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The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test -

Stand­ing out can be a good and bad thing in Aus­tralia’s new-car mar­ket.

The quirky styling is likely to con­fine the Cac­tus to niche sta­tus, as the av­er­age Aus­tralian buyer isn’t a risk taker — our top sell­ers are as con­ven­tional as we are con­ser­va­tive. And looks aren’t the only stum­bling block for po­ten­tial buy­ers — there’s no petrol au­to­matic.

In the boom­ing mini-SUV mar­ket there is prob­a­bly room for Cac­tus to make a state­ment and a profit alike, al­though a $26,990 start­ing price is am­bi­tious for a new­comer in a cut-throat mar­ket. The Cac­tus ap­proach to styling mim­ics the Mini, with myr­iad op­tions to make your car look like noth­ing else on the road. There are 23,184 colour and trim com­bi­na­tions. You can choose the colour of your bumps, side mir­rors, roof pil­lars, roof bars and cabin trim — for a price.

White paint is stan­dard but choose any­thing more ad­ven­tur­ous, say Hello Yel­low or Deep Pur­ple, and it adds $800. Blanc Nacre (French for premium white) is $1000.

Air­bumps apart, the Citroen is a good-look­ing car, with a side pro­file rem­i­nis­cent of a Mini and a front end that looks both stylish and sporty. Puffed out guards and scuff plates are a nod to off-road ad­ven­ture.

Inside, the Cac­tus dash looks mod­ern and stream­lined. The jury is out on whether the touch­screen con­trols and dig­i­tal in­stru­ments are more prac­ti­cal than con­ven­tional lay­outs.

There’s no ana­log speedo or tacho and in the man­ual, the driver re­lies on gearshift lights for chang­ing gears. If you’re in third and the op­ti­mum gear is fourth, a lit­tle “4” with an ar­row lights up on the in­stru­ment panel. The rest of the trip in­for­ma­tion is on a tablet-like screen that sits proud in the mid­dle of the dash.

There are no but­tons for the air­con, which means you have to scroll through menus to ad­just the tem­per­a­ture. It’s a bit fid­dly. The rest of the menus are easy to find, though, and the lay­out is more log­i­cal than in French cars of the past.

Head­room is good in the front and the de­sign­ers have lib­er­ated more legroom for the front pas­sen­ger by de­ploy­ing the pas­sen­ger airbag from the roof in­stead of the dash. There are plenty of cub­by­holes and a rea­son­ably gen­er­ous lug­gage area but no use­ful cuphold­ers.

Rear pas­sen­gers won’t en­joy the pop-out win­dows and taller oc­cu­pants will lack legroom. De­spite the off-road looks, the Cac­tus is well-suited to city life. Small and nim­ble, it’s easy to park and light on the fuel around town, thanks to an en­gine that shuts it­self down at the lights — we man­aged 8.0L/100km with­out try­ing in heavy city traf­fic.

The lit­tle three-cylin­der turbo punches above its weight, pulling strongly both off the mark and in gear, mak­ing it easy to keep up with the traf­fic de­spite its mod­est 81kW.

De­spite the premium price, there isn’t much in the way of driver as­sis­tance. Sim­i­larly priced ri­vals have au­to­mated emer­gency brak­ing, blind spot mon­i­tors and rear cross traf­fic alert as stan­dard or op­tional.

The Cac­tus’s only driver aids are a rear cam­era and park­ing sen­sors. Rear vision isn’t great ei­ther, with a thick roof pil­lar block­ing the view dur­ing merg­ing. There are seat belt re­minders for all five seats.

Oc­cu­pants fare bet­ter for crea­ture com­forts, with cli­mate con­trol air­con, sat­nav, a big glove box and auto wipers and head­lights. The lit­tle Citroen is fun to drive. The steer­ing feels sharp and it cor­ners with more pre­ci­sion than you’d ex­pect from an SUV, even one of this size.

It also feels sta­ble at speed on the free­way — you don’t feel as if you’re driv­ing a small, tinny buzzbox. An ex­tra gear in the five-speed man­ual would make free­way cruising more re­laxed CITROEN CAC­TUS PRICE $26,990 WAR­RANTY 6 years/un­lim­ited km CAPPED PRICE SER­VIC­ING $3270 over 6 years SER­VICE IN­TER­VAL 12 months/15,000km SAFETY 4 stars EN­GINE 1.2-litre 3-cyl turbo, 81kW/205Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 5-speed man; FWD THIRST 4.7L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 4157mm (L), 1729mm (W), 1480mm (H), 2595mm (WB) WEIGHT 1020kg SPARE Space-saver TOW­ING 825kg but over­all there’s lit­tle to com­plain about.

The sus­pen­sion can strug­gle to soak up some bumps, though, and there’s some road noise on coarse-chip road sur­faces.

On the free­way it’s easy to hover near the claimed fuel con­sump­tion of 4.7L/100km. Premium fuel is re­quired. In a world of vanilla al­ter­na­tives, the Citroen is a breath of fresh air. But the heart would have to rule the head to over­come the lack of an auto, premium price tag and four-star crash rat­ing.

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