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What it's like to spend a year with a Citroen C4 Cactus

2016-10-14 11:21

NOT A PRICKLY CACTUS: TopCar's Ray Leathern bids farewell to his Citroen C4 Cactus long-term test car. Image: TopCar

Ray Leathern

Ups: Fun and frugal. Standard spec. Fresh thinking has won hearts and minds everywhere
Downs: Row-your-boat gearbox. Rear quarters. Futility of watching the sales charts

Cape Town - My, my… how things can change over the course of a year.

Beards grow, priorities shift, economies falter, presidencies implode - well, as for the last two points, let’s rather not go there. With the time upon us to say goodbye to our Cactus, it feels like an eternity since it reported for duty 12 months ago, put straight into action with a three-way-shootout cover story.

Remembering it like yesterday...

The day it arrived at the office we all clambered over it, with its turquoise paint, plastic cladding and scrunched-up Pikachu face. Then collectively we took it for a drive against its mini crossover competitors, the Ford Ecosport and Renault Captur. It was so light, so nimble, so easy and the cabin so airy and unconventional.

Driven: Citroen's C4 Cactus no prickly pear

We all loved how left-field if was… little wonder it walked away with a unanimous victory in that comparison. I inherited it as a long-termer soon thereafter and the seduction continued, mostly thanks to the sense of well-being when you take position behind the wheel.

The front seats, we’ve mentioned it a hundred times over, like deep lounge chairs you can flop into for days. The three-pot turbo engine that’s won multiple awards and bestows it with a fresh turn of speed anywhere in the revs (not that you know your revs because there’s no rev counter - but how’s that for fresh thinking), and superb fuel economy even if you’re pinning it everywhere. 

Rarely is something fun to drive and economical at the same time, but thanks to the Cactus’s clever lightweight construction (200kg off an old C4) it really has as much duality as you could reasonably ask for from a long-term test car.

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I didn’t think the cost per km of the diesel Duster long-termer I ran previously could be beaten, but now that we’ve done the final tally, the petrol-powered Cactus has trumped it – a lifetime average of 6.0L/100km and just 74c per km to run, when the Renault Duster could only achieve 85c per km… and fuel is more expensive nowadays don’t forget.

Image: TopCar

Fun to drive

You can’t ask for much better when you dovetail it with the fact it’s a genuine giggle to drive. Afforded any free moment, I was out slicing around a Western Cape mountain road, riding the turbo torque out of corners, suspension lolloping and rocking from bend to bend. In winter it showed great wet weather composure courtesy of its Goodyear tyres and clever traction control, which won’t disengage over 50km/h.

Then there’s the Shine’s standard spec which, for any car, not just a Citroen, will keep you entertained: cruise control, Bluetooth, sat-nav, USB, hardrive storage device and the world’s best rear-view camera more than makes up for its less than stellar qualities. 

READ: Aloe! Aloe! Here comes Citroen's Cactus

There aren’t many but one can’t ignore stuff like the row-your-boat manual gearbox, the sometimes hesitant touchscreen, or the rear quarters which are mostly useless; I know…

I suffered a few journeys in the back. The one-piece rear seats are flat, unsupportive and there’s little in the way of natural light from the rear privacy glass; tag on no air vents or roll-down windows into the equation and its not exactly somewhere you’d want to put to a baby seat, for example.

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This adherence to lightweight construction means it’s not the most isolating cabin to live in either, wind noise and buffeting an unavoidable truth of Cactus ownership. However, perhaps its greatest challenge over a twelve-month stint was always going to be reliability. 

Nearing the conclusion

After all, with the unique way the Cactus is built - bordering on biodegradable - we were braced for any manner of things to go wrong. But the months rolled on without incident, and service time came and went without a hitch. The only issue – a fog light that had worked itself loose from its housing.

Gallery: Citroen C4 Cactus - fresh from desert

After writing about it, the very day the article appeared in print, Citroen was on the phone to have it mended. Merci! Over the months I’ve grown accustomed to and taken on board its casual, laidback groove. It’s humble, never making excuses for its failings, only ever asking that you be delighted with its good points.

As a purchasing prospect, then, we’d recommend it to anyone, even though it hasn’t received anything like the sales successes it deserves. As the saying goes, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ If it were up to us, we’d like to see a whole bunch more of these fun, frugal and fresh thinking machines on the roads.


Odo reading at start/now: 2105/18345km
Distance covered:  16249km
Fuel consumed: 986.27l
Av. Fuel consumption: 6.0l/100km
Service interval: one-year/15000km 
Service cost: Covered by five-year or 100 000km service plan
Total fuel cost: R12064.61
Running cost: 74c/km

Count the cost: 

Cost then: R284 900
Cost now: R314 900
Resale value: R254 900
Cost per km: 74c
Cost per km including depreciation: R2.59


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