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Citroen C4 Cactus

By Tabitha Hergest

Citroën is a name synonymous with idiosyncrasy.

From André Citroën's first disturbed night, through the front-wheel-drive "Traction Avant", the Deux Chevaux tin snail, the DS and the exotic SM, whilst other manufacturers were content with convention, Citroën pushed the envelope harder than a starving stationery salesman.

The C4 Cactus is no different - in being different.  From its roof-top skis, its side bumpers, its eyebrow lights and child-bearing haunches, it certainly stands out.  It may not, perhaps, have the caché of a Bentley, but without doubt it's different enough to attract some attention.

Inside is also a culture shock.  Whereas, in most cars, you might expect an instrument binnacle with all sorts of readouts for the obligatory speed, revs, fuel, warning lights and the rest in quite sizeable visibility, here there was just a rectangular box, about the size of an ordinary domino set, from which illuminated miles per hour, fuel and a recommendation to change gear, if appropriate.  There was also another indication which we never quite got to the bottom of, but which didn't change the entire time we had the car.  Other warning lights were present, of course, but these were up in the roof, above the rear view mirror.  These included the airbag warning lights which, alarmingly, stayed on towards the end of our drive.

The sun visors were a pain.  Quite literally.  The seats were high - giving one a commanding view of the road - but where the sun visors were conventionally placed, any sudden stops would consequently have one braining oneself on their edges.  They were made of a quite hard material, too, so there would be nothing to cushion the blow in that eventuality.  Happily, though, the design of the car allowed us to move them 180º so as to remove that peril without impeding vision.  It also meant, however, that we were able to see how, in a straight down position, they completely blocked all vision.  Of course, given the friction on their mounts, it was quite possible - on our fairly new car - to place the visor at a suitable angle; but wear could always occur, possibly with disastrous consequences.

In keeping with modern fashion, there was no CD player.  In car entertainment was provided via a USB port which, my passenger reported, also charged her 'phone - something not all such devices in cars do.  However, had one no smartphone loaded with music, one would be restricted to listening to the radio integral with the central in-car information system.  One of the features of this system was the sat-nav, which we used to get down to Portsmouth.  This was similar to the unit fitted to the Toyota Yaris, in that it included handy information such as speed limits.  Without vocal accompaniment, however, it was quite fiddly as it meant taking one's eyes off the road for a rather unfortunate length of time.

The glove compartment, however, deserves mention, as it is one of those Citroën quirks, and a benificent one at that.  Whereas the conventional glove-compartment is situated in the front of the fascia panel - and with the advent of airbags, the lower section thereon - our car had the glove compartment lid atop the fascia.  This meant not having to bend double to actually access it, and not having to rearrange one's limbs to coax the door into the open position.  I daresay it would also be handy when, once the latch has snapped or somesuch, it would not burst open after driving over a penny in the road, nor would it be necessary to perform the contortion of holding the thing up to get into the passenger seat.  As the contents thereof are not held to any degree by the hinges, that means they would not wear: however, due to the curve of the windscreen and, thus, the rather Heath Robinson arrangement of the hinges, it did raise a bit of a panic as we thought the lid was broken.

Our car was a diesel.  I'm not sure whether Citroën is one of those manufacturers ensnared in the emissions debâcle, but in any case it was hardly a fitting engine for a car with such a sporting image.  It sounded rather like a slightly muted cement mixer, but it was quite lively nonetheless.  It pulled cleanly enough, with pleasant acceleration and a decent turn of speed.  The five-speed manual gearbox, however, was a different matter.  Whilst it did its job adequately, using the gear lever put one in mind of stirring gruel.  And I was completely out-of-love with the clutch pedal too - it was too high off the floorpan of the car and rather heavy, so that its use - after a hundred miles or so, let the balls of my feet know in no uncertain terms that it belonged in a cement mixer.

All in all, though, we were quite taken with this French charmer.  Yes, it had a list of faults as long as a Silver-back's arm, but it's easy to forgive these if the car is as quirky as you are.

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