The Cactus proves a sharp operator

June 10 2015

Automatic for the people might be the title of a REM album, but Citroen could have had it in mind when they were thinking about the Cactus.

Automatic for the people might be the title of a REM album, but Citroen could have had it in mind when they were thinking about the Cactus.
It might be that they want to make life easy for the driver, or perhaps they’re leaving as little to chance as possible, but they’re doing everything they can to help us. The lights come on automatically, so do the windscreen wipers, and unless you really want to tinker you can leave the air-con to its own devices.
The Cactus is a typical Citroen car, full of innovative thinking, some of it more useful than others. The French company also likes to coin a phrase for their thinking. Take the ‘Magic Wash’; in other words putting the windscreen washer nozzle on the wiper rather than the bonnet. The company claims it saves 50% of the water spayed onto the screen.
Clever, and simple, and it’s the same kind of thinking that makes you warm to the interior. There are leather strap door handles, inspired the sales patter tells us, by high end luggage. It also claims that it’s part of a harmonious interior design that let’s us connect with our ‘inner calm’.
I’m not so sure about that, it is a car after all. Still, my 9 year old loved the handles, and the general design of the inside is clever. Take the passenger airbag, situated behind the sun visor in the roof. This allows the glove compartment to be less bulky, and a lot more stylish.
It’s not all good news inside. The front arm rest is so long that it’s a struggle to use the handbrake, and awkward to change gear. Just as well it pulls up out of the way. But there is much more to get excited about. The 7 inch entertainment system continues the theme of extra help with a reversing camera as well as the sat nav, phone sync, MP3 connection, and digital radio (at last, the chance to listen to BBC 6 Music on the move!).
The cruise control includes a pause button, which allows you to slow and then resume your speed, as well as a speed limiter which is helpful through motorway speed cameras. Given the automatic tendencies of the car, it would have been nice to drive an automatic version for the Cactus, rather than the 5 speed manual I had.
Those selling the Catcus are keen to burnish its eco credentials. I was given a petrol model to try, which might be a sensible option, given a possible future clampdown on diesel vehicles in cities. It also has a stop and start system for when you are at a standstill.
The ride is smooth, the steering responsive, and although it may not nock your socks off like high end cars, it is certainly a contender for those of us without a huge budget. A lot of what I found in the top of the range Flair model is in higher end cars, but the cost of the Cactus, from just under £13,000 to just over £18,000 makes it very good value for money.
There is one more thing to discuss about this car; the exterior. That is when we have a ‘marmite moment’. The strange bubble wrap effect on the side of the car, often highlighted in a different colour is known in Citroen speak as ‘Airbump’. It really is like a high tech bubble wrap, air pockets protecting your doors from bumps and scrapes.
It really divides opinion, some loving it as a feature, some much less so. It all fits in with Citroen’s aim of making life easier (and cheaper) for you, but there are those for whom it is a deal breaker. I suspect they will turn their attention in the showroom to the funkier DS3.
For the record, my 9 year old wasn’t a fan of the Airbump, but then she’s not the ones paying the body shop bill.