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Steering, suspension and comfort

That there’s more Citroen C3 than Citroen C4 under the Cactus’s skin is not necessarily a great thing. DS3 aside, these underpinnings haven’t produced the most appealing small cars to drive, and the Cactus is no exception.

In a way, there’s merit to Citroën’s intentions here. It seems to want the Cactus to have a gently loping gait, in the manner of famously relaxing and quirky Citroëns. And it does, of a fashion.

The Cactus doesn't like being driven quickly but struggles through. Lots of pitch and roll; grip is fairly consistent

On some models the wheels are fairly sizeable for a supermini, but the tyre sidewalls have a generous profile so there’s compliance in the rubber, as well as in the suspension.

But there’s more to making a car comfortable over distance than just making sure that it’s relatively soft, and here the Citroën falls down. We had testers say they’d have been more relaxed on a motorway cruise or on an extended drive in a hot hatch or sports car, because at least that way they’d get some respite from having to make continual corrections.

It’s also slightly surprising on a car like the Cactus that the button to disable the traction control is given quite such prominence on the dashboard. Not that we mind. All it does is allow more wheel slip up to an indicated 30mph.

Once it has cut back in, the traction and stability control systems are pretty well judged. Some of the more sudden body movements that you get from aggressive braking and steering inputs — like the sort you’d apply in an emergency — get the light flicking and the sensors acting quite quickly. Do that and understeer is quelled relatively swiftly, and oversteer doesn’t really get a look in at all.

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Driven more smoothly, it’s possible to approach the Cactus’s limits with less intervention. It’s actually more capable this way, too, stopping more confidently and quickly than if you’re harsh on the controls, but that’s almost unavoidable regardless of your ABS program.

The brakes withheld repeated stops on our dry circuit, so they should be perfectly fine down any steep incline.

The Cactus’s steering, three turns lock to lock, is light but has precious little self-centring and the suspension seems to offers little damping control at the top of its travel.

So there’s considerable initial roll and pitch, in response to even small imperfections or direction changes, which means that you’re always working at the wheel and getting pitched to different angles. On a two-minute drive, this implies that it’s softly sprung and easy to drive. But in the longer run, it’s just quite tiring.

In short, there’s nothing here for the likes of us, and that’s a pity. A base Ford Fiesta shows every other manufacturer how it’s possible to have a pliant yet very controlled ride, and the THP 155 version of Citroën’s DS3 is pretty good at it, too.

None of that legwork seems to have been put into practice with the Cactus. This basic, just-about-adequate handling might be okay on a car that’s much cheaper than its competition but, as you’re about to read, the Cactus doesn’t quite have that advantage.