I knew as soon as I’d planned a vacation to Ireland with my girlfriend that I wanted to drive something weird and unusual—something I could never get back home in America. Everyone around Jalop HQ said the Citroën Cactus fit the bill, that it was a blast to drive. After getting to know the quirky crossover for a week, I can say I agree wholeheartedly, and that it absolutely sucks we can’t get one in the states.
The Cactus kicks ass, plain and simple.
[Full Disclosure: Citroen wanted us to drive the 2018 Citroen C4 Cactus so bad that I asked them for one while I was on vacation in Ireland (which I paid for myself), and Citroen very kindly agreed. There are small perks to this horrible job of blogging, and that includes driving quirky things when having a holiday abroad. Citroen dropped a Citroen C4 Cactus off at the airport in Dublin with a full tank of gas.]
How much did I enjoy it? Once I got reacclimatized to the weirdness of driving on the left side of the road each day, I felt locked in and alive. It’s so light and tossable, it made driving around the Irish countryside a delight.
We need the Cactus here. Whomever hasn’t made this happen yet should be held accountable.
Sure, on paper, you’d think the Cactus would be a bore. The trim I had—the Cactus C4 PureTech 110 S&S EAT6 six-speed automatic (what a joy to say aloud)—manages a 0-60 sprint in a sluggish 9.9 seconds. A 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that manages 108 horsepower. A measly 151 lb-ft of torque. Carried along by 17-inch alloys. All sounds econo-car-tastic, right?
Not at all. This crossover/hatch-looking thing has some goddamn spirit. I adore weird-looking cars, but it wasn’t even the design of the Cactus that won me over (though it certainly merits plenty of praise). A car of this size shouldn’t drive this way. The Cactus clocks in at a meager 2,359 pounds—on par with a Mazda Miata, and several hundred pounds less than a Golf or Focus—and that lack of fat is a noticeable feature from the outset.
The effect? It’s so dang light on its feet. I could hit a corner on Ireland’s constantly winding roads, and the Cactus would hug it tight. I’d finally find a small straightaway, punch the throttle, and the Cactus would give it all its got and zip right off.
I couldn’t get over how neat it looks, either. We had several days of sporadic rain, pocketed with bouts of gorgeous sunshine, and against any backdrop the French hatch fit in swimmingly.
There was some obvious hesitation going into the trip, given that I’d never driven on the left side of the road before. But the design of the Cactus made it so easy to adjust.
The way everything is laid out inside put me at ease as soon as we started moving. There’s nothing complicated about how its laid out, much to its own benefit. It’s stripped down, but nothing in a way that feels minimalist. Everything that’s necessary is in place, and the low-key bells and whistles that are included—Apple CarPlay, cool; automatic windshield wipers, neat; a reverse camera, wahoo—feel more than adequate.
Little exists across the dash, too. The wheel? Cruise control, a button to make calls. The center dash? HVAC and emergency blinkers. I’m not trying to push some Luddite take here; the Cactus is stripped down in a way that keeps the essentials without losing any charm. I find buttons far superior, but nothing here bugged me whatsoever.
That way, nothing feels cheap. Rather than try to jam in a bunch of new-age tech, powered through a slate of buttons covering every inch of space in front of your eyes, the Cactus has the basics. That opens up some perks for the interior: there’s a leather stitched handbrake, a gearknob that’s leather/chrome-finished, a leather-stiched sheering wheel.
There’s something superb about the seats, too. Cactus dubs them the Citroen Advanced Comfort Seats, and whatever went into engineering their design should be praised and heralded to no end. Every time my girlfriend sat down, she felt comfortable enough to relax and catch a quick nap. For someone who never zonks out in moving vehicles, that’s a feat. The cabin was quiet, isolating and just nice. The trunk space is fine, with about 12.6 cubic feet of room.
What I’m saying is, the Cactus knows what it’s supposed to be. I know others have written that Citroën’s latest revamp of the car represents a sort of identity crisis for the Cactus. I disagree.
The former air bumps along the car’s exterior have been reduced greatly, but it’s not as if the Cactus is now unrecognizable among the endless sea of crossovers. The glovebox features a set of 32 aligned dots barely sprouting out, and while it may feel cheeky at first, it helps maintain the Cactus’s character. It wasn’t hard to spot, even with wonderfully quirky sets of Renaults, Dacias and Peugots pocketing the roads wherever I went.
Whatever’s lacking in performance is made up by the efficiency of the Cactus. It netted about 500 miles per tank, something certainly appreciated in Europe, where gas prices approach $1.50 per liter (or, for the metric-system rubes out there, about $6 per gallon).
That’s probably aided by the fact that the Cactus tops out at 116 mph, but driving it around Ireland, that sort of power isn’t necessary. When the car needed to step up, however, it held its own. That’s why I was so surprised by how much I immediately came around here. I’ve owned plenty of shitboxes that were completely and utterly undependable. The Cactus holds it own.
I did find some things to quibble over, mostly pertaining to the center touch screen. For whatever reason, on a few occasions, the software would jam up when we’d try connecting our phone through the USB port.
Sometimes, it worked on first try; others we couldn’t get Apple CarPlay launched, leaving my girlfriend to shout out directions while wending my way through a part of the world I’ve never visited. One time the dash just rebooted. Maybe we overheated it with the iPhone. That’s part and parcel with modern cars—fun to drive, but the UI is buggy.
It’s not the end of the world, but the simple premise of wanting to be able to use a basic feature when it’s there, and not being able to, obviously was annoying. The fact there’s only a couple cupholders and one USB port to boot seems unnecessarily minimal; surely, the cost of adding at least one more of each wouldn’t crater the Cactus profit margins.
These are minor quibbles, however. I can’t really underscore enough how much I loved the Cactus. It’s a car priced in the mid- to upper-$20,000 range, based on current conversion rates. And it makes about the strongest case you can muster that small crossovers too can have a ton of unique characteristics, a boatload of character, an endless well of fun.
That’s why I was bummed to send it off, back into the hands of a tremendously helpful and nice Citroën employee named Ken. We just don’t have something this fun in that class here in the states. Arguably the Mazda CX-3 comes closest. I thought, for example, about the Ford EcoSport, how little sense it in place of the Focus five-door hatchback, and how it costs the same as the Cactus. It’s honestly comical these two carry a similar price tag.
Citroën is planning some sort of U.S. comeback, but the plans for that are vague and seem to center around ride-sharing. Thus, your likelihood of owning a Cactus seems, for now, pretty slim. This leaves us to wallow in our pain, while our friends across the pond get by day-to-day experiencing life behind the wheel of a Cactus.
Every new, mid-level crossover trotted out by automakers is either outright boring, or some hybrid/all-electric design that’s... fine. Can’t say the same about the Cactus.
I know this is completely nonsensical, as I don’t know how you’d enforce a theoretical (and dumb) statute like this, but it’s criminal we can’t have the Cactus. Unfortunately, that’s not in the cards any time soon.
I don’t know what else to say but: it’s a damn shame.