Say hello to Citroen’s C3 Aircross and C4 Cac­tus, which pro­vide bo­hemian French re­sis­tance against city-car medi­ocrity in Sin­ga­pore.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - • Story David Ting • Pho­tos Ya n g

WHEN I col­lected the C3 Aircross and C4 Cac­tus from C&C France at Alexan­dra Road, their re­spec­tive press packs were al­ready placed, thought­fully, on their front pas­sen­ger seats for my ref­er­ence. But the Aircross got the Cac­tus’ press pack, and vice versa.

This mi­nor mix-up is less con­fus­ing than how the two French ve­hi­cles fit within the Citroen scheme of things –

from Paris to Pasir Ris and ev­ery city street in be­tween.

The C3 is a smaller “num­ber” than the C4, but it’s a slightly big­ger and sig­nif­i­cantly heav­ier (+153kg) hatch­back that sits on a marginally longer wheel­base (+9mm).

Both are crossovers with SUV cues, but the Aircross is the more con­vinc­ing soft-roader for the hard con­crete jun­gle, be­cause it’s taller (+97mm) and equipped with skid plates, along with a chunkier rear bumper that looks ready to bump mole­hills off as the Aircross crosses the coun­try­side.

My con­fu­sion con­tin­ues with the lin­eage of the two Citroen new­com­ers. The C3 Aircross is a new SUV that su­per­sedes the old C3 Pi­casso MPV, which wasn’t sold in Sin­ga­pore, but there was a C3 mar­keted here as a neo­clas­si­cal su­per­mini. The C4 Cac­tus uses the plat­form of the C3/DS3 in­stead of the one un­der­pin­ning the C4/DS4 and is un­re­lated to the C4 Pi­casso/SpaceTourer.

Learn­ing con­ver­sa­tional French in Sin­ga­pore might be eas­ier than fig­ur­ing this out.

One thing I know for sure is,


th­ese are quirky rides with a unique sense of ve­hic­u­lar hu­mour, which starts with their ex­te­rior de­signs. They qual­ify as French­style au­to­mo­tive art, al­most wor­thy of dis­play in the Lou­vre.

In a Sin­ga­pore sea of Honda HR-Vezels, th­ese two Citroens are like a breath of fresh French air. If com­mon com­pact crossovers were the ko­pi­tiam bread and but­ter-kaya of grass­roots mo­tor­ing, th­ese two Citroens would be the de­li­cious, but­tery crois­sants of Delifrance.

Candy colours are on the Citroen menu, too, and they’re colour­ful enough to make the stan­dard body colours of­fered by the other Euro­pean mass-mar­ket brands (ex­cept Peu­geot and Re­nault per­haps) look ei­ther blah or bland.

Two of the Cac­tus’ paint jobs are Hello Yel­low and Jelly Red, and the Aircross’ paint­work pal­ette in­cludes Soft Sand and Breath­ing Blue.

Com­plet­ing the two Citroens’ arty ap­pear­ance are won­drously weird wheels (17-inch “Cross” de­sign for the Aircross and 16-inch “Square” de­sign for the squar­ish Cac­tus), rad­i­cal-look­ing roof bars and spe­cial de­tails.

The de­tails adding spe­cial­ness to the styling are the “Vene­tian blinds” of the Aircross and the “Air­bumps” of the Cac­tus.

The Aircross’ “screen slats” are ac­tu­ally sheets of coloured film within the poly­car­bon­ate rear quar­terlight-win­dows, which pro­vide dis­tinc­tive graph­ics as well as greater pri­vacy (glass).

The Cac­tus’ “cap­sules” are air-filled pan­els that pro­tect the doors from dings.

Open­ing the front doors of both cars and peer­ing into the cock­pits, my mind’s eye is trans­ported to a Champ­sEl­y­sees patis­serie with rain­bow mac­arons on greyscale trays. Delectable eye candy, yummy.

The dash­board of the C3 Aircross has cheery bursts of or­ange trim on the air-con vents and the steer­ing wheel’s bot­tom spoke, with the bright colour re­peated as thick lines across the seats and above the seat­back pock­ets, and as thin lines across the seat squabs and on the front door-pulls. Orangey and groovy.

The Aircross cabin comes with fab­ric up­hol­stery, which suits the funky char­ac­ter of the chunky car.

The Cac­tus cabin used to be up­hol­stered in fan­tas­tic fab­ric, but it has been re­placed with leather of the cheap-chic kind for the 2018 model.

This year’s up­date also swopped the Cac­tus’ un­usual and comfy two-seater “couch” for a pair of or­di­nary front chairs and ditched the gi­gan­tic, fas­ci­nat­ing hand­brake for a skinny, un­in­ter­est­ing stick be­tween the seats.

The Aircross’ hand­brake looks so much cuter and yet works just as well.


Luck­ily for the failed artist in me who ap­pre­ci­ates ran­dom pieces of art, the Cac­tus has re­tained the like­able leather straps that pull the front doors closed, the ter­rific dash-top “trunk” glove­box and the de­light­fully asym­met­ric air vents.

Far less de­light­ful is see­ing how the Cac­tus clearly loses to the Aircross in on­board ameni­ties.

For in­stance, the Cac­tus pro­vides a sun­vi­sor mir­ror only for the driver (the Aircross pro­vides an­other for the co­driver), and its cabin lamps are measly com­pared to the in­te­rior light­ing of the Aircross. Even the Cac­tus’ ig­ni­tion key­hole and ad­juster for the side mir­rors are un­lit. As for key­less ac­cess, only the Aircross of­fers the op­tion, to­gether with push-but­ton start.

An­other amenity avail­able in the Aircross and miss­ing from the Cac­tus is power op­er­a­tion of the rear win­dows. In­ci­den­tally, they are not your usual wind-down win­dows in the Cac­tus, which has push-out glass panes in­stead.

This may cause in­con­ve­nience to a Cac­tus back­seat oc­cu­pant in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, such as when he needs to pass some­thing to some­one at door- or kerb-side.

The Aircross has a pair of grab han­dles for the rear pas­sen­gers, whereas the Cac­tus has none, but this is less of an is­sue than the lat­ter’s air­con­di­tion­ing, which doesn’t reach sweaty folks seated be­hind as ad­e­quately as the Aircross’ more ef­fec­tive air-con sys­tem.

Both Citroen in­te­ri­ors use ba­sic plas­tics in sev­eral shades of black and grey, but the Aircross dash­board has rub­bery por­tions that should please the mid­dle-class hip­ster.

I know a cac­tus is sup­posed to be an aus­tere plant, but the aus­ter­ity mea­sures adopted by Citroen’s bean coun­ters for the Cac­tus cabin are pretty prickly. Some­how, though, the pen­nypinch­ing ac­coun­tants found a few francs un­der­neath their desks to pur­chase a multi-func­tion “tablet” and an in­stru­men­ta­tion “ph­ablet” for the dash­board of the Cac­tus.

Both de­vices are use­ful and

easy to use, but the 7-inch cen­tral touch­screen could re­spond more quickly to fin­ger­tip in­put and the two dis­plays’ bright­ness should have been in­di­vid­u­ally ad­justable.

The Cac­tus’ in­fo­tain­ment in­cludes six speak­ers, a USB port, GPS nav­i­ga­tion and Bleu­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, but ex­cludes Ap­ple CarPlay, An­droid Auto and wire­less charg­ing of com­pat­i­ble smart­phones.

The Aircross has all of the above and also al­lows some per­son­al­i­sa­tion of cer­tain set­tings, which is not pos­si­ble in the other Citroen.

The Aircross’ con­ven­tional in­stru­ment me­ters with phys­i­cal nee­dles and num­bers are eas­ier to read, too, and there’s a proper tachome­ter in­stead of the Cac­tus’ im­prac­ti­cal rpm read­out.

Count­ing the revs of ei­ther en­gine won’t be a happy hobby for the driver, any­way. It’s the same

1.2-litre turbo 3-pot pow­er­ing both cars and show­ing the same dis­in­ter­est to­wards driv­ing zest.

Dis­in­ter­ested, too, is the 6-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, which seems to have been pro­grammed to keep the revs low, the gear high and any kick­down half-hearted.

What the driv­e­train is most in­ter­ested in is fuel econ­omy, which is good in the Aircross (al­most 18 kilo­me­tres per litre of petrol) and great in the Cac­tus (over 20 kilo­me­tres per litre of petrol). With its 50-litre fuel tank, the Cac­tus has a the­o­ret­i­cal range of about a thou­sand kilo­me­tres be­fore need­ing a refuel.

The two mo­tors sound a lit­tle off­beat on the move and ex­hibit a slightly off-kil­ter vi­bra­tion dur­ing idling, but th­ese char­ac­ter­is­tics are in­ci­den­tal rather than in­trigu­ing.

Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous Cac­tus that came to Sin­ga­pore in 2015 with a weak 80hp/118Nm non-turbo 1.2-litre en­gine and an even weaker 5-speed au­to­mated man­ual gear­box, the cur­rent Cac­tus is a much bet­ter per­former.

It also per­forms bet­ter than the Aircross, be­cause of the Cac­tus’ power-to-weight ad­van­tage, with the same 110 French ponies get­ting a 150kg work­load “dis­count”.

The Cac­tus is faster than the Aircross, or maybe I should say that the Aircross is even slower than the Cac­tus.

Ei­ther way, with most of the work done by their en­gines’ de­cent low-end torque, both Citroens are nippy enough in city traf­fic and built-up areas, and just about “ex­press” enough for ex­press­ways if I mash the throt­tle pedal.

As for ride qual­ity, the Aircross ab­sorbs tar­mac im­per­fec­tions more gen­tly and also more qui­etly than the Cac­tus, de­spite hav­ing larger wheels with lower side­walls (215/50 R17 Bridge­stones, ver­sus 205/55 R16 Goodyears). The stick­ier tyres of the Aircross give it a bit more grip, but the Cac­tus cuts ev­ery cor­ner with a Gal­lic gusto that eludes its com­pa­triot.

The com­fort level of the Cac­tus’ sus­pen­sion over rough road patches is closer to cac­tus than to car­pet, with the bumps felt closely and the thumps heard clearly. The Aircross feels like it’s com­fort­ably air­borne when travers­ing the same patches of rough road.

The Aircross also gives its oc­cu­pants more airspace in­side, es­pe­cially those on the back­seat, where the “Vene­tian” C/D-pil­lar win­dows and big­ger (than Cac­tus’) rear wind­screen re­in­force the pos­i­tive im­pres­sion of spa­cious­ness.

The driver and front pas­sen­ger also en­joy gen­er­ous head­room, with the head­lin­ing and sun­vi­sors lo­cated fur­ther away from their faces than in the other cock­pit.

How­ever, there is no­tice­ably more clear­ance for the knees parked in the back of the Cac­tus, plus firmer un­der-thigh sup­port


by the back­seat cush­ion.

Ac­cord­ing to the spec sheets, the Aircross has more boot space than the Cac­tus – 410 litres and 358 litres re­spec­tively.

Ac­cord­ing to my un­sci­en­tific but re­al­is­tic sce­nario of a Changi Air­port run to catch a flight (Air France in this case), the Cac­tus can lug as much lug­gage as the Aircross.

The lat­ter is more ver­sa­tile as a land trans­fer, though, thanks to its fold-down cen­tre arm­rest with a dual-cupholder re­cess, roomier seat­back pock­ets and more prac­ti­cal par­cel shelf, which can be stowed ver­ti­cally to max­imise the cargo hold.

But the Aircross’ glove­box com­part­ment is poorly shaped and quite use­less, un­like the Cac­tus’ stylish yet spa­cious dash-top box, and the Aircross’ doorbins store less junk than those in the Cac­tus.

Now that I’ve said “allo” to the C3 Aircross and “allo” to the C4 Cac­tus, which should I bid “adieu” to be­cause it isn’t the bo­hemian Citroen I pre­fer? I hereby wave good­bye to the C3 Aircross and say “allo” again to the C4 Cac­tus.

Both are ec­cen­tric city-cars which trans­form me into a pe­cu­liar hip­ster driver, turn ev­ery Sin­ga­pore jour­ney into a French fash­ion pa­rade, and trans­port me from Pasir Ris to Paris and from Marsiling to Mar­seille, but the C4 Cac­tus is more cost-ef­fec­tive and less child­ish than the C3 Aircross.

jour­ney was a 173km jaunt from Bangkok to Khao Yai, a pop­u­lar tourist spot lo­cated north-east of Thai­land’s cap­i­tal and well-known for its gor­geous land­scape and na­tional park, which is a UN­ESCO World Her­itage site. The drive up to Khao Yai cov­ered mostly high­ways and the first JCW I hopped into was the 3-Door. I ex­pected the ride to be quite hard, as the car runs on firmer springs and dampers, but it was sur­pris­ingly com­fort­able over the of­ten pock­marked as­phalt of Thai­land’s roads. I heard and felt the bumps and pot­holes, but they were never jar­ring. Once I got onto the smoother sur­faces of the high­ways and put pedal to metal, the lit­tle hatch­back’s abil­ity to ac­cel­er­ate, and over­take with ease, shone through, thanks to its 2-litre tur­bocharged 4-cylin­der en­gine which it shares with the other JCWs. If there was a JCW model made for cruis­ing, what­ever the con­di­tion of the as­phalt un­der­neath, the Coun­try­man would be the one. The coun­try­side cross­over was more com­fort­able than the 3-Door and its higher seat­ing po­si­tion of­fered the most com­mand­ing views. The pow­er­plant un­der the Coun­try­man’s bon­net pro­duces 30Nm more torque (350Nm ver­sus 320Nm) than the en­gine pow­er­ing the hatch­back, but the big­ger car is also 300kg heav­ier. How­ever, it never lagged be­hind, even when sud­den bursts of ac­cel­er­a­tion were needed to dash past rows of slow-mov­ing ve­hi­cles.

Its strong brakes also came to my res­cue dur­ing one heart-stop­ping mo­ment when a truck veered into my lane while I was zoom­ing ahead at over 100km/h. At the 8 Speed race­track in Khao Yai, the in­struc­tors or­gan­ised three dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties – launch con­trol and hard brak­ing, slalom, and cir­cuit drive.

I took the first two ex­er­cises as a warm-up. While they af­forded hints of what the cars were ca­pa­ble of and also gave me time to ready my­self be­fore I be­gan lap­ping the cir­cuit, pi­lot­ing the JCWs at

high speed around the tight and twisty course would re­ally test their met­tle.

To keep things in­ter­est­ing, I drove three laps in one MINI and then switched to a dif­fer­ent model. We did this lap-and-swap for over an hour, with short breaks for cof­fee and the lit­tle boys’ room. Each lap took around 45 sec­onds, so you can imag­ine how much driv­ing we did! The 3-Door felt the fastest on the track. No sur­prise there, as the hot hatch is the light­est at 1330kg and also the quick­est from zero to 100km/h, with a quoted tim­ing of 6.1 sec­onds.

It felt light on its feet/tyres and I was slic­ing through apexes with ease. The JCW Con­vert­ible was a great drive, too, as it had sim­i­lar di­men­sions to the 3-Door and only a slight weight penalty. And with the soft-top down, there was noth­ing like the feel­ing of the wind rush­ing past like a mini-hur­ri­cane. The Coun­try­man sur­prised me the most, in a good way. The laps around the race­track were done in con­voy, be­hind the lead car which was pi­loted by the in­struc­tors. In the tight­est part of the race­track where I had to tra­verse a se­ries of left- and right-han­ders in­clud­ing a hair­pin, I had no

trou­ble keep­ing up with the hard-charg­ing car in front. The ALL4 all-wheel drive sys­tem con­tributed to this im­mensely by ap­por­tion­ing torque be­tween the Coun­try­man’s front and rear axles, so I could get on the throt­tle/power ear­lier. Sure, the body roll of the big hatch­back was quite pro­nounced and it felt a lit­tle lethar­gic when chang­ing direc­tions, but the Coun­try­man’s grip on the tar­mac was un­yield­ing. How­ever, it was the Club­man which got my vote as the best John Cooper Works pocket rocket for the en­tire trip. Like the Coun­try­man, it is also equipped with ALL4 all-wheel-drive, but un­like its SUV si­b­ling, it weighs less and yet has the same power and torque out­puts.

Driv­ing it around the race­track was so plea­sur­able be­cause it was nim­ble, grippy and pow­er­ful. The car felt so bal­anced, and even on a few oc­ca­sions when I car­ried too much speed into a cor­ner, a slight lift of the throt­tle pedal was all that was needed to get the nose back in line. It per­formed so well that I was quite sure that I was as quick in the Club­man as I was in the 3-Door. When the time came for us to head back to Bangkok, along al­most the same route we took to get to Khao Yai but a few kilo­me­tres longer, I drove the Club­man again.

The fi­nal bit of this road trip con­firmed the Club­man as my favourite John Cooper Works. The JCW es­tate’s greater prac­ti­cal­ity was the ic­ing on the hot­cake – it was able to ac­com­mo­date three suit­cases and sev­eral back­packs, and still had space for my two pas­sen­gers.




Both cock­pits are funky and user­friendly, but C3 Aircross has more equip­ment and C4 Cac­tus (bot­tom) is more grown-up.

C4 Cac­tus is quicker and more fuel-ef­fi­cient, while C3 Aircross (far left) is cuter, com­fier and eas­ier to ma­noeu­vre. The de­signer de­tails on th­ese un­com­mon Citroens are sen­si­ble fea­tures, ac­tu­ally.


The MINI JCW combo of hot tom yum and yummy hot hatches worked re­ally well here.


The Club­man was the writer’s favourite JCW pocket rocket on this power-packed road trip.

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