Citroen C4 Cactus

LADIES and gentlemen, I give you the Lady Gaga of the car world — Citroen’s new C4 Cactus.

No, it’s not dressed in meat and doesn’t wear a phone as a hat but in the context of the ever-reserved world of automotive fashions it is every bit the parrot among a flock of pigeons.

It first ruffled feathers at the Frankfurt Motor Show a year ago, capturing headlines with its innovative Airbumps, thermoplastic polyurethane air pockets covering its flanks to prevent bumps and scrapes (pictured below right).

But the standout styling of the Cactus runs deeper than that, as I found out at the UK launch event.

Chunky and rounded at its front end, the Cactus has a distinctive lighting package that sees sleek LED running day lights assuming prominence above halogen headlights.

A floating roof panel is topped by ski-style roof rails (right) while the rear end is dominated by a plastic panel matching the shade of the Airbumps worn on each flank.

Citroen’s design-led approach is backed up by personalisation options which include a selection of ten body colours, three Airbump colours, red or black wing mirror and rear three-quarter panel inserts and black or white roof rails...

Inside, five choices of seat covering and three interior themes, which dictate the colour scheme of the plastics, fabrics and door inserts, bring further choices.

An optional panoramic sunroof (£395) floods a sparse, stylish interior with light.

An imaginatively-designed but fairly minimalist dashboard optimises interior space but some plastics in less prominent areas do feel a little lightweight and flimsy.

Citroen has neatly blended the vintage and contemporary features to create its “travel-inspired” cabin space.

Door pulls styled like the handles on a suitcase and matching straps ordaining the lid of the dash-top glove compartment are nice touches.

More modern is the seven-inch touchscreen system integrated into the dash which operates stereo and trip computer systems in the entry-level Touch (from £12,990) spec Cacti, with the added bonus of Bluetooth phone connectivity in the mid-range Feel (from £14,590) and sat-nav too in the range-topping Flair (from £15,990).

Citroen’s penchant for digital speed readouts continues but the Cacti’s affair takes the form of a neat black tablet situated (conveniently) ahead of the steering wheel.

Citroen’s positioning of its cruise control buttons awkwardly out of sight behind the arms of the steering wheels, meanwhile, has been overcome by a multi-function steering wheel.

Cruise control is among the items standard on all Cacti, along with DAB radio and hill-hold assist braking.

It is a welcome discovery that — unlike Lady Gaga, I suspect — the Cactus’s preoccupation with style does not come at the cost of practicality.

There’s a decent 358-litre boot, rear seat accommodation that’s a match for most C-segment hatchbacks and lightweight construction which results in a 200kg weight saving over the Citroen C4 hatchback.

Some might not like the fact that the rear windows don’t wind down, though. Instead relying on a hinged opening, the like of which is usually found in small hatchbacks.

A choice of three petrol and two diesel engines is available from launch, the cleanest being the 100bhp 1.6-litre, BlueHDI, with its 82g/km CO2 emissions and 91.1mpg claimed fuel consumption, and the sprightliest the 110bhp 1.2-litre PureTech turbo, which should reach 62mph in 9.3 seconds and a top speed of 117mph.

The standout impression of the Cactus on first driving it is the amount of attention it gets out on the road.

Short of the Jaguar F-Type Coupe tested last week, no other car I have driven in 2014 has captured the imagination of pedestrians and fellow motorists like a Hello Yellow Cactus.

That aside, the Cactus is well-mannered and comfortable.

Initially the suspension feels a little firm, but it did manage to iron out the worst of the imperfections on Buckinghamshire’s less pot-holed tarmac.

A more compliant secondary ride made for a degree of lean through some corners at times, however, and the Cactus makes no pretence that it might struggle to put the S into SUV, the front end pushing on at the limits of grip.

That said, I was impressed with the performance of Citroen’s engine range. The 110bhp Puretech impressed with its refinement, despite its small-capacity, three-cylinder layout, while its less potent sibling, in 84bhp tune, offered decent acceleration.

The real joy of the Cactus is always going to be the pleasure derived from its appearance, however.

If you are not the kind of person that craves seat-of-your-pants driving thrills, hours of appreciation can be derived from owning car that is not only a stand-out alternative to other SUVs but one which boasts genuine intrigue and innovation, too.

I suspect it will elicit a love-it or hate-it response from many but predict it will steal sales from a wide-ranging variety of rivals including the Nissan Juke, MINI Countryman and Kia Sportage.

The Cactus is a car that can bring out the child in you.

Thankfully it seems to come with a grown-up approach to the requirements of family transport that will make it a far more sensible acquaintance that the similarly quirky Miss Gaga.