Waging war on the supermarket trolley: Citroën C4 Cactus first drive

Citroën's actually gone and turned a concept car into a production vehicle without compromising on the design – including its wacky protective Airbump technology

When Citroën unveiled the C-Cactus concept at the Frankfurt motor show in 2007, most passed off the minimalist design and rubbery door protectors as mere concept fodder.

But sticking to its guns, the French marque has employed said Airbump technology in its production model. Fitted to the front and rear doors, the hardy air-filled TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) capsules are designed to withstand minor bumps and scrapes as well as add a bit of stylish flare to your everyday run around.

Inside, the car feels particularly sparse and concept-esque, too, but does it work in real life? We took a trip to Amsterdam to find out…

Bump and grind

The distinctly French marque believes there is a new breed of car buyer: one that isn’t too fussed about engine specifics, chassis set-ups and handling prowess but who is concerned about their pride and joy being pranged in a Tesco car park. So Citroën has unleashed the Cactus – a stripped back, rubber-clad machine for hectic, and potentially clumsy, lifestyles.

Engineers and designers worked on the Airbump project for over three years and the result is a neat looking panel that is guaranteed to last the lifetime of the car without regular maintenance. Customers can pick and choose a number of colour combinations, meaning the ‘Dairy Milk’ door additions become part of the overall styling package. They work, too; a shopping trolley fully laden with concrete and travelling at speed may well leave a mark but minor collisions are seen off without so much as a scratch.

High tech as standard

Even the basic Touch models, which start at £12,990, come fully loaded with Citroën’s pared back 7in touchscreen display. Every single setting is controlled via this tablet, including the air conditioning, navigation and multimedia system, meaning the car’s designers could keep the cabin as sparse and airy as possible.

The infotainment system can be specified to run applications such as TripAdvisor and Coyote speed camera recognition – but this has not been confirmed for the UK market. It’s an attractive feature that can sometimes be sluggish to respond but it does ensure the interior surfaces stay true to those of the concept - beautifully smooth and button-free. 

More after the break...

Featherweight design

Waging war on the supermarket trolley: Citroën C4 Cactus first drive - Featherweight design 2Waging war on the supermarket trolley: Citroën C4 Cactus first drive - Featherweight design 3

Engineers managed to shed 250kg over the standard Citroën C4 model by employing some clever weight-saving innovations. The washer fluid reservoir is half the size thanks to a new Magic Wash system, which sees windscreen fluid pumped and squirted from a number of holes in the actual wiper blades, thus reducing the amount of fluid needed.

Stripping out the interior has also kept mass to a minimum, with the addition of a roof-mounted passenger airbag allowing designers to introduce a cavernous glove box where the safety device would traditionally live. 

Driving your sofa

Take a look at any automotive manufacturer’s website and count the number of times you read the word ‘sporty’, even if it doesn’t necessarily apply to the type of vehicle researched. Us Brits love a bit of sportiness but Citroën has unashamedly created a vehicle that lacks any sort of performance-orientated drive.

Citroën C4 Cactus first drive

The front seats are designed to mimic your sofa and cars specified with an ETG auto gearbox actually get a front bench rather than two individual seats. The car can still only legally seat two occupants up front, but it’s great for a truly ‘lounging’ drive. Two engines – a 1.2-litre petrol engine in three states of tune (75bhp, 82bhp, 110bhp) and a new BlueHDi diesel unit in two states of tune (92bhp and 100bhp) – will be available from launch and neither are particularly powerful. The car simply gets about the place with minimum fuss, noise and fuel consumption.  

Verdict

The Nissan Juke arguably created the funky crossover section almost five years ago but Citroën’s ‘everyday’ offering could quite possibly muscle in on Japanese turf. The technology isn’t the most advanced currently on the market but it’s extremely simple and easy-to-use – and those bizarre-looking Airbump side panels actually do serve a purpose.

Buyers pining for a weekend pocket rocket should definitely look elsewhere but those who believe that technology – and the driving experience – should be stripped back, simplified and made more affordable should take a closer look.

READ MORE: The 30 greatest concept cars ever

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