In another month or so, the Cactus Puretech 110 S&S will arrive, an 1199cc 5 speed manual three-cylinder turbopetrol car.
We’ll be paying $33,990 for the petrol car,
Clever detailing and thoughtful design adds charm to a basic hatchback design. while the diesel is $35,990. There’s no automatic petrol car, nor a manual diesel, though the former will be missed more than the latter.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard on all Cacti, and surprisingly, our glossblack items can be optioned for no extra. Once you factor in standard sat-nav, programmable cruise control with speed limiter
magic wash, cornering fog lights, easypeasy connectivity, heated door mirrors, automatic air conditioning, automatic lights and wipers, an additional USB slot, along with colour reversing camera and rear parking sensors, and more character than Paddington Bear, the roomy, strangelynamed Cactus is marvellous value - continental style and charm, on a Corolla budget in fact.
Many Citroen owners buy the brand for its loping gait and comfortable ride quality, and while the Cactus is as sharp as its name suggests when punted briskly around corners, its sumptuous behaviour on packmarked roads and lack of reaction to surface changes marks a return to form: it feels like double-chevron cars of old.
There’s some body-movement when pressing-on - again a vestige of the old days - but this won’t perturb those graduating from much duller, less communicative fare from Japan and Korea and remember the sticker is about the same as those cars’ in the first place.
The diesel engine is as quiet as a petrol unit, except when cold and offers a solid mid-range which is well-suited to the ratiochoices on the six-speed transmission. Here’s the rub, the gear shifts when used as a standard automatic are languid and deliberate and probably responsible for the car’s less than rambunctious zero to 100kmh time of 11.4 seconds.
It’s always smooth, however and there are ways of hurrying the unit along a tad. Easing the throttle at the upshift point just as you would with a manual, makes things a little quicker, while overriding the shifts with the wheel-paddles helps too. It takes a while for the penny to drop, but once you’ve got used to the transmission - which is worth persevering with - it will feel like a different car.
Gear selection is interesting, three buttons sit about where the centre console should be, labelled simply N, D and R, with N becoming Park when you switch off the car. You just prod the letter you want and the transmission takes it. Edsel, Chrysler and others have used push-button selection in the past, and Citroen’s 21st take on this method is innovative and welcome.
For all that, I wondered why the car had a conventional twist-key rather than a starter button. Perhaps Citroen thought that there were quite enough buttons already. Also missing was an electronic handbrake. Instead, the Cactus has a huge boxing-glove shaped item which was solidly satisfying to use and you’d never put it on half-heartedly in error. The detailing is neat with leather straps for door handles and a lidded glovebox which looks like a cruising trunklid, with everything thing finished in pleasing textures and with good tight panelto-panel interfaces.
The steering wheel mixes traditional with modern with spokes.
The dash uses two screens. A small one in front of the driver where the instruments normally are, and another larger item for information, sat-nav and parking guidance at the confluence of the dash and console.
Good to look at and easy to use the screens and associated buttons don’t require handbook referencing and setting up your phonebook from a smartphones takes less than a minute, while the sat-nav and sound systems are a cinch.
Citroen says the the proportions of the Cactus are optimised for styling, space and driving comfort.
The front and rear seats in the Cactus are benches, two across in the front and three across in the back. Up front they have long well-shaped squabs and cater for small and large backsides equally well, with good side support.
The rear bench is a little flatter, and while one can’t quibble about its width and legroom which are above average for the segment, the back and squab are singlepiece items, so when folding forward to increase load space, it’s an all or nothing affair.
The seats-up load space is 358 litres, and its use is hindered only by a high-ish load lip, though the absence of glazing in the C-pillars means that dogs will probably not get their preferred view outside.
Niggles take nothing away from a genuinely individual offering in the affordable C-segment crossover segment. The Cactus will charm the socks off Citroen fans and snare a few outsiders to boot with a specification list that makes many Japanese brands look like penny-pinchers.