New Citroen Cactus Road Test

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SURF’S UP


If ever there was a car that typified the term Marmite its Citroen’s C4 Cactus. Complete with large panels of air bumps along each side, the shape echoing throughout the cat, the inverted stacked headlights, simple interior even down to the hinged rear windows and a range of colour schemes that at times call Citroen’s creative minds into question, the C4 Cactus is as near unique as it gets. But off the wall has always figured in at least some of the French brand’s designs, the 2CV, Ami and quasi-utility Mehari just three of their unusual yet tremendously successful models.


The thing that’s different about the latest Cactus is that the Rip Curl Special Edition has been conceived and built in conjunction with the Australian surfing specialist of the same name. But besides the unique Rip Curl graphics the distinct SUV based hatchback has also gained Grip Control or in simple terms a trick front axle that can be programmed for a variety of surfaces. Initially seen on both Citroen’s and Peugeot’s small to medium commercials and then on such models as the 2008, whilst the traction settings are restricted to the front wheels only, the system significantly enhances the car or van’s ability on rougher or more demanding surfaces.


Fitting Grip Control to the Cactus along with a ride height hike and more aggressive tyres as standard also means the car’s semi-AWD looks now take on some genuine credence. Still a 2WD, whilst the Rip Curl has been built ostensibly to get all you surfing dudes down on the beech and your surfboard nearer to the water, inland dwellers can now venture slightly farther afield, safe in the knowledge their super cool Citroen will get them there. There’s even an exclusive matching surfboard to go with the Cactus should you feel the need.

Externally it’s the small panels of surprisingly subtle graphics and white roof rails that denote the Rip Curl. These aside this Cactus retains the model’s curved, small crossover based profile, high set waistline, wide opening doors and full depth tailgate. Sat on diamond cut 17” Cross alloys shod with 205/50 Goodyear 4Season Mud+Snow tyres, the metallic Obsidian Black paintwork serves to tone down the appearance of the air bumps, the effect adding a slightly more elegant line to Citroen’s trendiest hatchback.


Inside the mixture of 70’s retro and the latest technology still remains, the Rip Curl additions being orange detailing that extends to the seatbelts. The area that can detract are the extensive  use of hard surfaces, only the dash roll soft textured which on a car of this price are something of a negative. And as before, whilst the front windows remain conventional, the rears have retained their hinged design. A small oblong block serves as the minimalist speedo an gear change indicator and sits just behind the quartic multi-function leather steering wheel, the rest of the car’s functions are contained within what Citroen call their 7” Touch Screen Interface.


Controlling satnav, air conditioning, onboard feedback, the DAB radio along with all music that’s fed to the six speakers and general settings, the system works reasonably well the only negative being it tends to take the driver’s attention away from the road ahead. Proof that a more simplistic interior can still be comfortable, the textured mica cloth and leather seating provides ample accommodation for up to five passengers with 358 litres of available cargo space, a volume that more than doubles with the 60:40 split rear seats folded plus an additional 825kg of towing capacity.


Beneath the bonnet sits either a 3-cylinderPure Tech or 4-cylinder Blue HDI turbocharged petrol and diesel engines. Both transversely mounted, the petrol generates the most power at 110hp, ten more than the diesel engine. Conversely, the larger engine develops 254Nm of torque in comparison to the smaller units 205Nm. Both are fuel injected and intercooled whilst being mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. With the 110 Stop-Start on test, economy wise, buyers can expect an average consumption of around 39.5mpg, at least 10mpg less than Citroen would suggest. However you can still expect about mid-400’s per 50 litre tank of unleaded along with a top speed of 117mph and a 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds.


To drive the Rip Curl surpasses first impressions, the car’s overall lightness and reactive electrically assisted steering, MacPherson strut and coil front suspension, sprung torsion bar at the rear, 3 turns lock to lock and 10.9 meter turning circle combine to produce a quick to respond car. The 3-cylinder engine is willing, delivering passable power and acceleration when needed, the 3-pot buzz from beneath the bonnet an audible indication of the unit’s unanticipated readiness. By and large the on-road ride is pliant and neutral, only harsh corning inducing the slightest hint body roll, traits the Cactus Rip Curl maintains when venturing into the wilds.


Controlled by the rotary selector just forward of the gearlever, the driver is able to pre-select the front wheel’s Grip Control setting. Disengaged, Normal, Mud, Snow and Sand for when the surfer dude in you needs to be let out. Irrespective of whether the lure of the beech gets the better of you, the increase in suspension travel, more aggressive tyres and the trick front axle actually give the Rip Curl unexpected levels of off-road ability. Avoiding water soaked ground, deep mud and larger obstacles the Cactus is actually quite capable when crossing fields and tracks that would defeat the more conventional model.


On or off road the Citroen’s C4 Cactus Rip Curl is actually enjoyable and undemanding to drive. Likewise, whilst the end result is markedly different to the practical models that went before, the Cactus represents Citroen’s modern take on the car that has been designed to do almost everything whilst being able to withstand most things it’ll encounter both internally and externally. It’s also a style that whilst still unusual even after three years of being in the showrooms, the design shows no obvious signs of aging, something Citroen have always been accomplished at.


The 4-cylinder diesel 100 Cactus Rip Curl will cost potential buyers £19,570, the basic version of the 110 petrol £18,840, the various options including metallic paint and leather trim adding £1,190 to the price. Various colour schemes are available including pearlescent and flat paint along with contrasting air bump panels along with Emergency and Assistance systems.


Maybe not your first choice as rural or urban transport, whilst the Rip Curl connection links this Cactus to more shoreline activities, as a practical runabout it will serve a remarkable number of functions. So Bro, the surf doesn’t actually have to be up for this Cactus to be an extremely useful if different vehicle.       


By; Mark Stone






New Citroen Cactus Road Test