Isn't it funny how quickly annoyances that were once easily dismissed as small and trivial can manifest into niggles capable of spawning white-hot rage.
Take my Citroen Cactus for example. When it was shiny and new, I didn’t care that its central touchscreen was a bit slow and clunky. Or that it doesn’t have one-touch electric windows, or that its damping isn’t perfect, or that its reversing camera activates at the speed of global warming. And can you blame me? When a car looks this interesting and has an interior this quirky, of course I’d focus on the bigger-picture positives.
But now we’ve spent eight weeks together, I’m afraid my affection for the shiny yellow Cactus has lost some of its sheen. The touchscreen is of particular annoyance because, unlike the majority of cars, which have physical buttons for important functions, the Citroen’s screen controls everything. Well, everything of significance. Feel like adjusting the temperature? Prepare to dive into the digital menus. Want to change the radio station or turn off the idle-stop? Better start jabbing.
Admittedly, the Cactus isn’t alone in having the infotainment system control most functions, and it wouldn’t be such an issue if the touchscreen worked seamlessly. But sometimes it’s so unresponsive you may as well be fingering your nose.
At least the upside of having fewer buttons is a beautifully stylish and uncluttered dash.
The rest of the interior is also a triumph of design, and clever packaging means it’s not only pleasing to the eye but comfortable and practical, with plenty of handy storage cubbies. I especially love the soft cloth seats, which feel like my grandfather’s lounge chair.
The other shining positive that’s bubbled to the fore is the Citroen’s brilliant turbo triple. I admit stepping out of an HSV Clubsport, which had five times the capacity, was quite an adjustment, but the more I drive the Cactus the more the little 1.2-litre three-pot warms my heart. Outputs of 81kW and 205Nm don’t scream eager performance on paper, but in practise it’s lithe, responsive and wonderfully elastic – factors helped by a 1020kg kerb and leggy gearing. And then there’s the rorty thrum, which only adds to the Cactus’s perky personality.
What I’m yet to explore in detail is the dynamics. Our time together has so far been limited mostly to the freeway, but that’s about to change. Car of the Year testing starts next week and the Cactus is part of this year’s field.
If the cliche ‘Happy wife, happy life’ holds true, then the Cactus isn’t doing me any favours. Turns out it doesn’t have a vanity mirror for the passenger, which I’ve learned is an unforgivable oversight. The driver does get a mirror, complete with a light, but when I pointed this out it only seemed to make her madder. She’s also not entirely enamoured with the Citroen’s looks, and nor are some of my friends, who bandy about words like “try-hard” and “cutesy”. But what do they know? I reckon the Cactus looks great.
This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Wheels magazine.