What is it?
The new C4 Cactus five-door hatchback may be the future of the Citroën brand, but it’s also a car with unmistakable historical resonance. Though its recent past may not be peppered with examples, the French car-maker has got notable older precedent when it comes to launching cars like this.
The Cactus comes from a place of rational pragmatism, fused with the kind imaginative freedom that only the double chevron seems to know. It is right-sized, lightweight, modestly endowed, cleverly packaged (stop me if you can tell where I’m going with this…) comfort-orientated, bargain-priced, bold and innovative-looking yet conventional under the skin.
Citroën would never saddle a new car with the kind of pressure that such an association would endow, but we’re certainly free enough to observe that the French firm has given us the closest thing to a 2CV here since, well, the 2CV.
But is the Cactus’s execution as inspired as its conception? A few weeks ago, our first drive in the car made promising reading. In the weeks to come, a full road test will complete the pronouncement. But here and now is our chance for some first impressions of the car on British roads, and with the steering wheel on the correct side of the cabin.
What's it like?
Even in dark grey, about as stealthy as a ground-level flying saucer. It's a curious-looking thing at first, but you warm to its quirky features as you learn about the function behind their form.
The ‘Airbump’ plastic cladding on the bumpers and doors is there to prevent scratches and dings in the bodywork, for example. It works too – although not extending it to the trailing edge of the rear passenger doors seems a bit of a shame.
The interior is certainly spacious, and a good deal more than you’d expect when told that this car is built on PSA’s supermini platform. The wheelbase is the same as a normal C4’s, so legroom is quite respectable. Headroom in the front is excellent, in the rear not so great. But then when was the last time you needed to seat a tall adult in the back of your five-door hatchback? In the Cactus’s pragmatic world, taller occupants sit up front – simple as that.
Pity, then, that if the driver happens to be tall, he’ll find the Cactus’s pedals a little too close for comfort and the steering column bereft of reach adjustment. And yet he’ll still appreciate a cabin packaged very cleverly indeed, with a low scuttle and fascia, big storage cubbies, a good-sized digital speedometer and broad, comfortable seats.
To drive, the Cactus doesn’t have the sparkling character that its styling expresses. Knowing that the supermini underpinnings wouldn’t be clever enough to handle two conflicting briefs simultaneously, Citroën has plumped for a soft, loping chassis tune that means that the Cactus is ever-comfortable.
That the ride regularly sends thumps, pings and so much surface roar up into the cabin is a bit disappointing in light of the comfort brief. However, the Cactus’s tidy, grippy handling is largely uncompromised by the soft suspension. And it may turn out to have better rolling refinement on smaller wheels than the 17-inchers this range-topping Flair-spec test car came on.