We were struck by the originality and purity of design of Citroen's latest novelty. What a formidable car, full of ingenuity and French "savoir faire" when it comes to make a roomy, comfortable, technically clever car with a timeless personality. Well, it is not all French. Its styling language is British, and the car breathes the typical form purity and simplicity which we remember well in the Rover SD1 amongst others. All this makes the car even more refreshing, endearing, to say the least.
We are already convinced that this car will mark its epoch. Just read on...
Hans Knol ten Bensel
The design of the Cactus is from the hand of Mark Loyd, and he managed to give the Cactus elements of a timeless styling language which we find also back on Apple products. We also liked the purposeful simplicity of the car, and this takes Citroen also back to its design roots where form meant function. We certainly hope it is a harbinger of things to come in the stable of the "Double Cevron".
All this simplicity of form does not mean the car looks or feels cheap. The finish of the chosen materials actually totally belies its modest pricing and gives a decidedly upmarket impression. The steering wheel is covered in leather and has glossy spokes, touches of gleaming piano black and chrome are also found on the dashboard. On the photo above you see the attractive finish of the handle of the glove box...
The dimensions in the cabin are also generous, with a decidedly cavernous glove box thanks to the placement of the front passenger airbag in the roof. This also adds to the leg room for the front passenger.
As said, the neat rectangular instrument cluster reminds us of the clean Rover SD1 design, which also had next to the neat cluster a flat dashboard platform where one could lodge all the necessities of life. The same purposeful and timelessly styled simplicity. We also liked the layout style and lettering of the 7 inch display screen, which reminded us of the classic and iconic lettering and overall style of the British Quad audio amplifiers. Clean, elegant and pure.
Citroen originality and character is also found back in the shape, texture and feel of the (front) seats. A very soft initial feel when one gets into the seats, yet firm and supportive when one puts more body weight. Both front seats combined offer almost bench type comfort, as there respective backrests are so wide that they actually touch each other and this results in having back support over the whole width of the front seats. The seats are adjustable over a wide(r) range, but the steering wheel can only be adjusted up and down, not horizontally. Despite this, a comfortable seating position is soon found.
The cabin offers also quite adequate roominess in the rear. The car seats easily four adults, and the available space is remarkable considering that the Cactus rests on the platform of the Peugeot 208. Indeed, the car feels and is quite roomy...The boot space is also quite sufficient with a normal volume of 358 litres, which can be extended with the rear seat folded down (not separately) to 1170 litres.
We also liked the thermal, fixed glass roof. It is well insulated, and therefore does not need to be opened at all. All this of course saves weight…
A styling gimmick which is also rather typically British in the Mary Quant style are the stylish leather straps used to close the front doors. Clean, timeless, typical and clever. Just look at the photo above. The yellow hue on the chromed attaches actually is a reflection of the paint colour of the car...
Last but not least there are the so called “AirBumps”, which also appear on the car's front and rear bumpers.
These air-filled plastic bumps are designed to act like bubble wrap and so help prevent damage caused by low-speed collisions. The panels are available in four tasteful hues.
Driving is believing...
The car sits higher on its wheels, as a Crossover befits, but in terms of road behaviour, agility and crispness it does not remind you at all of a (heavier) SUV. It feels rather like a comfortable hatch with a very well struck balance between comfort, road holding and handling in general, which is typical of French masters in the art of making a well set up suspension and chassis.
The Cactus is not afraid of some off-road work, although one should get not too enthusiastic and still remember it's two wheel drive...
Thinking of the road behaviour of the cherished Rover SD1, that car was very balanced too, but the Cactus is sooo much better when it comes to low speed suspension comfort on uneven surfaces, city roads and “pavé.” Then one notices cars have come a very long way, and, as said, the French remain masters in the art.
The Cactus has explicit long distance cruiser abilities, or should we say talents, and the car invites to be driven rather fast(er) on “autoroutes” and also curvy and/or undulating “nationales”/secondary roads. It has the specific long leggedness which makes a fast(er) car, well, a fast car. In modern traffic with its ever more draconian speed limits, the frequent use of the cruise control/speed limiter is a must, as the Cactus invites you to travel with pace.
Coming on the subject of "faster" cars, it is not so much the sheer power of the engine, but the higher gearing of the transmission, the qualities of the suspension, which "sets in" ever better when the speed is raised, and its ability to tackle any road surface and curve, be it wet, uneven, no matter what. Of course, the engine should like to pull, deliver its power. With all this combined, you will drive the car intuitively at a higher pace than you would initially have intended. Well, the Cactus is such a car.
The beautiful lightness of being...
Having said this, the three cylinder engine is beautifully smooth, well balanced, not noisy at all, and emits even a rather pleasant exhaust note. It invites you to rev it, but this is of course not the way to achieve decent consumption figures. Low revs are all the rage, and one is of course helped by the high gearing of the standard five speed gearbox. If you cannot do this by ear, a gear change indicator will help you.
Citroën has done away with the rev counter, we think not to scare you off using (very) low revs at lower constant speeds. Thanks to the low weight of merely 1040 kilos, the performance of our 60 kW/82 HP engine is quite sufficient and the Cactus is even quite lively: 0 to 100 is achieved in 12,9 seconds and the top speed is a good 167 kph.
Torque is very good with some 118 Nm produced at low revs, and I is indeed the in-gear acceleration which is also entertaining to say the least, and gives the impression that you are driving a more powerful car.
We achieved, with some rather brisk driving included, an average consumption of 5,6 litres/100 km, which is excellent in our eyes. The manufacturer quotes 4,6 litres, with CO2 emissions being 107 g/km.
The engine/gearbox/drivetrain settles in very well with low rev driving, only it takes a delicate clutch foot when changing up at low revs into third gear, say at 30 km/h or thereabouts. The engine has a tendency to rock a bit and develop torque reactions when the clutch is not smoothly feathered in. But this is of course easily mastered when one gets more experienced in driving this interesting Cactus…
Again a true Citroen, in the spirit we are so fond of. We like its styling, is cleverness, its roominess, its comfort, its long-legged performance, the way it travels. It is frugal, it’s smooth, willing, and, last but not least, soo original. We look forward of course to drive the more powerful 110 hp petrol version, get acquainted with the (sequential) automatic gearbox, and last but not least, the Diesel versions.
Just stay tuned on these columns!
Hans Knol ten Bensel