French cars are renowned for their quirky approach and unique appearance. Citroen’s Cactus and Renault’s Captur fit this comfortably. Their styling and character won’t appeal to everyone; but will attract plenty of attention from buyers wanting individuality.
Both are higher-riding than a small hatchback but have not been jacked up as far as some SUVs.
One Cactus model
Citroen offers one Cactus model called Exclusive, with either a three-cylinder 1.2 litre turbo-charged petrol engine paired to a five-speed manual transmission or a 1.6 litre turbo-diesel and six-speed semi-automatic transmission.
A big part of its appeal, however, is the range of options. Citroen says there are 23,184 combinations. Some are fitted locally but to fully customise is a three-month order. Starting price for the petrol model is $26,990 plus on-road costs. The diesel is $29,990 (+orc). Prices climb steeply as options are added.
The side panel inserts, that Citroen call Airbumps, create a distinctive look and help the Cactus stand out. They protect against scrapes and bumps such as being hit by a shopping trolley. Though the Cactus is well equipped, it only achieved a four-star Euro NCAP safety rating. The Captur achieved five stars.
Three Renault Captur versions
Captur has three versions, with a range of colour and trim choices; though there’s not as many options as the Cactus. Starting point is the TCe 90 Expression with a three-cylinder 0.9 litre turbo-petrol engine and five-speed manual transmission at $23,500 plus on road costs. The mid-level $26,500 TCe120 Expression, gets similar standard features but a four-cylinder 1.2 litre turbo-petrol engine and a six-speed dual clutch style automatic. Top of the range is the $30,000 TCe120 Dynamique with the 1.2 litre engine and auto driveline but better style and comfort. Cabin space is not abundant our review finds the boxy, high-roof SUV-style bodies make good use of the room available. Cactus is wider but a fraction tighter in legroom.
French flair shines through
The French flair continues with the cabin presentation and unconventional layout of the controls. The styling and function are sure to polarise opinion – a little more so with the Cactus.
To save space, the Cactus’ passenger airbag is in the roof, allowing a slimmer dashboard. The cabin has an open feel with the low-dash line dominated by two screens; a digital interface replaces the instrument cluster and a centrally mounted, 7 inch touch tablet-style infotainment screen. In the automatic dash-mounted buttons replace the gear selector lever. The handbrake looks a bit like a conventional gear selector.
No reach-adjustment on the steering is an issue and thick B-pillars don’t help vision. Old fashioned “pop-out” rear windows are promoted as space and weight saving – but with limited practicality.
Although the Captur cabin is still a touch avant-garde, it follows a more orthodox style. Positioning of some switches seem random. The front seats aren’t as big but provide good comfort and support.
Cactus diesel and Captur Dynamique have similar pricing. With Cactus being diesel and Captur petrol, the engines have different characteristics. The higher revving Renault engine produces more power but the extra torque of Citroen’s diesel gives it a stronger feel. Both deliver respectable performance with miserly fuel consumption.
Cactus’s driveability is let down by the antiquated semi-automatic gearbox, most noticeable in stop/start traffic. Take-offs are hesitant and the indecisive shifts aren’t nearly as crisp or smooth as a conventional automatic.
Captur is better but not class leading. Matching the sensitive throttle response and engagement of the dual-clutch auto can occasionally cause hesitations. The ride is comfortable and well controlled.
Both feel better on the open road. Cactus’s transmission and driveability issues overshadow a civilised and comfortable ride and handling package. The manual petrol Cactus is a better drive.
Neither car is a class-leading all-rounder but each has individual appeal. Cactus’s unique look and excellent fuel economy is sadly let down by poor driveability around town. Captur’s dynamics are better, particularly on the open road.
Citroen Cactus Exclusive
Price. $29,990 + $3821 (est.) orc. Premium paint $1000. Model range $26,990-$29,990.
Safety. ESC. 6 airbags. Tyre pressure monitoring. Reversing camera. Rear parking sensors. Auto lights/wipers. Hill start assist. ISOFIX fittings.
CONNECTIVITY. Sat-nav. 7” touch-screen. Bluetooth. Digital radio. USB slot. MP3 audio.
VEHICLE features. Climate-control. Front fog lights. LED daytime running lights. Cloth upholstery. Front-only electric windows.
DRIVER features. Cruise control. Tilt-adjustable steering wheel. Height-adjustable seat.