Soft roader adventure: Citroën C4 Cactus
Winter came as a bit of a surprise this year. One day we were walking around in our shorts and plakkies and 24 hours later we were sitting in the corner shivering as the cold winds blew in from the south. The scattered showers early in June didn’t help our frame of mind.
So we did what any right thinking summer-loving individuals would do – we went to Durban. We happened to have the new Citroën C4 Cactus parked outside, so we loaded up this compact crossover and went in search of adventure in a warmer clime.
A lot has been written about the Cactus, and rightly so. At the rate it is winning awards, it will soon be the Meryl Streep of the automotive world.
It was named the Tow Car of the Year in the UK and Crossover of the Year in the Green Awards, but more impressively, it won the 2015 World Car Design of the Year award and took its class in the renowned International Engine of the Year awards. The three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine was named best in the 1.0-litre to 1.4-litre category.
After a week in its company, we concur with the engine jury’s assessment. We also agree with the design award, because nothing we’ve driven, including the likes of the Mercedes G63 AMG and Porsche Macan, turns heads like this little car. It looks exceptional in every colour Citroën offers, but to us it looks best wearing the Blue Lagoon suit you see in the accompanying pictures.
Another thing you will undoubtedly notice about the Cactus is the “air bumps” on the side of the car. When the first details of this vehicle started emerging, we regarded them as a marketing ploy, but when you think about it, they make a lot of sense.
These bumps, which can be replaced with others in a different colour if you get bored with them, can withstand a direct hit at speeds of up to 4km/h. That means the days of walking out of the mall to find a small dent in the side door, caused by someone with no respect for other people’s property, are finally over. We found this unique feature particularly helpful, as we often have to park test cars well clear of other vehicles to ensure they don’t suffer such damage. While driving the Cactus, we could finally park like normal people!
You might be wondering why Citroën named the car after a plant. There’s a very good reason for it, and it has nothing to do with cacti surviving in harsh conditions. The C4 Cactus is named after the plant because it survives with very little sustenance which, in the case of a car, obviously refers to its fuel consumption. We achieved a very impressive average figure, but more on that later. For now, we need to talk about a pair of balls.
Some groovy balls
As the Cactus isn’t really a proper 4×4 but rather a crossover, we rummaged through Google to find a few urban-based adventure locations. The search didn’t take long, as such places are popping up all over SA, which is good news for compact crossover owners. The days when you had to cross over rough terrain for two days to get an adrenaline rush are long gone.
Approaching the coast after an uneventful trip, we turned off the N3 onto a gravel road. Finally, we had the opportunity to drive this crossover on something other than tarmac. On the smooth, well-kept sections the Cactus was calm and composed, but it doesn’t like washboard gravel or any kind of rocky surface. The suspension is obviously tuned for on-road driving, which makes a lot of sense considering that this is where it will be used most of the time. This tarmac biased suspension also came in handy later in the day…
After our stint in the dirt, we arrived at the gates of Groovy Balls – a company that specialises in outdoor and adventure activities in Durban. We opened the doors of the Cactus and a gust of warm air filled the cabin. Ah, good old Durbs, where 20˚C is considered “cool”.
The increase in temperature was appreciated for another reason as well. You see, we were there to partake in “zorbing”. For the uninformed, this involves a giant inflatable ball with a soft inner core where you can sit, lie down or try to run.
As the climate had increased dramatically since we left Jozi, we decided to do our first run in the Aqua Ball. We got in and without warning the instructor dumped 20 litres of cold water into the ball. Then his helpers pushed us down a 120m hill, with a few bumps along the way.
We have no idea what it feels like inside a washing machine, but being inside the Aqua Ball must get pretty close. At no point during the run do you have any idea which way is up or down. You just slip, slide and hop your way down the hill.
Our host, Nico Buys, told us that most people scream down the hill. We just laughed out loud the whole way.
A few minutes later we strapped ourselves into the Harness Ball. It seemed daunting at first, but the Aqua Ball gives you a false sense of security. The 150m Kamikaze run is violent. It’s not dangerous in any way, but after experiencing the washing machine, we were expecting the same laugh-inducing bouncing. The Harness Ball is definitely for adrenaline junkies. It moves fast, bounces high and comes down hard. We strongly recommend you give it a try.
With the sun setting, we turned back onto the N3 and then left onto the N2 towards Ballito. Our end-destination was Rain Farm Game and Lodge, which is about 15 minutes outside Ballito.
The Cactus really impressed us on those final few kilometres of tar. KwaZulu-Natal’s roads are impeccably kept and they twist through acre upon acre of sugarcane fields.
On these roads the C4 Cactus felt surprisingly sporty. We know how ridiculous that sounds, but consider the Cactus’s impressive power output and low weight. Its 1,2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine puts out 81kW and 205Nm of torque, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but somehow Citroën has managed to keep the car’s weight down to just 1020kg. That gives it a power to weight ratio that’s in the same ballpark as the Chevrolet Sonic RS, which is a purpose built hot hatch. Considering that most “Cacti” will spend their lives on tar, that’s a massive feather in its cap.
We soon arrived at the lodge, got the keys for our wooden cabin and went to bed early, as we had another extreme urban adventure booked for the next day.
Way up high!
Climbing used to be an exclusive and dangerous sport, but now it’s one of those things you can do within the confines of a city. We found a climbing establishment called Southern Rock, located in an industrial district, and set off to find out how high we could get.
But first we had to navigate the notorious Durban morning traffic, which was recently voted the worst in SA. This is the last place you would want to be stuck in a crossover, but in the Cactus everything was fine. The quick responses from the engine made it easy to get away from the lights quickly, while the compact dimensions and fast steering turned taxi dodging into a fun pastime. As our top-of-the-line Shine derivative came standard with navigation, we had no problems finding our destination in one of the oldest parts of Durban.
After a quick equipment demonstration from the friendly instructor, we donned some highly uncomfortable climbing shoes and tried clambering up the various walls they had on offer.
Most of them are relatively straightforward when you use every climbing point available, but we were soon told that if we wanted to do things properly, we should choose one colour route and stick to it. That makes it fairly difficult, especially if you don’t have the required upper-body strength for rock climbing.
After one particularly nasty spill, which knocked the wind right out of us, we decide to sit back and watch an accomplished lady climber at work. She demonstrated remarkable skill and strength, and the kind of flexibility that is admirable, to say the least.
We left Southern Rock with a promise that we’d look into this urban climbing thing again in future. It’s certainly a more interesting way to get fit than running on a treadmill.
Our afternoon was left open so we could explore Durban a little and spend some time at Rain Farm, which had organised aninteresting activity at sundown. Meandering down Marine Parade and back on the coastal road to Ballito, we had time to reflect on the interior of the C4 Cactus. It isn’t as mad as the exterior, but still pretty special.
The design and materials make it feel more expensive than it is and we especially like
the fact that Citroën has managed to load the model with standard kit while retaining the minimalist approach that’s currently trending in the motoring world.
Up front, we had more than enough space while the boot was big enough for two overnight bags, a cooler bag and some camera equipment.
The standard features across the range include air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free telephone function and audio streaming, cruise control with speed limiter, electrically operated front windows and exterior mirrors, and a multifunction steering wheel.
Our Shine derivative came with extras such as climate control, reverse camera, auto-activating headlights and windscreen wipers, front fog lights, rear privacy glass and interior mood lighting. How Citroën can afford to include so much comfort and safety technology in a car priced at R284 900 is a mystery.
One feature we found really handy was the additional USB located in the “topbox”, which is a cubbyhole in Citroën lingo. That means two phones can be charged at the same time, with one of them streaming music via the Bluetooth connection.
We also liked the non-intrusive navigation system. Normally you’d be in the middle of your favourite song, which would be silenced by the woman’s voice telling you where to go. Not so in the Cactus. It gives the gentlest of reminders that you will need to do something in a few hundred metres and then shuts up. It’s a small thing, but it makes an impression.
We took the bendy route again and drove the little Cactus hard. It was a rewarding drive. This car has so much character, thanks to its nippy nature and that wonderfully eager three-cylinder soundtrack. We expected the hard driving to have a drastic effect on the fuel consumption, but the trip computer informed us that we had used an average of just 6,7 l/100km on our trip
As the sun set, we watched the farmers burning cane in preparation for next year. We stood there next to the Citroën, impressed by how well it had fared. It handled the long haul with ease, coped with a few short gravel roads in and around Durban and excelled within the confines of the city.
After the launch of this vehicle, we said it was too early to call it a segment leader as we hadn’t had enough time behind the wheel and or driven all its competitors yet. Now we can state with certainty that this little Cactus is currently in the lead. That’s nowhere near what Citroën claims, but considering the nature of our trip and how we drove when the opportunity arose, it was impressive.
We spent our last evening at Rain Farm shooting a pellet gun and a bow and arrow. The competition was close, but in the end the bow was the winner. The arrows were so closely grouped, in fact, that our guide wanted