Citroen C4 Cactus: Teacher's pet

It seems the world’s going SUV crazy. Even people with little interest in cars are getting swept along with marketing departments’ ‘crossover’ buzzword, including my former teaching colleague Gemma Holding.

Gemma’s only been driving for four years and after running a couple of 02-plated runarounds – her current steer’s a Peugeot 206 – she now plans to buy something larger, more modern and, well, crossovery.

With that in mind, I dropped off my long-term Citroen C4 Cactus with her on a Friday so she could see how it fitted into her life over a weekend.

Let the weekend begin

“I’ve not spent much time at all with a new car but I’ve seen lots of TV adverts where as long as you’ve got the key on you, pulling the door handle or wiggling your foot under the back bumper will unlock the doors and pop open the boot. Not here it doesn’t.

“Pressing the key fob buttons is hardly a chore but heaving two heavy bags of marking into the boot with its high loading lip was a pain after a tiring week. At least there’s plenty of space in there but I did notice the back seats don’t have a split in them for when you want to carry three passengers but a lot of luggage. I thought all cars would have had that?

“The interior’s not like any other car I’ve been in but I can’t say I liked all of it. Although the suitcase-like detailing for the door handles was cute, I thought the glovebox looked over the top. What use do those straps and bobbles have?

“It’s similar with display screens: the larger one that controls the air-con and sat-nav was good but the speedo panel right in front of me looked boxy and boring. Still, the seats are very comfy and I could soon get into an ideal driving position.

“Oh! And I probably shouldn’t get that excited about a reversing camera but it’s really cool, especially with those lines to guide you into parking spaces.

“Anyway, back home, telly on, tea in hand and feet up. I need a rest.”

Saturday shopping trip

“I woke up looking forward to venturing into Lincoln for my weekly browse for bargains, which, for once, wouldn’t feel like a chore as I’d be in the Cactus.

“Just a short time driving it and I realised how clattery my old 206 sounds, even though it’s a petrol and the Citroen’s a diesel. The Cactus is not only quiet, but the steering feels nice and light, as do the pedals, although the gearbox felt a bit rubbery.

“It’s also very comfortable. The front seats are like armchairs and the suspension seems to soak up everything better than any car I’ve been in. Even driving over the cobbles in Lincoln’s historic quarter didn’t seem to trouble it. I could get used to that.

“I could also get used to the self-parking gizmo – that’s brilliant! Although I’ve not been driving long, I am a confident parker, but allowing the car to do all the hard work, once I’ve told it what to do on the touchscreen, meant I could get into tight spaces without worrying about scuffing bumpers and kerbing wheels.”

Sunday morning dog walk

“Shadow loves car trips but isn’t keen on going in the boot. With the Cactus that’s just as well because not only did he have to use all his agility to leap into it, because it’s not like an estate car at the back, I’d have had to remove the parcel shelf for him to be comfortable and see out.

“He much preferred his ride on the back seat but it took me a little while to figure out that the back windows don’t wind down. It’s useful having those big cubbies in the bottom of the doors but I think I’d prefer conventional windows rather than the Cactus’s pop-out ones.

“Still, he could see out of the Citroen very well as it’s very light in there, especially with that large glass roof. Pity there’s no blind to cover it up on really sunny days.”

Relaxed Sunday afternoon

“For the first time ever, I spent most of the day just driving around and enjoying being in something more modern than my 14-year old Peugeot.

“I really liked how easy it felt to drive, the comfort kept on impressing me every time I hunted out some of the poorly surfaced roads in the Lincolnshire countryside and I liked being higher up than in my 206. I realise that’s common to crossovers, though.

"As I sat in one of my favourite tea rooms I was struck by how much attention the Citroen was getting while it was parked outside."

“It’s very distinctive and I like its ‘face’ – some of these types of car look a bit aggressive but this one’s cute and a little cuddly.

“One talking point I’m not keen on is that bubble wrap down the sides. I get what it’s for but I keep thinking it looks more like they’ve cut corners and left it looking unfinished. Perhaps it’s because they’re black – I might feel different seeing them in different colours.

Could Gemma see herself buying a Cactus?

“While I know I’d like a crossover for my next car, I’d need to see what else is on the market before deciding. There was a lot I liked about the C4 Cactus and the idea of having something that looks distinctive but is easy to own and use really appeals to me.

“I know I could learn to live with the aspects of the interior I don’t like but that bubble wrap along the sides? Hmmm… Perhaps the first time I saw someone open their door onto it and not leave a mark I’d be sold!”

Overall Mileage: 7,621 miles

Fuel Economy: 52.2mpg (calculated)

Eighth report: Aisle be back

Update by Adam Binnie

Here’s the thing, when it comes to weekend transport I prioritise two basic features – a boot big enough for a pushchair and those little plastic tunnels in the rear seats to help guide an ISOFIX base into place.

It sounds simple yet many family cars that come through the doors here at Parkers still get it wrong, leaving me fumbling with muddy buggy wheels in the rain or losing fingernails to fiddly car seat mounts, thinking up thin excuses for where my son has learned all these new swear words.

Not the Citroen C4 Cactus though. I’ve driven few cars of this size that are better set up for family life than our current purple-inside-and-out long termer.

Perfect marriage of comfort and practicality

It made sense therefore to pinch it for the weekend of a family wedding where we’d be staying in a hotel for two nights. This meant transporting enough stuff to transform the boot into the underground bunker of one of those doomsday preppers you see on American television.

First up we had to load the pushchair into the boot just in case junior needed a mid-ceremony nap. Our buggy is massive because they all are these days. My mum had one that seemingly folded up into a small tote bag, but ours, with its ladder chassis and welds that would shame the underside of a monster truck, presents a serious challenge to most boots. In it went though, with space to spare – first point to the Cactus.

Buggy fits plus plenty of room for other things

Car seat next; a job that usually induces a bout of “no it’s your turn, no it’s your turn” between my wife and I. Once the base is installed the actual seat just clicks in an out, and the best rear benches have a removable piece of seat covering the ISOFIX mounts, or square tunnels covered by a plastic door, to make locking the base’s legs into place a doddle too.

While you get neither in the Cactus, there is an opening at the bottom of the seat back to help guide the installation – a cost effective solution. I just wish the rear door apertures were larger though to aid access to the back seats like you get in a tall crossover such as the Nissan Qashqai.

Simple but functional interior

With everything loaded we set off on our two hour journey. We’ve talked about the interior of the Cactus before and it’s just as interesting and unusual as it sounds. The digital dial set-up displays all the information you really need (speed and fuel level) and pretty much everything else is controlled by the big touchscreen in the centre. This means the dashboard can be kept slim and increase interior space.

Now, there are many differences between me and Keith (he can grow a beard, for example) but one oddly common ground is our driving position. When I get into a car after him, I don’t have to move the seat, mirrors or steering wheel at all. I do have to retune the radio though.

"Get a picture of that Lotus!" I said. Close enough.

So it stands to reason that while other members of the team have had a hard time getting comfortable in the Cactus, I, like its current custodian, found it absolutely fine. The flat-looking seats actually offer lots of support and although a bit firm, they didn’t give me the back ache normally associated with long journeys.

It’s not perfect though - I’d like to be able to move the wheel a bit closer to me, and the armrest gets in the way of the handbrake when it’s folded down. Folding it out of the way didn’t help either, as I just kept bashing my elbow on it. Also in either position it’s hard to reach past to deliver a sandwich or wipe the runny nose of a rear seat passenger, as my wife was quick to point out. Finally there’s no cover for the glass roof, which distracts toddlers who should really be catching up on sleep before a long day at a wedding.

Squashy ride resists bodyroll

I won’t bleat on about the dynamics because we’ve covered that, but we found it perfectly relaxed in its ride yet powerful enough thanks to the 1.6-litre diesel engine Keith picked. It’s no sports car but doesn’t wallow around either. In other words it bats it right down the middle and is all the better for it.

Most memorable though was everyone’s reaction to it. I guess with car design converging it is quite surprising to see something that looks as unusual as the Cactus, and therefore a bit of an event.

My friend said these didn't feel how he imagined them to. Not sure what he was expecting.

Look past the slightly comical exterior and you’ll find a deeply practical and cossetting car that manages to hush away most of the stresses of a long drive.

Overall Mileage: 7,621 miles 

Fuel Economy: 52.2mpg (calculated)

Seventh report: Economy Drive

Give or take three-tenths of a mile-per-gallon, the Citroen C4 Cactus fitted with the 1.6-litre BlueHDi engine should average 81mpg. At least, it will according to the official fuel consumption tests all cars are subjected to.

When the Dieselgate scandal blew up in Volkswagen’s corporate face in 2015 a second spotlight was shone upon the artificial nature of those laboratory experiments. After all, who actually drove a car that achieved anywhere near the quoted figure?

When 52mpg doesn’t impress

If you’re expecting me to buck the trend and prove to be a proficient fuel-miser and subsequently banned from various oil-producing nations as a result of my frugality, then I’ve got bad news. My Cactus has only averaged 52.2mpg at my hands. And feet.

In isolation that doesn’t sound too bad – if the ads promised you’d be doing 50-odd miles-per-gallon day in, day out, you’d be chuffed with that. But the fact remains that it still travels 28.5 miles less for every gallon of diesel than stated.

Citroen’s not alone in this, but neither is it at fault. The official consumption tests are a standard all manufacturers have to comply with so by default they offer a direct comparison. It’s a benchmark, however flawed.

What they don’t reflect is individuals’ driving style, weather conditions, topography of the landscape, other traffic, how many passengers you carry or whether you’ve got half your worldly possessions crammed into the boot.

Improving the fuel consumption odds

Short of putting tape across all the panel gaps, folding in the door mirrors and unscrewing the aerial, I’ve taken various measures to ensure that the Citroen’s in optimum – okay, near-optimum – condition to eke out each tankful.

There’s rarely anything of any consequence in the boot, 90 percent of the time there’s only me in it (and there’s 10 percent less of me in recent months), tyres are at the correct pressures and I’m easing each pedal into action as and when it’s called upon… Yet still, just over 50mpg.

Even re-reading a Citroen press release from late 2015 where a mechanically-identical C4 Cactus averaged over 103mpg – out in the real world – hasn’t improved my score by embracing new thinking.

I suspect I know what the culprit is – once again I’m blaming my commute.

Of its 76-mile each-way tally, 49 of those miles are sat at a steady 70mph (honest, officer) plying the A1. A sixth gear for the manual gearbox would help, but I suspect there are cost issues which prevent its inclusion in what’s supposed to be a budget-conscious car.

Annoyingly, my route takes me into part of Lincoln during the closing minutes of its rush hour. Here the stop/start function works superbly – it even gives a countdown showing how long the engine’s been on standby mode. Well, it works superbly providing you’re at a standstill. Most of the time there is movement, albeit a pedestrian-paced trudge during which you get well-acquainted with first gear.

This is not a happy hunting ground for those seeking to maximise thrift.

The Cactus is only with us for a few more weeks, so I’ll set time aside to take it on some longer runs, albeit at a gentler pace. B-roads of Britain – prepare for on onslaught of purple-hued parsimony.

Overall Mileage: 6,073 miles

Fuel Economy: 52.2mpg (calculated)

Sixth report: Cactus vs Crossback

Chances are that if you’ve been intrigued enough about the Citroen C4 Cactus to pop to your nearest showroom to have a look at the Airbumped curio, you’ll have spotted something not dissimilar in the rarefied corner devoted to DS.

Now completely free of its Citroen chevron logos, the DS line-up also has a new derivative that slots neatly into that ‘is it a hatchback or is it an SUV?’ conundrum – the DS 4 Crossback. It’s 40mm taller than more conventional DS 4s and comes complete with wheelarch trims and a pair of roof rails.

Similar results, different recipes

As both have a ‘4’ in their nomenclature, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re more closely related than they actually are. The Crossback’s underpinnings are derived from the C4 Hatchback, while the Cactus’s platform’s a stretched version of the C3’s. The C4 Picasso? That’s based on an entirely different – and newer – architecture.

Consequently they feel distinctly different to drive; the Cactus is softer, gliding over bumps with greater ease and generally feels lighter on its feet. By comparison the Crossback feels slightly firmer, less prone to body roll but is quieter thanks to a sixth speed for the manual gearbox.

Both share a 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel powerplant, producing 98bhp and 245Nm of torque in the Citroen and 118bhp and 300NM in the DS. Despite that shortfall the Cactus is two-tenths of a second quicker on the 0-62mph acceleration test at 10.7 seconds, thanks primarily to being 395kg less hefty.

That girth also costs the DS 4 Crossback in the efficiency stakes with an official claim of 72.4mpg compared with the C4 Cactus’s 80.7mpg boast. Back in the real world those figures can be exchanged for 44mpg and 52mpg, respectively.

This has a knock-on effect for CO2 emissions as well: while the Cactus’s 95g/km figure makes it VED car tax free, the Crossback’s 103g/km means it’ll cost £20 annually after no charge in the first year.

Pleasantly the DS 4’s transmission’s more pleasant to use, feeling both tighter and easier to snick between ratios. Jumping straight into the Cactus, its baggy five-speeder feels like it’s already endured a torrid decade on minicabbing duties.

Busy luxury versus minimalistic value

In place of the Cactus’s chic minimalism, the Crossback’s subjected to an interpretation of French luxury, although this Tourmaline Orange version did without the hallmark watchstrap leather seats normally associated with DS.

Interior plastics feel more substantial and there are lots more buttons, too – presumably there’s a car cabin designer’s equation somewhere that reads switchgear + more switchgear = luxury.

Whatever the reason, it feels distinctly different to the Cactus. Even the instrumentation’s more conventional in the DS with a trio of analogue dials in place of the scant detail displayed on the Citroen’s LCD readout.

There’s a similar amount of interior space in both although I much prefer the Cactus’s front seats which encourage you to lounge in them rather than the DS’s which you feel like you’re perched upon.

Back-seat inhabitants will notice the rear windows don’t wind down on either car. For the Cactus that’s because it saves weight and makes it simpler and more cost-effective; on the DS it’s because it’s a coupe. Obviously…

While the Crossback has a wrap-over windscreen, the Cactus’s glass roof does a better job at making the cabin feel lighter and airier.

Boot space is 27 litres greater in the DS at 385 litres, but then at 4,284mm it’s 127mm longer than the Citroen overall.

Pragmatism wins out

Although the DS 4 Crossback’s not without its idiosyncratic appeal, it’s the everyday charm of the Citroen C4 Cactus that glisters with greater spangle.

More economical, greater efficiency and the thick end of £4,500 cheaper as tested, Citroen’s most distinctive model in years is where I’d still place my money. 

Overall Mileage: 5,301 miles

Fuel Economy: 51.7mpg (calculated)


Fifth report: C4 Cactus - the must-have crossover?

Within a few days of Burns’ Night it seems appropriate to quote the Bard of Ayrshire as ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men’ have caught me out.

Plans to grill the windscreen fitter for a long-term update as he installed a new unit in the C4 Cactus were scuppered as the work was carried out when I was on a launch. Issues of my copy aside, the great news is that it’s now fully-roadworthy and ready to crank up the miles again.

This turn of good fortune instead made it possible to visit friends who’ve recently bought cars that rival the Cactus. What would they make of the bumpy, purple Citroen?

Ange Garton – drives a Skoda Yeti

“I know it’s a personal thing but I love the styling. Everything about it makes the Cactus look like a bigger, more imposing car and those Airbump dimples – and the thinking behind them – are clever.

“The interior feels special for what’s essentially an inexpensive car, with lots of lovely detailing like the suitcase handles and two-tone finishes. I like the nifty electronic displays as well.

“Overall it feels much more contemporary and younger than the Yeti but I couldn’t buy one, primarily because of my dog. I need the Yeti’s more upright, estate car look, plus the Cactus’s lack of split-folding rear seats would be a pain, too.

"Oh! And while I appreciate it’s a minor detail, the fuel filler flap looks naff.”

Paula Cross – drives a Fiat 500L

“I’ll be honest, when I first looked at the Cactus I wasn’t sure what to make of it – aside from the purple paintwork, which is great. But now, having looked around it, it makes a lot of sense. The Airbumps on the side make it more rugged and practical and the front’s especially distinctive.

“Although I like the simple, uncluttered look of the interior I think I’d find that touchscreen awkward to use and on a personal note I prefer to use ratchets to adjust the reclining angle of the seats rather than rotating wheels like the Cactus’s.

“What impressed me most was how comfortable it is. The seats don’t look like they’ll support you that well, but they do, and the ride is very good at soaking up all the bumps.

“If I didn’t have the dogs I’d be interested in owning one. Unfortunately, the Citroen’s body shape is more like a hatchback and the loading lip’s really high – I’d end up lifting them into the car!”

Natalie Myers and Glynn Fox – drive a Skoda Yeti 

“Well, it’s certainly distinctive and comfortable,” offers Natalie (above) before confirming she’s not a huge fan of Glynn’s Yeti.

“Yeah, it rides really well,” confirms Glynn (below), “and considering the engine’s got less than 100bhp, it feels punchy enough to pull the car along at a decent pace.”

“I feel positive about it overall,” says Natalie, “but a few little things would put me off – there’s not a lot of headroom for taller adults in the back and that lack of a split-folding rear seat would irritate me, too.”

It seems on first acquaintances the Citroen C4 Cactus has intrigued rather than convinced these owners of rival metal with outright practicality proving to be the primary bugbear.

Clearly this isn’t news to Citroen as the C4 Cactus can now be specified with split-folding rear seats, although the sloping hatchback-esque tail still limits its dog-carrying ability.

Overall Mileage: 4,463 miles

Fuel Economy: 52mpg (calculated)


Fourth report: Cracking start to 2016

Barring a throat infection which blighted the middle of my nigh-on three week sojourn from all things Parkers, it was rather refreshing to be on holiday for so long. In fact, it was the longest break I’ve had from work since my teaching career ended back in 2013.

That time off also allowed me to rack up around 1,200 miles with the purple Citroen C4 Cactus and get further acquainted with its qualities and foibles.

Chief among the Cactus’s positive traits is the sheer comfort in which its occupants are wafted along - although admitedly some of my Parkers colleagues can't find a satisfactory driving position but I'll be exploring that in the coming weeks. Those up front are especially spoiled with cosseting chairs you’d happily sit on in your living room, at least until Mrs Brown’s Boys appears on the telly, at which point no degree of sumptuousness would keep you cosied upon them.

Visually they look too flat and lacking support, as though form’s dictated function, but experiencing a few bends soon reassures passengers they’re not perilously close to slipping off their perches.

Underneath the Cactus there’s no hydropneumatic wizardry like Citroens of old to generate the suppleness, just well-tuned suspension with dampers design to mollycoddle rather than mar the ride – DS 4 drivers should try one to understand how firmly their cars are set up.

Cactus’s calming effect

An air of calmness as I drove the Cactus around was welcomed as the roads inevitably snarled-up with people going about their Christmassy business. My own shopping trips into Lincoln and Meadowhall on Sheffield’s outskirts (twice!) saw the Cactus drawing attention to itself in car parks, passers-by curiously studying and prodding the AirBumps.

Longer journeys included an overnight jaunt to London’s Waterloo and the deceptively large car park beneath the railway arches (choosing the Cactus for the trip over a BMW 1 Series M Coupe), Cambridge (where my eldest was taking part in a Rubik’s cube competition – don’t ask…) and the Leeds branch of Ikea to pick up a flat-pack desk (again, for my firstborn).

Micke – that’s the name of the desk not my son – fitted in the Cactus easily, despite its 1.46m package length and the Citroen’s compact 4.16m dimensions. As there were only two of us in the car the lack of a split-folding rear seat wasn’t a problem in terms of occupant ferrying, although keeping a segment of the seatback in situ would have prevented the 25kg package from sliding about when negotiating roundabouts.

Overall it’s proving to be a positive relationship between the Cactus and I. Yes, there are those inevitable niggles but I’m happy to overlook those for the joy it offers in other ways. After all, you don’t stop loving your cat simply due to its propensity to fart.

And so it came for 2015 to pass but New Year’s Eve included a blip – a small stone chip appeared on the left-hand-side of the windscreen (no AirBumps up there), soon developing into an eight-inch crack. A call to the windscreen replacement people revealed a mid-January date before it could be swapped for a unblemished replacement, so until then the C4 Cactus is rested up, sleeping off the Christmas excesses. Unlike me, sadly. 

Overall Mileage: 3,110 miles

Fuel Economy: 51.5mpg (calculated)


Third report: Cactus versus pine needles

Rewind the clock to the advent period last year and I was running a capacious Peugeot 308 SW with an enormous 1,775-litre cargo bay. There was enough space within for my daughter and an eight-foot Nordman Fir, the only concern being the amount of tree-deposited frost that carpeted the boot.  

This year it was the altogether more compact Citroen C4 Cactus taking on the Jones’s Christmas tree collection duties from the festive forest plantation a mile from home.  

Last year’s frost had given way to incessantly-pouring rain and this time I’d got two of my offspring in tow, which posed an in-Cactus logistical problem.  

Without a split-folding rear seat there was no chance of a test of logic, juggling around children and tree in an unlikely game of Tetris, which meant some preparation was required before I set off.  

Job number one was to unscrew the roof-mounted flexible aerial, quickly followed by securing one end of a length of rope onto the Cactus’s roof rails – they’re standard on all barring the entry-level models.  

Unsurprising given the ongoing deluge, the yard at the collection point was quagmire-like. Proper SUVs, with four-wheel drive and knobbly tyres, were proudly parked on a grassier field, already sinking several inches as the torrent continued. Actively avoiding eye-contact with the staff so as not to notice in case they fell for the Citroen’s 4x4 looks and pointed me field-wards, I stuck to the concrete.  

Securing the festive load

In one deft move the soaking wet hulk of wood and needles was slipped into its stocking and rolled onto the roof by a drenched chap from the tree farm. All that remained was for me to secure it down with the now gloriously muddy 20-feet of rope.  

It never ceases to amaze me how wet and filthy one gets after five minutes strapping down a load but by the time I’d clambered back into the Citroen my hands and parka were testament to my endeavours – time to crank up the heating.  

Unexpectedly, this highlighted a further source of frustration with the car, in addition to the (now even dirtier) rear-view camera – the Cactus’s climate control system.  

As a diesel, the heating takes a while to fire up and the brief journey to collect the tree wasn’t enough to stoke it up sufficiently. Sat with the engine running, the windscreen and side windows soon demisted thanks to the air-con but the heat took several minutes before it seeped into the cabin.  

Even then it wasn’t terribly effective, in large part due to the low-set location of the air vents. Although they’re directionally adjustable, it’s difficult to point the centre pair towards your face and upper body. The net result was a warmer, drier left thigh by the time I got back while the rest of me was soaked through.  

Anyway, the better news is the tree’s inside, decorated and dry – now it only has a ginger tom called Ambrose to contend with. The Cactus? Continuous rain into the evening washed off all the discarded needles from the roof meaning the Dyson wasn’t called into action.  

Cactus 1, pine needles 0.  

Overall Mileage: 1,929 miles

Fuel Economy: 51.1mpg (calculated)


Second report: In at the deep end

Having been put straight to work, racking up the long-term Citroen C4 Cactus’s first 1,000 miles happened inevitably quickly. That’s in thanks not only to my 76-mile each-way commute, but also courtesy of a couple of runs to Gatwick and back to rural north Lincolnshire. 

Despite consisting of copious amounts of motorway driving, I was careful to ease the engine into life. Normally a car’s owner’s manual will advise not exceeding a particular engine speed but seeing as there’s no rev counter in the Cactus I relied purely on the gear change indicator’s guidance. 

It’s geared for efficiency rather than performance, so it’s pleasing to relay that fuel consumption’s already beginning to improve at an averaged 50.8mpg. That’s still significantly short of the colossal 80.7mpg that Citroen’s official tests claim but it’s a step in the right direction. 

More impressive than the C4’s economy is its comfort. I’ve heard reports from a handful of colleagues that they find it difficult to get comfy in the Cactus so I’m wondering if my disproportionate stature’s paying me dividends (finally). 

Although I’m six-feet tall, most of my height’s due to my lengthy torso, requiring me to have the seat closer to the wheel than most, with the backrest particularly reclined. While the steering wheel angle can be adjusted, annoyingly you can’t pull it nearer to the driver. It suits me fine but I’ll canvas wider opinions as more people familiarise themselves with it. 

The seats are only part of the relaxation story: as with our previous Grand C4 Picasso long-termer, the Cactus’s suspension’s been tuned for compliance, making it a great cruiser. Even a five-hour slog of trudging along the M25, M11, A14 and A1 felt like I was just kicking back in a cosy armchair. Albeit one with purple trimmings. 

Style with practicality 

So far I’ve not troubled the Citroen’s 358-litre boot capacity greatly, with just my overhead locker-sized suitcase, man-bag (that’s as near as I get to being metrosexual), laptop and camera attempting to fill it. Frustration’s not (yet) been invoked due to the lack of a split-folding rear seat, either – note that cars built from the end of 2015 will have this practical feature. 

There are a number of simple-yet-effective touches elsewhere in the cabin: there’s a shelf next to the USB port on the dash that’s big enough for most smartphones and phablets (we’ll save the debate about what an awful portmanteau that is for a later date) and all the touchscreen controls are intuitive, if a tad slow to react. 

I’ve also been impressed by how little water appears to be wasted by placing the windscreen washer jets on the wipers themselves – there’s no pre-wipe froth-fest temporarily distorting your field of vision. 

Frustrations so far number just one in total – it’s very convenient having a reversing camera but it quickly gets clarted up with filth and grime, giving the on-screen image the clarity of a frosted bathroom window. If someone’s got a more convenient solution than me remembering to give it a quick buff with my thumb every time I open the boot, please write in.

Overall Mileage: 1,096 miles

Fuel Economy: 50.8mpg (calculated)


First report: Welcome to Parkers

Full disclosure time: I was once a member of the Citroen Car Club.

That was back in the days of a couple of XMs and a V6-engined Xantia, but as a long-time appreciator of the marque, I’ve been itching to get my hands on Parkers’ newest long-termer, this Citroen C4 Cactus.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ardent champion of anything and everything bejewelled with a double-chevron logo. I’m more fascinated with its back catalogue of lightweight small cars and hydropneumatically-suspended luxury land yachts than I am Saxos and Xsaras. So the Cactus appeals, courtesy of its 4,157mm length and 1,070kg weight.

While it doesn’t stylistically reference any Citroens of old, the C4 Cactus is self-evidently idiosyncratic – those industrial-strength bubble wrap AirBump panels along the body sides are complemented by similar inserts in the bumpers, the black plastic wheel arch extensions and tailgate plinth.

Strip those away, lower the ride height and remove the roof rails and you’re left with a fairly conventional hatchback silhouette, not the shrunken SUV it appears to be when it’s dressed up.

To maximise comfort and up the gadget count I chose the range-topping Flair trim level and, like 10 percent of UK Cactus buyers, opted to have it painted Deep Purple metallic at an additional £495.

There’s a pale, Stone Grey AirBump option but keeping them black and having the 17-inch ‘Cross’ alloy wheels all-black too lends the C4 Cactus a surprisingly stealthy air.

Look closely and you’ll spot optional parking sensors to accompany the reversing camera – an extra £196.02 for those.

Inside - more purple

Inside there’s more purple (you can’t have too much, can you?) courtesy of the imaginatively-titled Purple Highlight pack for an additional £295. Incidentally, only one percent of British C4 Cactuses (C4 Cacti?) are so equipped.

That brings you a purple finish to the main dashboard plane with similarly-hued fabric on the upper and lower edges of the seats and door armrests.

It also brings the total asking price for this Cactus up to £19,501.02.

Underneath the stubby little bonnet dwells a 1.6-litre, 98bhp BlueHDi 100 engine that delivers 254Nm of torque to the front wheels from 1,750rpm. Even though the Cactus is a lightweight, it’s clearly not a car built with performance in mind. Frugality is the rule here.

Citroen quotes an ambitious-sounding average fuel economy of 80.7mpg but our first tankful of diesel yielded only 47.2mpg. Still, there’s ample time for the engine to loosen up as the miles get cranked up, so I’m not overly concerned at this stage – a real-world 60mpg target’s in the back of my mind.

So, introductions over, it’s time to start getting to know the Citroen C4 Cactus and see how well it fits into my life, dealing with a 76-miles-each-way commute and coping with the demands of my 15-, 12- and almost 10-year old kids.

And no, I’ve not renewed my club membership.

Overall Mileage: 340 miles

Fuel Economy: 47.2mpg (calculated)