If you like your affordable family cars simple but distinctive rather than over complicated samey looking family hatchbacks
the new Citroen C4 Cactus could be a suitable choice.
But the prickly issue is; will there be enough brave UK customers to make it popular? If not like some other quirkily designed cars it could flower briefly and then whither.
The Cactus is loosely based on the Citroen C4 five door hatchback but its quirky redesign has turned it into a SUV or Crossover which it is said by the new head of Citroen, Brit Linda Jackson, to be a hint to the way forward for the brand.
Other Cactus ‘Urban Ride’ style treatments of higher ground clearance, wider tracks, SUV inspired moulded wheelarches and bumpers and moulded side protection panels could be adopted for the small C1 and the C3 supermini model ranges. Competitors include the Nissan Juke, Kia Soul and the Renault Captur.
PSA Peugeot-Citroen-DS are trying to separate the image of their three brands with Peugeot said to be moving upmarket, Citroen to stay mainstream but with more interesting designs such as Cactus, and the newly independent DS brand now separated from Citroen is set to return to the premium days when DS models were luxurious and had uniquely distinctive looks.
Launched a few months ago the Cactus has received more customer interest through dealerships and on-line than any other Citroen model in recent years. Its attractive pricing from £12,990, its size, its style and not least of all its name have triggered people’s yearnings to break-away from normality when it comes to cars they actually buy.
Whether there is enough real demand remains to be seen hence my hesitation on whether it will be a long-term success or a short-term flash-in-the-pan. Citroen UK don’t know either as they are not giving any sales forecasts but for now the Cactus looks healthy, it has wings but will it fly?
The design of the Cactus blends modern day SUV/Crossover styling with yesteryear oddball functionality features such as the outside plastic impact absorbing panels see on the Renault 5 and others, the SUV looks but with only front wheel drive as seen on the Simca/Talbot Matra Rancho and others. Of course there is an element of Citroen’s own 2CV simplicity in the Cactus as well with its soft comfortable ride, straps to pull the front doors closed and pop-out hinged rear windows.
Let me put the best bits first. These are interior space with a sensible roomy design, lots of storage areas, good visibility, a very comfortable ride without sloppy handling, large comfortable seats, good headroom, practical fascia with well placed top loading large glovebox and potentially the Airbump door panels will limit the scratches and dents received in supermarket skimpy parking spaces. The plastic shields on the side sills and front/rear bumpers should also give protection against careless use and the added ride height means off-road travel, or more likely kerbs, can be taken in its stride.
Inside the spec is not really basic at all, it is not a wash-out vehicle such as the 2CV so sticky fingers and wet dogs will leave their marks. There is a large tailgate but the rear sill is high and the boot floor low so heavy items have to be lifted up and then down into the boot. Why the boot entry is not low level for optimum practicality is a bit of a mystery or even a height adjustable false boot floor would make loading much easier. There are 358-litres of boot space which more than doubles with the rear bench seat folded down.
There is he choice from three spec levels, Touch, Feel and Flair with new 1.2-litre PureTech 70, 82 and 110hp petrol engines, a 1.6 BlueHDi 100hp turbodiesel or a 1.6 e-HDi 92hp turbodiesel with automatic gearbox. More engines will be added to the line-up including PSA’s petrol/compressed air Airflow unit.
My test car was the PureTech 82 manual with Feel specification, probably the likely best seller which costs £14,590. This new PSA family 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is impressive. It is free-revving, not too lumpy or noisy as with some ‘tripples’ and it is responsive and kind for running costs. The official Combined Cycle 61.4mpg looks good and in real-life my test driving covering most types of roads returned 48.2mpg. My colleague driving the Cactus at the UK press launch using the same version of this engine but with an automatic gearbox, his car returned 80mpg. So any retail user is not likely to be spending £2,000 more to buy the Feel spec diesel 1.6-litre 100hp engine over the Feel spec 1.2-litre 82hp turbo petrol unit.
The advantage the diesel unit has is with very low CO2 emissions of 87g/km which means no road tax cost at all but the 82hp petrol unit has CO2 emissions of 107g/km so VED is still £0 for the First Year rate and then only £20 a year after that. Company car drivers will pay 14% Benefit-in-Kind tax for both units because of the current extra 3% loading on diesel fuelled vehicles over petrol ones. The diesel’s fuel economy will be better but not by that much to make it financially worthwhile unless big annual mileages are covered.
The 1.2-litre 82hp petrol powered Cactus has a top speed of 106mph and zero to 62mph acceleration takes 12.9 seconds. There is enough torque at 118Nm (87lb ft) available from 2,750rpm to make the lightweight Cactus a spirited responder when the accelerator is pushed and it is certainly not a noisy unit. It will cruise happily at legal motorway cruising speeds and climbing hills doesn’t slow progress to any great extent thanks to the well chosen gear ratios in the slick five-speed manual gearbox.
The Cactus rides flat and level and despite its armchair comfort bodyroll is minimal and it’s not too soft so passengers should not feel queasy either.
Core specification for all versions includes cruise control, 7-inch touchscreen to operate the vehicles main functions such as heating/ventilation, DAB radio and on board computer. There is remote central locking, electric front windows, lots of airbags, folding rear bench seat, 17-inch alloy wheels and LED running lights. The Feel spec’s additions include air conditioning and roof bars. Of course there is a wide range of options and personalisation items and packs. Most worthy is the navigation and hi-fi pack costing £495, a must-have space saver spare wheel at £75 and the user-friendly city camera parking pack at £395.
The Citroen C4 Cactus is all about user-friendly, comfortable, low cost motoring but all wrapped up in an eye-catching package. It should appeal to those motorists who want to be different – it could even become a cult model, but that is a big COULD. I might just hold on to my money just to see how it is received by other UK buyers. Quirky niche models just have a habit of not staying the course financially so what seemed like a good trendy idea at the time might not be a sound longer-term purchase. Does the Chrysler PT Cruiser ring any bells?
MILESTONES: Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 82, 5-speed manual, Feel. Price: £14,590. Engine/transmission: 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, turbocharged petrol, 82hp. 118Nm (87lb ft) of torque at 2,750rpm, 5-speed manual, Performance: 106mph, 0-62mph 12.9-seconds, 61.4mpg Combined Cycle (48.2mpg on test), CO2 107g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £20 thereafter, BIK company car tax 14%. Insurance group: 9E. Warranty: 3-years/60,000-miles. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,157mm, W 1,729mm, H 1,530mm, boot/load space 358 to 1,170-litres, braked towing weight 720kg. For: Unique quirky design, simple to live with, cheap to run, comfortable. Against: No rear electric windows, high boot sill and low height boot floor makes difficult loading, fiddly air-con/infotainment controlled through the touch-screen, like or dislike ‘Marmite’ styling. Miles Better News agency