Buggin’ out

Family affair

ALEX INWOOD

Maybe because I grew up in Bathurst, or my dad had a love of Aussie-built metal, I wasn’t exposed to French cars as a kid. I heard about them of course and read about them in Wheels, so I knew of their quirks, their comfortable interiors and magic carpet rides, but my only taste came once a year at the family Christmas gathering, when my uncle arrived in his Peugeot 504 (left). The car seemingly had a top speed of 50km/h, even on the freeway, and boasted a two-tone brown interior. I loved it.

One last road trip, then ...splat

AND just like that, it was gone. Having left for a global launch in Portugal with our brightyellow Cactus parked firmly on my street, I arrived back to find an empty space, the car having been whisked away by the Wheels crew and returned to Citroen.

Turns out someone wanted a yellow Cactus with the sweet-shifting manual and perky 1.2-litre petrol triple so desperately that Citroen sold mine from under me. I’m told it was destined to be someone’s Christmas present which was great, as long as they didn’t mind a few bugs and flies. When it left, the Citroen’s nose was covered in them, its last journey in my care having been a frantic four-up lastminute dash from Melbourne to Mildura to attend a family funeral.

With nothing larger at hand, I’d crammed the wife, my sister, her boyfriend and the family dog into the Cactus for the 1200km round trip and, despite my wife’s “you’re kidding me, right?” glare as we all stood on the footpath and prepared to climb in, we fitted with ease. In fact, despite the occasional lob of dog spit, I’d say all four (or five) of us were supremely comfortable.

A lot of this is down to the Citroen’s lounge-like seats, which have soft cushions and, in the second row, offer excellent underthigh support. There’s an impressive sense of space, too, helped by the low window line and huge, single-piece panoramic roof, which is a must-have $1250 option.

Stretching the Cactus’s legs on the freeway deepened my affection for its charming drivetrain. With the cruise set to 110km/h, it loped along with refined grace, yet was elastic enough to deliver swift and decisive overtakes around the many trucks littering the dual-carriageway, sometimes without needing to change down from top.

Long stints at three figures also reinforced the engine’s excellent economy, though not by as much as I’d expected. After months of returning fuel readings in the high fives and low sixes in heavy city traffic, I’d hoped the Cactus would sip substantially less on the open road. But with four (or five) bodies on board and its square, bug-catching front end punching a hole in the air, the best it achieved was 5.6L/100km.

Less desirable was an annoying amount of road noise on coarse-chip surfaces, and the steering, which wandered at freeway speeds and needed constant correction to remain in the centre of the lane.

Still, the ease with which the Cactus chewed up the country miles cemented the depth of its ability, both as a frugal city runabout and surprisingly spacious longdistance hauler.

It’s not perfect, of course. I’ve complained about the finicky touchscreen before, and the decision to only offer the 1.2-litre petrol with a manual transmission is terribly shortsighted in auto-fixated Australia.

For now, the only auto Cactus available is the 1.6L diesel, which uses a slow and jerky semi-automated six-speed. Little wonder then, that Citroen only sells a handful of Cacti each month.

Yet somehow the Citroen’s personality overcomes these faults. Its quirky, conceptcar styling is a brave breath of fresh air in today’s same-same market and I hope the new owners appreciate it as much as I did, bugs and all.

BUBBLE WRAP

Despite its extra armour, Inwood doubts the Cactus’s air-bump system was ever actually needed

CITROEN C4 CACTUS

Date acquired: September 2016 Price as tested: $30,140 This month: 2107km @ 5.9L/100km Overall: 3321km @ 5.9L/100km

URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY

Electro-gremlins

After three reliable months, the Cactus chose our final weeks together to go slightly mad. It happened first on the freeway, where the dash shut down, then lit up like a Christmas tree, first warning of an ASR fault and then notifying that the ESP system had failed.

Turning the car off and on resolved the problem, but it reappeared several times over the following week before finally seeming to fix itself. This month also saw a slow leak in the left-rear tyre, which was an easy $30 repair once the offending nail had been found.