Welcome to the dusty, asphalt-free tracks of the Tabernas Desert in south-east Spain. This is western Europe’s only desert and a place that receives less than 200mm of rain and more than 3000 hours of sunshine a year.
It’s a desert, and we’re here with a Cactus. Get it? We’ve got a day with the new Citroën C4 Cactus here in the 30deg C early winter heat to reacquaint ourselves with this, one of the most bold and interesting new cars of 2014.
There could be a problem, though: our helpful local fixer, Christina, informs photographer Stan Papior and I that there are no indigenous cacti in the Tabernas Desert, which, throwing our inspirational and original picture ideas out the window, could require some explaining to the editor when we get home.
However, we’re both too polite to query Christina’s horticultural expertise when plants and trees that look suspiciously like cacti to us appear alongside the rutted track that we’re taking deep into the desert.
Although it is surely the year’s most interesting new car, the Cactus is just too ordinary as a driving tool. As we said in its three-star road test verdict in the summer, if we could award road test verdicts without rotating a tyre on asphalt, the Cactus would have done better.
Nevertheless, the Cactus deserves our appreciation. It’s fresh and different and doesn’t take itself too seriously, especially when painted in ‘allergic reaction’ yellow, like the example that we’re taking into the desert.
You can’t pigeon-hole the C4 Cactus. Even nine months after its unveiling at the Geneva motor show and a couple of months on from its arrival in the UK, the Cactus still has no obvious rival.
It’s best described as being halfway between a Mini five-door and a Mini Countryman in size. In ethos, you could argue that it’s the modern-day 2CV, what with its unpretentiousness, practicality and supposed affordability.
Whatever it is, it’s definitely not an off-roader, despite those looks, and it’s front-wheel drive only. Still, that’ll be fine for the gentle loose stuff that we’ll be going on.
That interior, from which we peer out at the barren landscape, is one of the Cactus’s real high points. However bold the exterior may be, this is a car designed from the outside in. It’s a shame that our Cactus has a manual transmission, because otherwise we’d be able to enjoy the full effect of the interior party tricks thanks to the front ‘sofa’ seat that automatic models possess.
Even without it, though, there are plenty of thoughtful touches in here. The driver’s seat is wide and comfortable and visibility is excellent. The controls are so simple, too. Almost all of the functions – pedals, steering wheel and column stalks excluded – are controlled by the touchscreen and a row of buttons on either side of it. Also of note is the glovebox (no, really), because it is a rare thing in a modern car in that it is a large, usable storage space, something that has been made possible by relocating the front airbags into the roof.
Within an hour, I’m fearing that an airbag might be called into action as the showbiz adage ‘never work with children and animals’ is broken. For we’ve made it to the first stop of the day, Mini Hollywood, a full-on western town that’s more Lone Star State than south-east Spain. It was created as a film set for the spaghetti western For A Few Dollars More and used for many more after that, including The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
Mini Hollywood, one of several such facilities in the region, is now a tourist attraction. Christina knows the operators very well and that leads her to tell us: “You have a cowboy and horse you can use for four hours.” Erm… okay.