SV Robinson’s review of the Citroen Cactus is deservedly our most nibbled item of clickbait here at DTW. I finally had a chance to sample the delights of Citroen’s stylish (or over-styled) supermini crossover so I hope to grab a slice of the action.
The version I tested had a 1.6 litre diesel engine and a five-speed gearbox. Whether it could muster 91 or 99 hp never became clear to me. The version I tested had the handy reversing camera and the full glass roof plus a centre arm rest for the driver. The interior is very colour sensitive and the grey tones of the test car dampened the sculptural quality of much the interior trim. There really is no reason to get this car in next-owner grey. The difference in residual values will be nugatory but choosing grey is choosing twenty years of boredom, even if you only drive the car for 36 leased months.
I will concentrate on two things in this postcard review. The first observation is informed by jaundiced view of the Renault Captur’s steering. I drove precisely the same roads and subjected the Cactus to my sneeze test where I turn the wheel as suddenly as I can to see what happens. While normal inputs yield the same rather dead feeling as the Captur, sudden steering inputs make the Cactus turn smartly in the direction required. This means small tiny movements produce small tiny changes in direction and expressive steering gestures result in proportional and crisply marked turns. I found this aspect of the steering satisfactory, and it gives the Cactus a lively character. The second main observation is that the steering feels light and in my book that’s a good thing. You are not working hard to get this car to do your bidding.
Citroen have put together an odd set of ingredients for the ride quality. Around town the Cactus is quite good at smothering bumps – there is nothing overly jarring. What is perplexing is that the car is evidently softly sprung. You notice that sudden braking, sharp acceleration and mid-frequency road undulations all produce a marked body motion. I happen to own a hydropneumatic Citroen and the motions of the Cactus are thus quite familiar to me. Despite the soft springing the car doesn’t wallow but it also doesn’t provide the cushiness I really feel this car is asking for. In lots of other ways the car is asking you to sit back and relax but the suspension is not quite up to providing this laid back approach. It’s not bad – rather, it’s quite good but I think it could have been better.
The gear changing action left much to be desired. Graunchy is the word commonly used to describe this kind of gearbox behaviour. I don’t see why this kind of thing is still being served up in 2015.
The engine needs to be kicked to get the car moving, particularly from rest. This is puzzling given the Cactus’ very light weight. I have no idea what rpms were needed to effect motion but I could hear them and feel them. The digital display tells you nothing but the speed and how much fuel is left in the tank. Having said the Cactus is not a sports car, I am not contradicting myself when I say I wish the car’s stepping off was less of a drama. 1.6 litres of diesel engine should provide ample torque and the car lacks mass and so lacks inertia. Where did the motive force go?
Finally, I turn to the fuel gauge. I drove the car under a 100 km and the fuel gauge was still reading full when I brimmed the car with 5.8 litres of derv. When I got back into the car the fuel gauge had lost one bar so I delivered the car back with it seeming to be less than full.
My conclusion is that the Cactus is at least superficially a cheerful vehicle that feels comfortably large inside, has some super colour options and with the diesel engine is good for 60 mpg. The let downs are the sticky gearbox and the nagging feeling that the styling is borrowed from a car with another agenda.
[Post-script: the Nissan Juke is a crossover, like this Cactus. I preferred the Juke. Let’s discuss that, will we?]