It’s worth noting, for posterity’s sake, a vital Wheels24 component on which the portal prides itself - slick headlines.
With the introduction of the C4 Cactus, an all-new model from French automaker Citroën, this week the thorny issue of a suitable prickly blurb headline came easily to the writer without being ‘smutty’ – and with a 100% South African connotation for good measure.
OK, enough frivolity for this very short working week (thanks to two public holidays) during which I made a lightning trip to Gauteng to evaluate Citroën’s very different newcomer to SA, a vehicle that proved memorable and, not to make too fine a point(!), I’m glad I didn’t miss - it could well prove to be the surprise SUV (sport utility vehicle) package for 2015.
(Maybe even outscore Porsche in the 2016 SA Car of the Year ‘contest’, you think? - Ed.)
'INNOVATION AT THE CORE'
The innovative and ever-so-slightly quirky Cactus is best described as an SUV with a difference. If you’re thinking “Oh no, not another!” take heed that I believe it could well go straight to No.1, if I’ve read the market right.
MD of the PSA Group (Peugeot and Citroën) in South Africa, Francis Harnie, reckoned: “Innovation is at the very core of the new Citroën C4 Cactus. The striking design exudes a purity of purpose with smooth and wind-cheating surfaces and powerful graphic lines and elements.”
To describe the vehicle to you is not easy.
For starters the rounded nose, with its high-mounted diode daytime running-light strips and deep-set main light clusters, provide a bold introduction to a bold design. The flanks feature one of the Cactus’ key innovations: those “in-your-face” and substantial body panels the manufacturer likes to call Airbumps (more about this peculiar feature further down the column) that are basically malleable protective panels of compelling visual interest.
GALLERY: 2015 Citroen C4 Cactus
Another unique feature, this one in the cabin, of the C4 Cactus is a roof-mounted crash-bag for the front passenger – the idea being to create space without compromising safety.
Again, more about that in a minute…
LESS CAN INDEED BE MORE
There are three models in the line-up of Feel and Shine spec levels – each powered by a lusty turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder mill available in two stages of tune: 60kW/118Nm or 81kW/205Nm – the latter the only model driven at the launch and, I suspect, the one that local buyers will go for.
C4 Cactus prices start at R224 900 (not a typo).
If you’re wondering about the potential longevity of these “half-a-V6” engines hauling a fairly big vehicle and four/five passengers and their luggage, don’t be overly concerned: they’re strong, powerful for their size, and super fuel-efficient.
Incidentally, Ford probably started this mechanical bent for triple-cylinder power three or four years ago (World Engine winner for the past three years) in many models, among them the 2015 EcoSport, Focus and Fusion ranges.
Today Opel, Renault, VW, Peugeot and other top European brands also feature them in their model ranges.
But back to the root of the story, the Citroën C4 Cactus – a vehicle that might well have been custom-made for SA with its prominent and practical roof-racks, eye-catching wheel designs and short rear overhang.
UNCLUTTERED CABIN DASHBOARD
If you think the Cactus looks quirky from the outside with its Airbump panels, wait until you see the inside. The panels are made of stiff plastic and a second softer layer. The air trapped between the two cushions impacts, protecting the metal bodywork from minor collisions at up to four km/h.
The expansive cab-forward dashboard design creates an uncluttered surface that fits nicely with the cabin’s ambience. The first thing one notices is the 18cm full-colour touch screen, augmented by a digital instrument display ahead of the driver and front passenger.
Uniquely, the front passenger crash-bag is in the roof (as mentioned above). It’s a world-first intended to give more space and storage for front occupants while not compromising safety.
Seating up front uses generously proportioned chairs; behind, there’s a wide rear bench seat that further enhances the C4 Cactus cabin’s overriding sense of space and comfort.
For once, there’s some really generous legroom (not always the case, even in larger SUV’s).
SMALL PACKAGE, BIG POWER
What’s it like on the road? Four words: lively, fun - definitely frugal. There’s no diesel offering, no turbo lag and no auto gearbox… “but if there’s enough interest in this type of transmission we’ll look at bringing them in – they are being made for other markets,” Harnie told Wheels24 readers.
The 81kW turbo motor enjoyed the Highveld altitude, its steep hills and most certainly the open road. The five-speed manual gearbox was a joy to use, the clutch light and positive. There’s also hill-start assistance (select a gear and the Cactus won’t roll back for around two seconds, by which time you should be ready to head for the horizon or park off in the desert). [Stop it now! - Ed.]
The list of standard comfort features is extensive, even in the base model: aircon, four-speaker audio system with tuner and MP3 playback, Bluetooth connectivity for your cellphone, audio streaming, cruise control with speed limiter, power-operated front windows and exterior mirrors, multifunction controls on the steering-wheel.
Move up a spec level to the Shine badge and you’ll get individual auto aircon, satnav, a reversing camera, enhanced audio system, auto- headlights and windscreen wipers, front fog lights, rear privacy glass, interior mood lighting.
PRIZES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Accolades* don’t often come Citroën’s way (unless we’re talking World Rallying, of course, a sport in which the company excels) but credit where it’s due: 2015 World Car Design of the Year Award at the recent New York International Motor Show.
Each year the "World Car of the Year" jury awards this prize to a new car with the most innovative design, one that challenges conventional codes.
The C4 Cactus was also crowned Car of the Year and MPV of the Year in Spain, received the Small Hatchback of the Year title in Britain, won Golden Steering Wheel awards in Bulgaria and Slovakia.
TopGear magazine in the UK gave the C4 Cactus its ‘2014 Hatchback of the Year’ accolade.
Cactus 1.2 PureTech 60kW Feel - R224 900
Cactus 1.2 PureTech Turbo e-THP 81kW Feel - R259 900
Cactus 1.2 PureTech Turbo e-THP 81kW Shine - R284 900
Prices include a three-year or 100 000km warranty, a five-year or 100 000km service plan and roadside assistance. There’s an option to upgrade to the FreeDrive five-year or 100 000km warranty extension.
Services intervals 15 000km.