This green and pleasant land of ours is truly amazing. As MotorMartin gets older it has become easier to appreciate the variety that we have on our doorstep. The contrast between newly redeveloped glass and steel town centres and the older and more traditional terraced houses can be wondrous to behold. Whilst just outside City boundaries are the fields and forests of an ancient, more distant past. But how long will it remain so. The larger conurbations are gradually spreading out and devouring the countryside in their never ending quest to create larger and larger urban environments. The green belt, originally set up to prevent the spread of our towns and cities, would appear to be more flexible than first envisaged. Town planning departments throughout the country seem to view green spaces as nothing more than future building plots, spaces to fill with generic new houses and apartments. The ability to ignore local resident’s views over increased traffic, lack of school places and local amenities when making decisions over new builds can bring fury and disbelief to even the most ardent supporter of urban growth. As the economy continues to improve it feels like greed is making a comeback. Large corporations looking around for their next plot, woodlands, open spaces, fields, floodplains, brown field sites, green field sites, anywhere and everywhere is fair game. This is, after all, why we expect our local councils to look carefully at all applications, to independently weigh up the pros and cons of any new development whilst having the final say on whether it can go ahead. But then we have appeals, how does that work? The decision changed, if it wasn’t acceptable before and nothing has changed, how then can the decision be reversed?
Contrasting environments are still relatively easy to find at the moment and for that we should all be grateful. Most of us are probably a maximum of 30 or so minutes away from somewhere amazing, somewhere that feels like you’re the only one to have discovered it, a place that reminds you of your position in the World. Looking across the hills and flowing fields of North Yorkshire or travelling through the mists and rains of Snowdonia, you cannot help but admire the views before you and the feelings that they create. We need to embrace what is good and beautiful about our countryside, our open spaces before this continued erosion reaches its natural conclusion. There is the media led assumption that the South East is devoid of countryside, its population bursting at the seams as they desperately try to live somewhere near where the work is. Yet even amongst the chaos, the traffic, the angst there is still calm within reach. Essex, Kent, Sussex and beyond can offer areas of outstanding beauty equal to the best that the UK has to offer. It’s a further cliché that the North of England is viewed as being slightly behind the mighty South, perhaps even a little quaint like the strange and unusual cousin that you see on boxing day but try to ignore for the rest of the year. Cities such as Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, we are told, gaze jealousy along the proposed high speed rail link towards the power and might of London, imagining that one day they will be on an equal footing. Is there a desire to replicate? I don’t know, but there are still rumours and talk about creating a Northern Supercity linking Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield which would surely shrink these Isles even more. So what are we supposed to make of all of this?
Perhaps it is precisely because we are an island nation that we celebrate the diversity of our Towns, Cities and Villages even more. We know and appreciate that the space we live on is precious and once it’s gone it’s virtually impossible to get back.
Where then does the Cactus fit in to all of this? Simply put, as our urban environments become more prevalent it is necessary to travel in a car more suited to cities, towns and villages. After all, these are, rightly or wrongly, the areas where most of us spend most of our time. In part 1 https://motormartin.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/citroen-cactus-prickly-when-wet/ I looked in depth at the bold styling choices led by the innovative airbump© technology specifically designed to protect the Citroën from everyday impacts and it’s thinking of this nature that led me to conclude that this could be the best urban runaround currently available.
Driving the C4 Cactus late one evening through the rush hour traffic you quickly become aware of how easy the Citroën is to drive. The steering is the lightest MotorMartin has used for quite some time and allows you to place the C4 exactly where you want it to be on the road. As you make your way through traffic the ease of steering really comes into its own, a quick glance over the shoulder, drop down a gear to access the available power, a twitch of the wheel and you’re able to change lanes swiftly and safely. Driving between Bradford and Leeds you have more than enough time to appreciate the deep, soft seats and comfortable driving position. Like Citroëns of old, comfort was clearly high up on the list of priorities when designing the Cactus and a quick watch of the video below allows us a unique window into the thinking behind some of these decisions.
So there you have it, the Citroën sports a world first sofa style front bench seat. The designers have certainly hit the spot with the seats as both front and rear are soft yet supportive. Children and adults will have no problem sharing the car with the supple and cosseting suspension aiding their journey. This is a car that deals with urban routes with aplomb. Away from the hustle and bustle of a busy dual carriageway and into town and the clutch and brakes begin to get themselves noticed, mainly for the right reasons. Starting (or should that be stopping?) with the brakes. My word they’re stronger than expected! For the first few miles you would appear to be coming to a halt alot earlier than expected as the brakes deliver an incredible amount of stopping power for a family hatchback. They really do take some getting used to but once you have they really come into their own. Of course the overall lightness of the Cactus certainly helps in this respect as there is less of it to stop than other, more popular makes.
With the diesel engines, as tested, delivering around 91bhp it is never going to be something that wins the traffic light Grand Prix and neither should you expect it too. In town the power is perfectly suited to the task in hand with enough acceleration to keep up with most others on the road. The five speed gearbox has a reasonably short throw and coupled with the light clutch, is simple enough to use when keeping the engine on the boil. It’s this aspect of the car though that lets the Citroën down. The shift is absolutely fine and dandy, it’s just the actual physical feel of the gearstick that is disappointing and you would think that with such attention to detail being lavished over the rest of the C4 this shouldn’t really have happened. The other aspect of the Cactus that became annoying for MotorMartin very quickly was the lack of room to stretch out your left leg. Between the clutch and the side of the footwell there is just no room to put your foot, meaning that you have to drive with your left leg bent and your foot flat on the floor. It’s probably just me but I found this quirk a blight on the driving experience.
Out of the Cactus’ natural urban environment and onto the motorway gives us a chance to sample the C4 at speed. The ride remains as comfortable and stable as it is in town whilst the motor merrily thrums away at a steady 70mph returning around 60mpg even once into the stop start of a normal commute.
The Citroën C4 Cactus has so many good points that for many people, as long as they can live with the styling, it really should be all the car they need. Citroën have come up with a car that is striking to look at, packed full of easy to use new technology, cheap to tax, economical and remarkably comfortable to spend time in. All of this in a package that will set you back £16690 as tested.
So would I buy one? The simple answer is no. Reasons being the quite astonishing lack of a CD player, nowhere for my left leg to stretch and the cheap feeling gearstick. Each element on its own would probably not matter but over time and put them all together then they would diminish my quite obvious enjoyment of this great car. If these small matters don’t matter to you then MotorMartin can certainly recommend this spiky, avant-garde motor.
Where will you go?