A pint-sized SUV with an entirely unique look and feel, the Citroen C4 Cactus 2016 is an ideal second car for those looking for something different. The carâ€™s robotised manual transmission takes some getting used to, but offers a driving experience that feels authentic, albeit slightly laboured. A cumbersome park brake and fiddly touch-screen controls detract from the in-cabin feel, but are made up for by great sat nav, plenty of storage and an expansive sunroof. Impressive fuel economy is perhaps the most universally appealing part of a car that has an admittedly limited target audience.
I reckon the phrase â€œacquired tasteâ€ was invented specifically for the Citroen C4 Cactus.Thatâ€™s the only way I can sum up my week with this quirky vehicle, which is to cars what the Croc is to footwear: bizarre and somewhat unattractive, yet surprisingly practical.
Citroen C4 Cactus 2016
Letâ€™s start with the obvious: the Cactus looks like a normal car covered in plastic bubble wrap. Its distinctive cushioning pads are designed to protect it from the supermarket scrapes and carpark bumps, a clever idea not without its aesthetic sacrifices.
More often than not when stopped at a traffic light I spotted someone staring at me quizzically as if to say, â€œDid you design that yourself? Or did you pay real money for it?â€.
Upon seeing the Cactus for the first time, my friend remarked, â€œOh my god. Itâ€™s ugly, but also not? Sort of like a brand new, shiny iPhone in one of those really hideous, waterproof, smash-proof, bulky phone casesâ€.
She had a point; even in light silver with brown accents it is something of a visual assault. Donâ€™t even think about neon green.
If you can get past the initial shock of the first impression, the Cactusâ€™ quirky looks become quite easy to love. Inside, leather and fabric-covered seats and leather strap handles give it the air of a Swiss ski chalet. Apparently the seats are â€œcouch-inspiredâ€, a feature I encourage all carmakers to adopt. Thereâ€™s heaps of storage (itâ€™s almost excessive) and the visibility is wonderful. I could get used to this, you might even think to yourself.
You might reconsider, however, when you lay eyes on the hand brake and gear shift situation. Citroen has decided to outdo its peers and their ridiculously convoluted gear sticks by removing the Park gear entirely, leaving only buttons for Drive, Reverse and Neutral. The natural progression would be to offer a push-button start as well, but, alas, the car uses a regular keyed ignition switch.
Meanwhile, the parking brake is a large, cumbersome thing that often takes two hands to release. I could have cancelled my gym membership I was doing so much heavy lifting.
Of course, the car is robotised manual, a phrase that terrified me no end when I first heard it. Confession: I canâ€™t drive manual (donâ€™t judge me) so the idea of changing gears terrifies me. The thought of a tiny robot inside the car doing it for me is only slightly less concerning.
Interestingly, while the robotised manual takes a bit of getting used to, itâ€™s quite an enjoyable feeling watching the car shift from second to third to fourth without having to do anything. It definitely labours between gears, especially when youâ€™re picking up speed while entering a freeway or similar. The transmission often catches up to the acceleration with a little kick, which can be unnerving. Quick manoeuvres like over-taking are also made more challenging.
The startling combination of weird gear buttons, giant park brake, keyed ignition and is enough to disarm even the most experienced driver. I witnessed this firsthand when I spent the Easter long weekend with three self-described Citroen enthusiasts. All of them were dying to take a ride in the car, two out of three came away loving it. The third was on the fence.
All three took a few seconds to wrap their head around the gear shift and agreed the design was kooky, but quite charming in a very French way. Their main complaint was that the perceptible gear changes robbed the car of that classically smooth quality you expect in a Citroen. One commented that using the paddle shifters made the on-road experience exponentially better.
Me? I was more focused on the fuel consumption, a figure so outrageously low I had to check to see if the trip computer was broken. Even after I switched the idle-stop function off (it was too jolty with the gear changes) my fuel consumption rate came in at 4.7L/100km. Like its namesake, it appears the Cactus requires very little in the way of liquid food.
Other notable features of the car include its annoying touchscreen controls that are something of a safety hazard. Attempting to change the air-con temperature could result in a minor bingle at the least due to the focus required to locate the temperate gauge on the screen. Itâ€™s distracting and not entirely usable, but the satellite navigation works a treat. Phone pairing takes a couple of goes but works in the end.
Those in the back seat might struggle with head clearance if theyâ€™re six-foot-tall or above; and drivers with kids will lament the back windows, which open a limited way out via a fiddly latch. Plenty of potential for tiny fingers to get stuck.
Backseat legroom is generous enough and an expansive tinted sunroof gives the illusion of more space. The boot is big enough to fit an extra person if you need too. (That was a joke but itâ€™s definitely possible. I just donâ€™t recommend it.)
At nearly $30,000 I have to admit I wouldnâ€™t buy the Cactus. Itâ€™s a good second car, but not an ideal option for an everyday car. While the fuel economy is a serious benefit, youâ€™d have to be a big fan of its unusual design to get truly excited about it.
Based on my impromptu survey, the car gets a thumbs-up from Citroen fans. Other than existing devotees to the brand, however, the only target market I can see for the car is people who want a second vehicle with a bit of character â€“ and a brilliant conversation starter.
2016 Citroen C4 Cactus (diesel) pricing and specifications:
Price: $29,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automated manual
Fuel: 3.6L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 94g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Four-star EuroNCAP