If there was concern that Citroën had lost its pioneering spirit, the Cactus is proof of the converse. Out of nowhere, the French brand has added a refreshingly different take on the family hatchback, creating a car with a unique persona and a look and feel unlike any other.
That’s easier said than done in this day and age, with everyone claiming to be ‘innovative’ – a particularly overworked term in the motoring world. The Cactus’s prime innovation and the inspiration for the name is the automotive equivalent of bubble wrap. They are quite literally protective air bubbles, capable of fending off wayward trollies and the like. Just as a cactus uses its spikes for protection, the Citroën’s exterior airbags keep enemies at bay – and the exoskeleton them extends to the plastic-rimmed wheel arches too.
Plus, the approach and departure angles would be a credit to most soft-roaders. The suspension is supple and the tyre sidewalls quite tall, to aid in soaking up the bumps. As a result, the Cactus can be driven with confidence on imperfect roads.
The car is unashamedly designed with congested cities rather than fast-flowing freeways in mind. The geometric shape, with appropriately rounded corners, just bursts with character. And unlike many other modern vehicles, the glasshouse is generous and the A-pillars upright, so the driver has the feeling of being in command of their surroundings. This despite it being slightly lower than a C4 hatch.
The clever design goes beyond being slightly startling to look at. There’s also inspiration under the bonnet: the little triple is lively and the offbeat thrum accompanying full-throttle acceleration is endearing. It gets by quite nicely with just a five-speed box and the gearing is a fitting mix between relaxed cruising and responsiveness.
One of the objectives for the Cactus, beyond the regular C4, was to make it lighter. As such, it weighs in at justmore than 1 000 kg. This aids not only acceleration, but also overall throttle response – not to mention braking. It never felt wanting and was mostly very smooth. Although, in Eco mode (a stop-start function that saves fuel in traffic), it does come back to life rather vocally.
Real-world consumption en route to Askari Lodge in the Magaliesberg dropped close to 5ℓ/100 km – just one of the pleasant realities of living with the Cactus, along with exceptionally comfortable seats and a commanding driving position. And thanks to a long wheelbase, there’s generous passenger accommodation too.
‘Simplicity’ is the keyword when it comes to the interior. In front of the driver is a digital speedometer and not much else. Just about everything is controlled via a touchscreen set on the centre console. The satnav (which gave us the option of an Eco route to Askari!) is a feature unique to the Shine specification level, making it the flagship of the three-derivative range.
There is plenty to love about the Cactus, and little to dislike. But the best thing? It’s charming to live with and (assuming you’re a fan of its quirky looks) pretty darn cute too.
CITROËN C4 CACTUS SHINE
- Engine 1 199 cc, turbocharged petrol
- Cylinders Three, in-line, transverse
- Power 81 kW @ 5 500 rpm
- Torque 205 Nm @ 1 500 rpm
- Drivetrain Five-speed manual, FWD
- 0–100 km/h 9.3 seconds
- Top speed 188 km/h
- Overall fuel consumption 4.7ℓ/100 km
- CO2 emissions 107 g/km
- Driving aids ABS, EBD, BAS, TC/SC
- Warranty Three-year / 100 000 km
- Service plan Five-year / 100 000 km
- Service intervals 15 000 km
- Price: R284 900