Currently reading: Citroën C4 Cactus versus the desert – picture special
Citroën’s C4 Cactus is a one-of-a-kind car that invites adventure. See all the best pics from when we took it to the desert

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. 

Back to top

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.

Cue some rather awkward set-up shots as I chase Rocket the horse, who’s ridden expertly by authentic-looking cowboy Diero, around corners, marvelling at Rocket’s instant torque off the line and four-hoof-drive traction while I spin my wheels and try to catch up. Following an unpredictable animal so closely focuses the mind. Still, the Cactus is a good car in which to perform such a random undertaking, thanks to its lofty driving position and good visibility. 

Next we try to drive the car into Mini Hollywood’s Cactus Garden for some photographs. But it’s not designed for cars and the entrance is a squeeze. I misjudge it on one side and feel a bit of squidgy resistance. I’ve wedged it against to a wooden post, but the car’s cactus spike-inspired Airbumps have come to my rescue and spared my blushes. Now I get the point of them.

Suitably chastened, I drive out of Mini Hollywood and into the real desert and mountains. The Cactus stands out more than ever against the barren landscape, especially when we finally find some proper cacti to shoot against. We climb mountain roads on the most abrasive of surfaces and the Cactus feels robust in dealing with them – the kind of car that can soak up any type of abuse and come back for more, like a family car should. 

Back to top

As Papior finishes taking photos of a now dust-covered Cactus at sunset, it’s the car’s originality that stands out. This is a car that turns heads and draws crowds when it is parked up, the sort of car on which even people who aren’t interested in cars will have an opinion.

This was emphasised earlier in the day when the car was parked in the western ‘town square’ of Mini Hollywood. When the attraction opened its doors and the crowds flocked in, most made a beeline for the Cactus and started taking pictures of it, rather than the theme park they’d paid to enter. And throughout the morning there, it was the same story. The cowgirls all wanted to have a look, Diero the cowboy wanted a go and even Rocket the horse started licking it.

So here’s to the Citroën C4 Cactus. It’s a long way from the year’s best car to drive, but you’d struggle to make the case that any other newcomer was more interesting. Cars this original and captivating need to be celebrated. Ride ’em, cowboy.

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

Join the debate

Add a comment…
catnip 5 January 2015

As the Cactus is lower

As the Cactus is lower overall than the C4, is the driving position really that lofty, as the article mentions? Have they mounted the seats higher in the body or something?
Simplicity is key 4 January 2015

Great value

I've driven the Cactus a few times, I'm over 6ft and I've been comfortable enough. Yes the reach adjustment could be better, shame it wasn't telescopic but the seats are superb. Especially the leather ones.
This car is great to cruise in, it's not a race car and Citroen probably didn't intend it to be. In an age where it's pretty difficult to drive flat out anywhere not to mention anti-social this car offers something really special. It's full of nice, clever touches. The interior is brilliant especially when you have the tan seats and tan dashboard. As the journalist says he pulled a lot of attention. So does a ferrari but this is cheap as chips even compared to a mini. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this wins the car of the year award. Citroen deserves it for their efforts and bravery to give us an exciting, intelligent car that is above all affordable.
jonboy4969 4 January 2015

I am just a sniff over six

I am just a sniff over six feet tall, and found the car to have loads of room, with enough adjustment for reach rake and seat movement, the seats were extrememly comfortable too, there is loads of glass to see around, apart from the rather large c-pillar............

Our only gripe, we ordered ours in October, and no one, from the dealer to Citroen will tell us when it is being made, delivered or when we can collect, having spent some time on the Citroen FB pages, it seems like their customer service is really cobblers, I just hope we dont have any issues, as it seems getting things sorted is a chore for Citroen rather than somthing to be dealt with quickly.