I became the first person at the dealership near to where I work to test drive a Cactus, to the extent that the car itself was in a pre-pre-delivery state and had 1 mile on the clock when we set off in it.
The salesman (like policemen, they all look young to me these days) seemed bemused that the owner of a C6 might be thinking about “downsizing” to a Cactus (which I suppose is understandable), but he humoured me, nevertheless. Seeing the Cactus in the context of the showroom emphasised some things about its size and proportions.
It’s not a tall car (the C3 and C4 alongside it were both taller), and yet it has raised ground clearance. It’s a small car – much smaller than it looks on paper/ screen – and has a nice stance. However, it’s a car that makes a big, if slightly busy, visual impression. The combination of Airbumps, sill/ wheel arch extenders and those stylised roof rails almost overwhelms the car, but it’s just about saved (to my eyes) by otherwise plain and simple surfacing.
You can also delete those roof-bars gratuit, which I believe would take away some of that fussiness, although it would also dilute the original concept look. I think “the nose” is a minor triumph, but the rear is a little out of sorts, with the rear lamps being slightly too small. The car is also very colour sensitive, and looks under-wheeled in anything less than the top-line 17” alloys.
There were three examples at the dealership: a “Feel” in “Hello Yellow” (the only no-extra-cost colour) with black Airbumps (also no-extra-cost) and 16” “anthracite, square” alloys – a look that did nothing for me at all; a “Flair” in Pearl White (£730) with “Chocolate” Airbumps (£150) and 17” “diamond-cut, cross” alloys – which was lovely (and is the most common combo you see in the press); and a “Flair” in “Deep Purple” (£250 even though it’s “flat”/ non-metallic), black Airbumps, white roof rails (£50), white door-mirror caps (£50) and the same alloys – a look which grew on me (although not the white detailing) and was the car I drove.
Walk up to the car, pull the handle and the lightweight build is immediately apparent as the door swings open with no effort at all. Inside “Deep Purple”, I was presented with the Purple Highlight Pack (much nicer than it sounds), which means black and purple seats (reminiscent of black current – liquorice hard-boiled sweets) and a nice dark purple dash. In fact, the upper-dash is a triumph and probably the most successful aspect of the car.
It’s very clean, stripped, and yet gives a sense of style with a touch of luxury. There’s some wit in the graphics on the main instrument panel straight ahead, and I liked the touch-screen. Some writers have moaned that it’s not as slick as an iPad, and that it’s a bit of a fiddle going through the menus just to adjust the heater/ fan, and they have a point in each instance, but, it did not bother me on my brief drive and I found it all quite fun.
There is no CD-player, just ports for iPods, USBs, and the like, which would be an inconvenience to me (another reminder on this test drive about how old I am becoming). There is no vent for the passenger at the end of the dash, which is either endearingly eccentric or a bit tight-fisted depending on your view. Below the eye-line, it’s a wee bit fussy, and opportunities have been missed to add cubbies and storage.
My old AX, and our current Xsara Picasso shame it on this front. The only annoyance to me was the fact that, even on this top-line model, there was no “one-touch” feature for the electric windows, not even for the driver; why not go the whole hog and just fit little handles that you have to twirl around by hand? What this underlines is that some of the de-contenting is aimed at reducing production costs rather than weight.
Further evidence of this is in the lack of upper seat-belt adjustability, the lack of reach adjustment for the (oddly shaped, but nice in the hands) steering wheel, and, the now well documented pop-out rear windows and one-piece folding rear bench. On the latter, I read one journalist describe this as an innovation, but, given remember the ballyhoo made by BL at the launch of the miniMetro when it introduced the asymmetrically split rear seat, surely this must be a more of a dis-innovation.
Space inside is remarkable for a car this size these days, and the sense of it is even greater. The rear is a little boring for its occupants, faced with those rear windows and a lot of hard-moulded black plastic – only the little cloth door cushions and nice deep pockets providing relief. I’d say the panoramic roof (£395) is a must for the avoidance of the doldrums setting in out-back.
Overall, I really liked the interior, but that sense of penny pinching in the details took away some of the shine.
Setting off, one instantly notices the super-light, “stiction-free” steering (although it was direct and made the car feel very agile) at parking speeds, the heaviness of the clutch, and the usual long throw, rather floppy and imprecise PSA manual gear change. Now, I know the car was very new, and I got used to it very quickly, but this car’s ‘change was worse than my wife’s Xsara Picasso (now 8 year’s old).
Moreover, 20-odd years ago, I owned a new AX 11RE that had one of the best ‘changes (albeit was a 4 speed) of any car I have owned. So precisely when did PSA thus ruin a perfectly excellent gearbox? The diesel engine is fine; quite refined and lugs the lightweight Cactus around rather lustily. I’d like to try the 1.2, 3 cylinder petrol turbo for comparison (I have driven the non-turbo in a C3 courtesy car and found it a bit loud and thrummy, but charming), but the diesel will make for a super-frugal (60+ MPG must be pretty nailed-on) motor suited to my 25k+ p.a. mileage.
Down the road, over a few roundabouts and onto the country lanes between Banbury and Southam, and the Cactus was pleasingly eager, rode very nicely (very tight damping and body control over a soft-ish set up, not sloppy though), and I found it light on its feet, chuckable and responsive to the helm. The suspension, being very simple in design and engineering terms, does get caught out over ridges and pot holes, crashing somewhat.
The steering feel weights up with speed, which feels a bit artificial, but I really took to the direct and light-but-connected feel of it at lower speeds. The overall sensation is control and lightness, an impression reinforced by my drive home afterward in the C6 which felt loping, elastic, and incredibly heavy by comparison (which it is, of course – the moon probably weighs less than a C6).
The Cactus is acceptably quiet. I had feared that, being based on a C3 Picasso and built to a low cost and weight spec, there would be little sound deadening, but it was not too bad. The car does not sound tinny, but the engine and road noise comes into the cabin with a damped but hard sound, not soft and muffled (the C6 spoils me in this regard; and, yes, I know that’s not a fair comparison).
I did not drive quickly enough to truly test wind noise. I know it was a brand new car, but it felt very well built; nothing squeaked or graunched or rattled. Fit and finish inside and out was very good – the body panel gaps are superbly tight and, in this respect, PSA has advanced massively. The driver’s seat was firmly squidgy and supportive, although there is a strange ramp at the rear of the cushion where it abuts the seatback which felt – erm – unnatural and proved a distraction to my enjoyment.
The driving position is a bit off-centre and the gear lever set a bit low and far back – I think the interior design is conceived for the installation of the ETG autobox (one can only have the much discussed, full “bench seat” effect with this option), although, from a driving perspective, that’s not an appealing option, even allowing for the failings of the manual highlighted earlier.
So, I enjoyed my test drive. I found the car better than expected in some places (the ride-handling balance), disappointing in others (gearbox). Overall the interior is appealing, but it’s uneven in the details. Overall, I walked away feeling a bit empty about the Cactus, so why was that?
I think some of my doubt relates to the way the car is being marketed. I left the dealership with a nagging concern that it may actually end up being a commercial failure when it first seemed so close to being a nailed-on winner. The car looks quirky, and I really like it, but I’m not the average buyer of a car like this.
I dislike the Juke with a passion, but I can see that it has a chunky funkiness that many (women?!) find chic, and helps it to sell in huge amounts in the UK. I’m not convinced the Cactus’s visual quirkiness will translate into that appealing funkiness.
Furthermore, by restricting the number of colour combinations allowed in terms of mix of paint, air-bump and interior, the prospective buyer is denied the chance to really personalise the car and create something bespoke (if you want Chocolate Airbumps and Habana (brown) interior then you have to order Pearl White or Arctic Steel – when I really think it would work best with Blue Lagoon). This is what really sells this kind of car, especially one that can boast such concept-like visual presence.
Furthermore, the real-world pricing is much higher than it first looks. I think that once the average punter goes into a showroom and sees a Flair with a Habana or Purple interior, non-black Airbumps and the improvement that the panoramic roof makes, then they are not going to want to settle for anything less.
Thus specc’d, a Cactus costs a smidgen short of £20,000 (and no discounts available as yet). That’s just too much for a car that, even with every gadget, carries the whiff of penny-pinching in the details. It blunts the Cactus’s claimed key selling point of providing affordable and low-cost motoring.
I reckon I might feel a bit silly admitting to people that my fun little car cost more than their much more sophisticated, better engineered, more rounded Golf/ Mazda 3/ Focus, etc., or more fun-to-drive Fiesta ST, Mini Cooper S, etc. I know that those cars are not seen as being true rivals to the Cactus, but they absolutely are in price terms.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the car and it drove well enough, but I found out that I like the idea of it more. From an enthusiast’s perspective, it is not (yet – at least) a redefinition of Citroen-ness, and it certainly bears no comparison with the GS, 2CV, Ami, etc. I guess I felt that the Cactus was too cynical in its conception.
It’s bog-ordinary in its engineering specification, and although I think that there is a little magic in the way the chassis engineers have got struts and torsion beams to work, it’s not enough to make it a really interesting drive. But beyond that, the thing that really attracted me to the car in the first place was the idea that it had been engineered to keep weight down at all costs – instead, I think that concept has been weighed down by a drive to keep production costs down at all costs.
I really wish the car well, and the Press (not just the volume Motoring Press) certainly seems to have got behind it (I think PSA needs to understand that there is a lot of goodwill for this marque in the big bad world), so I hope some of my doubts are proved wrong; but, for me, the Cactus was just pleasantly disappointing.
27 thoughts on “2014 Citroen C4 Cactus – Test Drive”
Excellent review. Too much style over substance by the looks of it, not enough cleverness and some misplaced penny-pinching. The one word that sums it all up for me is ‘cynical’.
What I get out of this is that the car is an exercise in styling. Indeed, it looks good with neat details but the underlying mechanicals are dead ordinary. Other companies like Honda and Nissan are doing more worthwhile things in this regard. The Citroen of the GS, CX, BX, and XM is extinct. If engineers had been in charge of this they´d have found a way to do something innovative or at least provide a mechanical and packaging USP that this car lacks.
SV. In response to this I should say excellent piece, but I will wait until I drive one before commenting. However,what you write rings so true that I think I can save myself the trouble and Citroen the cost of a test drive. Very, very occasionally do I think that I might actually buy a new car, and the initial stuff I read on the Cactus made me genuinely interested. Although I have dismissed Citroen so often in recent years, I had this Citroen Is Dead, Long Live Citroen idea about the Cactus. That it heralded a new, minimalist image. But no, I don’t think so. I would say this is a disappointment, but not a surprise. The one I’d want comes out around £17,500 and for that I could get the head gasket fixed on the Audi and look for a nice Lancia Flavia. Or a Mehari?
I was parked next to a C3 Picasso and, as much as I hate Citroën for their use of the great artist’s name (but less than his descendants for allowing it), it clearly is a less contrived and slightly smarter effort.
That said the last truly innovative Citroën to me is/was the C3 Pluriel, which was a great concept but, unfortunately (though not surprisingly), poorly executed. Still I see a fair few of them around London, but never with the roof frame taken off.
For me, the fact that they couldn’t be arsed to adapt the manual transmissiom (dash mounted lever?) to allow across the range fitting of the much touted ‘bench’ seat shows the cheapskate hand of PSA and highlights the half-heartedness of it all.
I’ve just realised that FSA market a sad looking Chrysler convertible they call the Lancia Flavia. I hope no-one thinks I meant that! The problem is that my now receding Cactus obsession (OK that’s a bit strong) has left me with a desire for something elegant and minimal which I now am now unsure how to fulfill. Although actually neither of the above, its concept means that the BMW i3 would be nice, but maybe cramped. Then I start thinking electric. I am currently in Austria which is the first place I have seen a Zoe – two in a day in fact. Then I remember I live in a London terraced house – the environment that best suits an electric car has accommodation least suited to charging one. That Mehari makes more and more sense.
I’ve never thought about the Mehari making sense in this country as they seem better suited to an island of the coast of France like Corsica or Île de Ré, though I guess you could see Britain as one such islands…
Unsurpringly there doesn’t seem to be that many available on these shores and some sellers are asking well in excess of £10k for the privilege, but there’s a nice unrestored (or ‘dans son jus’ as they say in France) example in Shropshire for £7.5k ONO: http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/list/15/mehari/
Laurent. For a motorcyclist, a Mehari is weatherproof! I like the colloquial for unrestored.
I was thinking more along the lines of those things we see and like while on holidays but end up looking and feeling out of place once we bring them back home…
Laurent. You are probably right, and I am just being extreme because my Cactus balloon has been pricked. Though My interest in the Mehari is not from trips to the Côte d’Azur, more an extension of my boyhood desire for a Mini Moke. They are, as you point out, getting very expensive.
Laurent – I prefer the C3 Picasso to the C4 Cactus as (name apart) being a far more honest and practical proposition, and I like the look of it too (although it was – as ever – better looking pre-facelift). I also like the Pluriel’s looks, especially from the rear, and still see a surprising number around looking well looked after. True, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with the whole roof off either, and it was a poorly thought-through execution of a decent concept.
Sean – a Mehari?! Now, there’s a thought …..
Good to know the Pluriel has its fans as it was a much derided car during its lifetime, and still is in some circles.
As time goes by the Pluriel looks nicer. There’s a distinct but subtle Citroen quality to its styling. Unlike a lot of other small cars it really has a personality too. These days if I see one parked I give it a good look. The designer was Geoff Gardiner who I met once. He’s a real designer who designs for the brand and doesn’t ever do “Geoff” cars. If you saw all his work you’d never know it was by one person.
Today, finding myself near a Citroen dealer, I went and inspected a Cactus. I am now even more disappointed. Like many people, when I first saw the photos I got a feeling of freshness – style with practicality. I don’t have it now. I am left with the same feeling I remember from purchasing a ‘music-centre’ in the eighties. I chose one that was modular, with detachable and rotatable parts. Only, of course, they neither detached or rotated, it was just one moulding with grooves. This faux-practicality, just the thing I was taught correctly to despise as an industrial designer, is mirrored by the Cactus The instrument panels sit as though they are adjustable to suit your viewing angle, but they are not. Doubtless that was the intent in the initial sketches but, hey, lets save some money. The trumpeted roof airbags that seemed so clever, appear less so when you notice the soffit that comes down to the top of the windscreen and you lean forward and knock your head on the sunvisor (true I’m tall, but not freakishly). The boot lip is high and an odd shape. Non split-folding seats are not a good feature. The back is a mean space to sit in. If they were really practical, rather than a styling feature, the airbumps would run to the trailing edge of the rear door to protect them from over-enthusiastic kids, eager to get out of the rear and breathe – but they don’t. Since there was a C3 Picasso in the showroom, I sat in that. It seemed preferable in every way, felling more spacious, comfortable and having a better view. Elsewhere I have shown great optimism for the Cactus, Twingo and i3. Of the first two, I am now totally embarrassed at jumping to such conclusions.
Quite coincidentally, I had fifteen minutes to look at a Cactus yesterday. What looked interesting in the concept car, the C-D pillar is now a confused mess. There is what looks like the outline of a little window (reminiscent of the BX). But the show car reversed this by having a panel of body-colour floating (stupidly?) in a glass area contiguous with the rear screen and side-glass. I didn´t like the mirror or a-pillar bases which were as contrived as that of the Xantia. And there was a missed opportunity to have a really clean bonnet shut-line. It deviates near the lamps, supposedly to avoid a rat-hole at the three way junction.
On the credit side, the interior did use some of the details of the concept car and the seating fabrics show some flair. I only wish the dashboard was more rigorously plain. If you look at the Twingo you can see how simple and modern and pleasing can be done. The Cactus needed to be be even simpler than it is, Overall, file under “disappointing”. In contrast, I find the new Twingo altogether more inspiring, inside and out.
My recent forced foray into Twitter in an attempt to bring DTW to a wider world has shown me two things. First, I have found where that room full of Monkeys With Typewriters is located. Second, that the Cactus is getting the same knee-jerk reaction from many of the public that the Multipla suffered. “ Aaaagh …. Fugly!!!!” Having considered the Cactus more closely I am less concerned since there is a deep, underlying superficiality to it but, nevertheless’ in principle if not detail, it is a good piece of design. I note that many of the moaners are young people which confirms the realisation that comes with age as to quite how depressingly conservative so many young people are.
I’m sorry to bump up this old topic, but I just recently discovered Driven To Write and now I’m reading just about everything since its beginning. I’m glad I found a blog like this. I like its fondness for technical and optical diversity in cars (including colours) and its barely hidden contempt for today’s “mainstremium” ¨predominance. And I learn a lot about the British motor industry which, for us Continentals, is always a bit enigmatic and tends to come up every now and then with car marques or models we’ve never heard of before. And finally, I can see a lot of sympathy for the real old Citroëns, Saabs and Lancias, which describes my automobile taste quite accurately.
But enough praise, back to topic. Being a C6 driver with a lively interest in the Cactus is not an unknown situation to me. My dealer has given me a Cactus several times when my C6 was in for repair or service. Like S.V., I was initially very fond of the Cactus’ concept and also liked all the colours that were promised prior to its launch. And I really think that its idea of making a car lighter and simpler without neglecting style and well-being is something that we truly miss today. It promised to be the first Citroën for a long time that really raised my emotion.
What’s left of this after driving it a few times?
First of all, I don’t see it as negative as S.V. does. I found the Cactus a rather pleasant surprise. But this probably comes from the fact that I have learned to expect very little from Citroën (or PSA, that is). I really liked the driving, as the car was eager (even with the 82 HP petrol engine) and light-footed while still being comfortable on bumpy roads. Also it felt roomy and airy (at least in the front row) and the seats were very good for such a small car. I had a smile on my face, which was not the case when I had a basic or mid-spec C5 as a courtesy car. The shortcomings of the rear seats and the boot don’t concern me too much, if I was the person for a practical car, I wouldn’t drive a C6 in the first place.
But I can also see the disappointment several people here expressed. The half-heartedness of the car is hard to overlook. Many of the colour combinations I’d like are not possible. And the penny-pinching is really obvious in some places.
But, like S.V., I wish the Cactus will be a success. My dealer mentioned that in large parts of Switzerland it’s selling quite well. He hasn’t sold one yet, but then his showroom example is the dullest combination you can have: silver with grey airbumps and interior. Yes, we are a conservative bunch up here in the Swiss Alps, but I’m sure a more cheerful car would have been sold a long time ago. If the Cactus proves to be successful, I hope that the people at Citroën get the right message out of this: not that they can get away with a half-hearted (or call it cynical) car, but that they should further pursue the path of their own style, of simplification without blandness.
Thank you indeed. We were wondering who our Helvetian audience was.
We have a peculiar nest of Citroenistes here.
Have you seen the articles about the C6 on sale in the US run at the Truth About Cars and Jalopnik? You might enjoy the American view of the car.
Did you ever run an XM? How do you rate the Lancia Thesis? Both cars have a rare individuality.
I am coming around to liking the C6 though the saloon format rules it out (in theory) for me.
Thanks for the welcoming words, Richard.
I don’t want to stretch this thread’s topic too far, but nevertheless, some words on the cars you asked about. I never owned an XM, but my father and my brother had seven or eight of them in total. So, I’m somewhat familiar with all the 6-cylinder variants of the XM, including the estate. I’m still a fan of its design, although I find it quite sensitive for trim level or colour. I also liked driving it, it’s “hardening” Hydractive suspension was very reassuring on mountain roads or German Autobahns. What I missed was the softness of the CX (of which I owned two) and I also think the XM’s Diravi steering was watered down too much. What I appreciated about it was its spaciousness and visibility, and also the practical side with the hatch that both its predecessor and successor lack. There is an article here on DTW about the Renault Safrane concept car which also features references to the XM. I might add some further comments there (that is, if it’s accepted here to add to older topics – please let me know).
The Lancia Thesis, to be honest, never grew on me. I think the reduced, modern shapes of the boot and rear lamps, the baroque front treatment and the rather bland side view just don’t marry. It must be nice to drive though (I’ve never tried it). I was however interested in a Kappa estate for some time. I like its more rectilinear style more, and it offers the advantage of an estate version, as I’m normally rather put off by notchback designs (the C6 or CX without hatch, but at least a flowing fastback line are OK). I liked some of the interior trims and colours of the Kappa (velours or Alcantara in light colours or a blue shade), but not the dashboard design. And I was looking forward on the idea of a 5-cylinder engine. But then I was offered a very good Xantia V6 Activa with nice (and rare) tan leather and matching black body colour (to hide that awful A-pillar treatment 😉 and so I stayed with Citroën and probably missed a good opportunity of broadening my view. But there are still some Kappas (or Themas, the real ones) out there…
Finally, thanks for pointing out the C6 topics on TTAC and Jalopnik. I didn’t know them yet, but I’m sure I will enjoy reading them soon.
Simon. welcome from me too. I’ve never driven an XM with Diravi (the UK V6s had conventional steering) but your words disappoint me slightly, since I always hoped that it might be a bit like my SM. The V6 Activa has always interested me since I was greatly impressed by a drive I had in a quite rough but ready standard V6 once. The black sounds good – for some reason all the UK ones I seem to have seen are red.
And we never close comments here. We’re pleased you’re going through our back catalogue and are very happy to bring old pieces back to life.
That point about the XM’s Diravi steering is not what I expected. It might be that while it’s watered down compared to the CX it’s still better than an XM. I wish they’d combined Diravi with the 2.0 litre engine. I find the V6 engine intimidatingly heavy on fuel.
As you might know I test drove a Thesis. I am quite sure you’d find the experience informative. The car is wonderful inside – as you say the side view is banal. If I lived in a cheaper country I’d consider one for a spell but that option isn’t practical up here in Denmark. A Kappa is more realistic in theory; in practice those that remain are in a sad state here. I’d pick one with the blue velour and the 2.4 quint.
All posts here are 24/7 enterprises so we welcome comments on any article.
Sean, pleased to meet you! Don’t be too disappointed. As I said, my benchmark was the CX I drove at the time. My impression was that in the XM, the steering lost a good deal of its ultra-directness, and the centering forces seemed much lower. Probably a welcome development for 99% of drivers, but not for the CX/SM enthusiast. But in the end, it’s still a Diravi.
The original PRV V6 (12-valve) was indeed on the thirsty side. Then there was a 24-valve version of this with 200 HP. This car was a beast. If I owned one of them, my licence wouldn’t survive for long. But apparently it’s rather prone to heat issues.
By around 1997, both these engines were replaced with the completely new ES9 J4 engine delivering 190 HP. (It’s the same engine as I had in the Xantia, and I used less than 9l/100km (around 32 MPG) with it, thanks to hardly ever driving in city traffic.) Sadly, the XM lost the Diravi with this new engine! I don’t remember what the “new”steering was like, but if it’s anything like the Xantia’s, then the Diravi is the better choice by far! After the CX, I adapted quite quickly to the Xantia, except for the steering, where I still had the feeling that the car wanted to pull off the road after several months…
A quick check shows that the XM DIRAVI steering ratio was 2.5 versus the CX’s 2.2 turns. So, yes, they lost that go-kart effect. The one time I drove a CX I noticed immediately how startlingly good the steering was. It also ran on Michelin metric tyres and had the special and now extinct centrepoint axle configuration. In a nutshell the wheel’s turn centre is inside or close to the plane of the wheel’s vertical axis. Only the SM and GS did this too.
While the 2.O litre XM is less delightful than its CX forenear is true, it is comparatively good in relation to later cars. An oddity is the Chevrolet Epica which has strong self-centering and long wheel travel which made that car an unexpectedly pleasant one to drive. Naturally UK road testers disapproved. It’s baffling that a logical arrangement of quick ratios and self-centring is so badly received by motoring writers who ought to understand the principle. Ergonomically, it makes sense for steering to return to centre as most driving is straight on. The standard set-ups are quite inert.
Another question is why upstarts like Tesla have not made any efforts to revive some of this clever thinking. I suppose one weird characterstic is enough for their cars.
Richard. Are you sure about the XM’s turns? One relevant point that often gets ioverlooked when discussing lock-to-lock is what the actual turning circle is that you get for your so many turns. Not having a transverse engine, the SM has a remarkably good turning circle.
The figures I have are : SM : 2.0 turns for a 10.5 m turning circle / CX : 2.5 turns for an 11.8 m turning circle / XM : somewhere between 3.17 and 3.5 for an 11.6 m turning circle. The XM figures vary with different sources and aren’t specifically for the Diravi, but I don’t believe it had a different rack.
It’s getting quite feasible to produce a car whose steering you could tailor to your preferences. That’s unlikely to happen I guess, although manufacturers seem willing to give punters a (often largely irrelevant) range of suspension settings, so maybe they could trust their customers to know what they want.
Sean, the cause for the different number of turns for the XM might in fact not be an issue of different sources, but effectively describe the two steering types. According to a discussion in the German Citroën forum, the Diravi in the XM is even less direct than the conventional steering! No sources were cited, however. (For those who can read German: http://forum.andre-citroen-club.de/showthread.php?34969-DIRASS-vs-DIRAVI)
Now the centerpoint geometry is another point that might contribute to the XM feeling inferior to the CX. I haven’t had the opportunity to drive an SM yet, but its numbers sound very, very promising! And I won’t be too lenghty about what a delightful, precise, light-footed, unassisted piece of engineering the GS’s rack is. Besides all this Diravi praise, this often tends to be forgotten (as does the whole marvel of a car that surrounds it).
I have only researched it slightly, but there appears to be some contradictory information out there. I think the ratio on the Mark 2 XM rack might have changed anyway. It’s quite hard to retain a physical memory of steering an SM, the movements seem so slight. Regarding the SM and CX, you are certainly correct that the centre point steering plays an important part as well as the Diravi. I’ve only driven a GS once and, although the overall car was a bit ratty, the suspension was fine and the engine was noisy but responsive. My memory is that it was a pleasure to drive, despite the oil fumes coming in from somewhere. It was precise and confident, in no small part due to good steering.