If you are of a mildly conservative nature you may want to look away now. If not, may I interest you in some marmite?
The Cactus is the latest in a long line of somewhat eccentric Citroens. It is most definitely a love it or hate it kind of car with its cartoon ninja face and rubber padding, officially known as Airbumps – although I know of one family who jokingly refer to them as sanitary towels. Depending on your inclination it’s either delightfully quirky or downright odd but there’s no denying it stands out. The Cactus has been on sale for 12 months now and I must confess that when I first saw one I thought it was utterly ridiculous until two weeks in France changed my mind. The French seem to have really taken to this car, they are absolutely everywhere and the bright colour combinations brighten up the dreariest of car parks.
The Cactus definitely has the ability to grow on you so I was quite looking forward to testing one. It arrived on a lovely, sunny afternoon that made the Blue Lagoon paintwork gleam and complemented the black Airbumps and 17″ black wheels perfectly. For the record you can opt for a Grey or Black paint finish but please don’t, this is a car that craves colour. Up close it’s got quite a sporty look, it’s a bit smaller and lower than you think and it’s also surprisingly curvy. Believe it or not, once you get used to the oddness of the styling the Cactus is really quite a good looking car.
The interior is excellent too. The dash is wide and flat and can serve as a handy table, the seats are very comfortable and most of the cars functions are controlled from the 7″ colour touchscreen so there’s no buttons and switches festooning every surface. In my head it’s a lovely minimalist cabin with a hint of Art Deco influence, but I know nothing about art so I’ll just say it’s a refreshingly simple place to sit. The textured finish and leather door handles with chrome trim are reminiscent of the sort of luggage you expect to see being loaded onto a yacht in Monaco. Come to think of it, the entire Cactus is one big fashion accessory.
Under normal circumstances the idea of a car as a fashion accessory tends to irritate me but the Cactus manages to pull it off because it’s actually a nice car to drive. The 1.5 litre turbo diesel is punchy, the gearbox is smooth and while the steering is a bit light and lacking in feel it makes up for it by being a doddle to manoeuvre around town. Strangely, the best bit about driving the Cactus for a week was the fact that it went back to Citroen with its’ miserly 45 litre tank still half full. I’m usually considering putting a few quids worth of fuel in a loan car before it goes back so it goes to show how frugal this car can be. The official figures suggest a combined economy of around 80mpg and because it only emits 92g/km of CO2 it sits firmly in band A so road tax is a big fat zero. The Cactus is cheap to run and even the top of the range Flair with the optional flat paint finish and panoramic roof I tested comes in at a touch under £19k so it’s brilliant value for money too.
Before I get too carried away there are a few flaws to report. This is very much a car for around town and while it handles long journeys reasonably well it’s much happier in built up areas. As I said earlier, it’s smaller than it appears so rear legroom can be at a bit of premium for larger passengers. Citroen have also seen fit to install pop-out rear windows instead of proper opening ones. This makes sense in a two-door car but the Cactus isn’t so it just seems a bit daft, it has a whiff of style over practicality. There’s also no rear courtesy light so rooting around in the back by torchlight will become a familiar routine once the shorter days roll in.
Let’s be honest, the Cactus isn’t an all rounder. It’s slightly too small to be a proper family car if you’ve got older children; it’s acceptable but not exceptional for long drives and it lacks the responsive feel needed for a driver’s car. But – and this is a great, big but of biblical proportions – if you want something cool, quirky, well built, economical and great value for money then I can think of many reasons why you should buy a Cactus. It’s worth tolerating the little niggles because when you open your curtains on a dreary winter morning and see one of these little rainbow bursts of colour sitting on the drive it will bring a smile to your face that will light up the greyest of January mornings.