This is the production version of the new Citroën C4 Cactus, arguably the most radical VW Golf-class model in decades.
Aside from its highly unusual looks, the Cactus – which arrives in the UK in October after its Geneva motor show debut this week – aims to revolutionise ease of ownership and be markedly cheaper to run than its mainstream rivals. Prices start at the equivalent of £11,500 in Europe, but insiders suggest it will cost from £13,000 in the UK, rising to £18,000 for top-spec models.
However, Citroën's biggest engineering achievement with the Cactus is in weight reduction. In base form the car weighs in at just 965kg – around 60kg lighter than a base-model Ford Fiesta.
The Cactus’s downsized engines are also part of the weight-saving programme, the 965kg applying to the base 81bhp VTi 1.0, three-cylinder, turbo petrol motor. Other engines include an e-THP 108bhp, a 91bhp eHDI and a 99 bhp BlueHDI, which scores 82g/km of CO2.
None are high-output, but the Cactus’s power-to-weight ratio will yield decent performance from all versions, say company sources. A manual gearbox is standard but PSA’s automated manual transmission, which now claims to be much smoother-shifting, is optionally available.
The exterior design is intended to combine fashionable crossover looks with more avantgarde product design influences; protection from urban scrapes comes thanks to the bold ‘Air Bump’ door protectors.
The interior is just as radical. Unlike the original C-Cactus concept, the C4 Cactus has a dashboard, but it’s been pared back and simplified to produce an elegantly functional effect. There are only 12 buttons on the dashboard. There’s no rev counter, no centre console, no gearlever if it’s an automatic, no asymmetric splitting of the rear seats and no wind-up windows for the rear doors.
One example of Citroën's lateral thinking is the way the facia’s bulk has been reduced by housing the passenger airbag in the ceiling. This, in turn, allows the facia to sit lower and releases space for a sizeable storage box in the dash-top.
Citroën says it has also trimmed overall running costs, which are said to be 15 per cent less than those of competing C-segment models. The Cactus is likely to be offered with a mobile phone-style contract, with the user paying a monthly rental plus servicing and insurance to allow accurate budgeting.
The Cactus is based on PSA’s Platform 1, which is also used by the Citroën C3 and Peugeot 208, rather than the older platform used in today’s C4 and DS4 models. Even though the Cactus is smaller than most of its rivals (it’s about 10cm shorter than a Golf, and only fractionally larger than Fiat’s 500L), it weighs 200kg less than the Ford Focus EcoBoost triple, and 135kg less than the three-cylinder, 1.2-litre, VW Golf.
The use of high-strength steels and an aluminium bonnet and crash beams help reduce weight. Further weight-shaving measures include a one-piece rear seat, which saves 6kg. Weight-paring has also banished the blind from the optional panoramic roof; instead, its surface is coated with heat-resistant materials, and dropping electric motors for the hinged rear side windows saved 11kg.
However, perhaps the biggest contribution to that spectacularly low 965kg base weight is the unique configuration of Cactus’s platform. It has been engineered for a vehicle series that will have a top speed of 118mph. This matters because the platform, suspension and braking systems – and even the cooling systems – can be ‘rightsized’.
When there is no need to engineer the car for larger wheels (which, in turn, demand stronger suspension components, larger wheel wells and stronger mounting points), bigger brakes and more powerful engines (which demand a more powerful cooling system) the car’s architecture can be simpler and, therefore, lighter.