Cactus can't quite grapple with thorny traffic problem
But 'cushion' suspension eases pain
I've worked irregular, off-peak hours most of my life so, in the main, traffic has never been a major concern. Which helps explain, I suppose, why I absolutely hate not being in control of my journey times nowadays. There is something truly frightening about seeing creeping cars clogging every vista and escape route.
Last week, it took us nearly three hours to get from south Dublin to Kilkenny. We basically sat our way through the sludge-slow M50 only to sit longer on the N7. This is not tenable surely? Three hours like a coagulation of giant snails choking on our own tailpipe emissions. Some people face such scenarios every day. God, there has to be a better way. I'm just not sure what it is, though.
As luck would have it the car I was driving, the new Citroen C4 Cactus, is being highlighted by the brand as having futuristic 'cushion' suspension to absorb bumps and humps, as well as 'comfort' seats of unusual depth, substance and dimension.
It wasn't until we were about two hours into our two-miles-a-fortnight slow-mo that I mentioned our 'luck' to the brother (like myself he's a veteran back sufferer). He said he'd noticed the seats alright but had been too busy on the phone.
Me? As the hours slid by I used the lumbar support to the full and tried to keep the back soothed as much as possible.
One of the (obvious) shocking things about being stuck in traffic struck me forcibly many times: how utterly imprisoned you are. At least on a train or plane (even in prison) you can take short non-seating breaks.
Such is the level of traffic on roads at all hours now I can see even more attention being paid to seats and suspensions. We're going to spend a long time on our bums.
Of course my drives weren't all at snail's pace. There were plenty where I was able to get the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine to work up a bit of a sweat. These new small petrols can be excellent and this 3cyl, with 110bhp, had a reasonable amount of driveable vim. It was better around town than in country driving where it ran out of pep fairly easily.
In essence the new C4 Cactus is really a car of two main elements. It retains some off-beat features from the Cactus SUV which had us delighting in its quirky design and cabin fittings. Remember the distinctive air bubble protective panels along its flanks to reduce the impact (physical, financial) of small prangs? Well, they're gone (mostly).
The car has now been subdued with more mainstream C4 appendages though they do retain 'old Cactus' items such as 'straps' handles on the doors (faux ones on the large glovebox).
I liked the old Cactus - its starting price was appealing - but, my goodness, it aged quickly. That's the danger with doing daring things with cars: you risk them being a one-year wonder. I expect this toned-down, overhauled amalgam to last the pace better. It is a more practical choice with a still-roomy cabin and serious levels of equipment. I like the look of it.
I've praised its suspension for the 'magic carpet ride' effect and the high-density foam seats for their effectiveness in traffic. While both contributed to comfort on poorer roads too, there was more bodyroll than I, or my passengers, would have liked on some.
And here's some irony. I was never totally settled on my seating position. I couldn't just get the right combination between seat height and steering wheel reach. It goes to show how you can have all the cushions and seats in the world but if you're stretching a bit it can undo a lot of the good.
Every driver is unique and my lugubrious bad-back old frame can be difficult to accommodate betimes. But I should not still have been looking for the optimum arrangement days into my drives.
One great blessing in heavy traffic is an automatic transmission. My 6spd worked well enough in the slow conditions but I was disappointed at how it jerked into lower or higher gears on clear roads sometimes. The dash centres on a mostly excellent 7ins touchscreen where icons are self-explanatory and easily accessed. However, I'm not sure about having all the heating/ventilation controls confined to it. It was hard to get at them when driving; a case of a button too few I think.
For a car that's 4.17m long, 1.71m wide, 1.48m high with a deep boot, there is loads of room for four adults. No, it doesn't have Ford Focus drive or VW Golf sophistication.
And Citroen doubters will point to residual value concerns though a five-year unlimited mileage warranty should help banish concerns on that front.
Overall, this is a smart, decent package - one that just might make a difference in offering a cushion from the pain-in-the-bum reality of daily gridlock.
FACTS & FIGURES
Citroen C4 Cactus hatch, 1.2-litre petrol turbo, 6spd auto; 110hp, 119g/km, €200 tax, 5.3l/100km, 358 litre boot.
Price €24,995 (excludes delivery/related charges); range starts: €19,995.
Spec on 'Feel' model included: air con, 17ins alloys, auto lights/wipers, reversing camera, full-size spare wheel, 2 ISOFIX points, 60:40 split folding rear 'comfort seats', driver's/front passenger seat lumbar support; 7ins touchscreen, FM/DAB digital radio, 6 speakers, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), fog lights/cornering function, rear privacy glass, Airbump in lower door area,progressive hydraulic cushions suspension.