Bug­gin’ out

One last road trip, then ...splat

Wheels (Australia) - - Our Garage - ALEX IN­WOOD

AND just like that, it was gone. Hav­ing left for a global launch in Por­tu­gal with our brightyel­low Cac­tus parked firmly on my street, I ar­rived back to find an empty space, the car hav­ing been whisked away by the Wheels crew and re­turned to Citroen.

Turns out some­one wanted a yel­low Cac­tus with the sweet-shift­ing man­ual and perky 1.2-litre petrol triple so des­per­ately that Citroen sold mine from un­der me. I’m told it was des­tined to be some­one’s Christ­mas present which was great, as long as they didn’t mind a few bugs and flies. When it left, the Citroen’s nose was cov­ered in them, its last jour­ney in my care hav­ing been a fran­tic four-up last­minute dash from Mel­bourne to Mil­dura to at­tend a fam­ily funeral.

With noth­ing larger at hand, I’d crammed the wife, my sis­ter, her boyfriend and the fam­ily dog into the Cac­tus for the 1200km round trip and, de­spite my wife’s “you’re kid­ding me, right?” glare as we all stood on the foot­path and pre­pared to climb in, we fit­ted with ease. In fact, de­spite the oc­ca­sional lob of dog spit, I’d say all four (or five) of us were supremely com­fort­able.

A lot of this is down to the Citroen’s lounge-like seats, which have soft cush­ions and, in the sec­ond row, of­fer ex­cel­lent un­der-thigh sup­port. There’s an im­pres­sive sense of space, too, helped by the low win­dow line and huge, sin­gle-piece panoramic roof, which is a must-have $1250 op­tion.

Stretch­ing the Cac­tus’s legs on the free­way deep­ened my af­fec­tion for its charm­ing driv­e­train. With the cruise set to 110km/h, it loped along with re­fined grace, yet was elas­tic enough to de­liver swift and de­ci­sive over­takes around the many trucks lit­ter­ing the dual-car­riage­way, some­times with­out need­ing to change down from top.

Long stints at three fig­ures also re­in­forced the en­gine’s ex­cel­lent econ­omy, though not by as much as I’d ex­pected. Af­ter months of re­turn­ing fuel read­ings in the high fives and low sixes in heavy city traf­fic, I’d hoped the Cac­tus would sip sub­stan­tially less on the open road. But with four (or five) bod­ies on board and its square, bug-catch­ing front end punch­ing a hole in the air, the best it achieved was 5.6L/100km.

Less de­sir­able was an an­noy­ing amount of road noise on coarse-chip sur­faces, and the steer­ing, which wan­dered at free­way speeds and needed con­stant cor­rec­tion to re­main in the cen­tre of the lane.

Still, the ease with which the Cac­tus chewed up the coun­try miles ce­mented the depth of its abil­ity, both as a fru­gal city run­about and sur­pris­ingly spa­cious longdis­tance hauler.

It’s not per­fect, of course. I’ve com­plained about the finicky touch­screen be­fore, and the de­ci­sion to only of­fer the 1.2-litre petrol with a man­ual trans­mis­sion is ter­ri­bly short­sighted in auto-fix­ated Aus­tralia.

For now, the only auto Cac­tus avail­able is the 1.6L diesel, which uses a slow and jerky semi-au­to­mated six-speed. Lit­tle won­der then, that Citroen only sells a hand­ful of Cacti each month.

Yet some­how the Citroen’s per­son­al­ity over­comes these faults. Its quirky, con­cept­car styling is a brave breath of fresh air in to­day’s same-same mar­ket and I hope the new own­ers ap­pre­ci­ate it as much as I did, bugs and all.

BUB­BLE WRAP De­spite its ex­tra ar­mour, Inwood doubts the Cac­tus’s air-bump sys­tem was ever ac­tu­ally needed

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