I love the fact that PSA owner Citroen is re-positioning the brand as its entry division while effectively siphoning off the DS line into its own upmarket stream. The results speak for themselves.
Bottom line is, Citroen is just plain good at making no-frills cars for the masses that keep enough quirk to stay interesting. Yes, the old 2CV looks a little bit like a cockroach – deliberately so, harrumph – but it also has the robustness of one. Simple, sparse and pretty damn wonderful.
Enter my favourite car of 2014: the Citroen C4 Cactus. Call me crazy, but supercar exotica can take a hike. I’ll potter along in my oddball French crossover SUV with plastic door panels, please.
Why do I love this little car so much? As a car lover, it pains me a little to see the rapid growth of soft-roading compact SUVs. I wish I could dust off my concern and give it a Gallic shrug, but I can’t.
Look, I understand the appeal. I know it’s easy to load the kids in the back. I know they leap tall kerbs in a single bound. I get that a high driving position is desirable. But do they all have to be so dull?
No. That’s the answer. They do not. And here is the car that proves it. Moreover, it comes from a brand that really must define itself by being a maker of stylistic oddities with – ahem – crossover appeal.
I apologise in advance, but I’m going to wander off into a brief personal aside. This year I was privileged to attend the Geneva motor show, the place where Europe’s finest flock to unveil the latest and greatest in vehicle design and technology.
Concepts to the left of me, supercars to the right, and yet here I was, stuck in the middle with the Citroen Cactus (I’ll omit the ‘C4’ moniker out of personal preference). And it wasn’t the leggy promo models standing a few feet away that kept me there.
No, it was the idea that here I was, sat in a shiny new offering from a brand that of late has been marginalised as a perennial struggler — when the Germans do upmarket better than anyone else, the Italians nail style and the Japanese reliability, where do the French fit? — and I suddenly felt like I was in a car that just made sense.
Citroen has done the same with its Grand C4 Picasso people-mover, come to think of it. Why, it seems to ask, should buying something practical and sensible and on-trend have to come with all the quirky edges smoothed out?
You won’t look twice at a Volkswagen Tiguan, good as it is, you won’t double-take at a Peugeot 2008 or Holden Trax, a Ford EcoSport won’t get your motor running, and a Nissan Qashqai… well, an odd name doesn’t cut the mustard, guys.
Skoda has a case for coolness with the Yeti, no doubt, but the Cactus takes the cake (or should that be the pain au chocolat?). And I’m sorry, but if you think a Mini Countryman looks better than this, please know you’re possibly deranged.
Let’s see, air-filled plastic — thermoplastic polyurethane, to be precise — door inserts that deflect shopping trolleys? Tick. Contrasting and ludicrously bright paint options? Oh yes. A glazed panoramic roof? Why not. Pop-out rear windows like an old Mini? Naturally. Single-piece, sofa-like folding bench seats? How quaint. Ultra-modern digital interface? No more buttons here (except those that replace the conventional gear shifter, thereby liberating space).
I mean, it’s even called Cactus. What a strange name, and what an evocative one… even if in Aussie vernacular Cactus is akin to ‘up the proverbial creek’. Let’s hope this Frenchie won’t leave you stranded on a roadside, the puns alone would drive one to distraction.
There’s also the fact that the use of aluminium panels, beam and platform components has helped keep the base model’s weight down to 965kg — about 200kg lighter than the C4 on which it is based. That makes this the Kate Moss of crossovers.
There is also the fact that the road-going Cactus resembles the concept car shown in Frankfurt last September in almost every way, except, regrettably, its lack of the concept’s compressed air propulsion system (it has petrol and diesel options instead). In good time, Citroen, in good time…
All that remains is for Citroen’s local importer to bring the thing here, and price it right.
The former is confirmed for early 2015, the latter is up in the air. Something in the low $20k range would be nice, perhaps Citroen could even beat the opening $22k gambit for its Peugeot 2008 stablemate and with the benefit of a six-year warranty to put any worries about ownership to bed.
I know when they keys for the CarAdvice Cactus test vehicle arrive, I’ll be making a bee-line for them. Don’t get in my way…