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Driven: C4 Cactus to become Citroen’s best seller

Prickly Parisian: The C4 Cactus range brings unique styling and French flair to the compact SUV segment.

All-new Citroen C4 Cactus SUV arrives with big expectations on its little shoulders

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Citroen logo8 Mar 2016

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

CITROEN expects the C4 Cactus small SUV will become its top-selling model in Australia as it heads a renewed attempt at a brand resurgence.

Executives from Citroen Automobiles Australia importer Sime Darby refused to comment on sales projections for the Cactus at its national launch in the NSW Hunter Valley this week, however the brand’s best-selling model in 2015 was the Berlingo compact van with 298 sales, followed by the C4 Grand Picasso with 254 sales.

Citroen Automobiles Australia called the C4 Cactus “one of the most genre-bending vehicles in its class” and nominated it as a cross between small hatchback and small SUV.

However, it listed competitors for the C4 Cactus only from the latter segment, such as the Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke and PSA-stablemate Peugeot’s 2008.

“We believe we have found a good balance between specification and price, placing us in the heart of the segment,” said Citroen Australia national sales manager Shaun Mackle.

“If you exclude the base and all-wheel-drive variants from our competitors we are priced right in the middle of the segment, with the longest (six-year, unlimited-kilometre) warranty.

“Citroen will never be the cheapest, but we will never be short on equipment.

The Cactus comes standard with a rollcall of features that some of our rivals only offer as options.”

The two-tier C4 Cactus range starts from $26,990 plus on-road costs for the 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol three-cylinder with five-speed manual, and $29,990 plus on-roads for the 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder with six-speed single-clutch automated manual.

The petrol engine, shared with the Peugeot 308, produces 81kW of power at 5500rpm and 205Nm of torque at 1500rpm. It claims 0-100km/h in 9.3 seconds and 4.7 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.

The diesel engine develops 68kW at 4000rpm and 230Nm at 1750rpm. As with the petrol engine, it has an automatic idle-stop system to help reduce fuel consumption to 3.5L/100km while 0-100km/h can be reached in 11.4s.

Pre-orders have strongly favoured the diesel automatic by 85 per cent.

Both drivetrains are available only in a high-specification Exclusive model grade. Common equipment includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen housing controls for the satellite navigation, digital radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, single-zone climate control and rearview camera.

Other standard features include automatic headlights and wipers, LED courtesy and maplights, power mirrors and front windows, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and 17-inch alloy wheels with a 15-inch steel-rimmed spare.

The diesel adds an ‘aircraft-style’ manual handbrake and bench front seat with armrest.

Citroen Automobiles Australia said six petrol and diesel drivetrains were available for the Australian market, including the 1.2-litre non-turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine offered in the 2008, but all but two were declined.

Despite the entry point to the C4 Cactus range being $4500 more expensive than the 2008, Citroen Australia PR and communications manager Tyson Bowen argued the two-tier line-up represented “the best pairing of the drivetrains available”.

“I think when we talk more on 2008 you’ll see why we’ve gone the way we have,” he said, intimating that engine line-up changes will be in store for the facelifted Peugeot small SUV due locally late this year.

“It’s not to suggest we’ve left the 1.2-litre non-turbo version out (of the next 2008) it’s just that we thought this is the best package (for C4 Cactus), and after driving 208 you’d know it’s a very capable drivetrain,” he added.

“The (low) demand for that naturally aspirated drivetrain, it’s a choice of whether you complicate the mix or you know where you are going to be strong.”

The local distributor has also taken only the high-specification Exclusive model grade because, according to Mr Bowen, “if you look at other markets there are vehicles with 15-inch wheels and hubcaps (but) to us that doesn’t quite sit with where people would want to come in”.

Mr Mackle nominated the small volume of the CX-3 Neo and low sales of previously offered C3 and C4 entry model grades as reasons why the brand passed up cheaper entry points to the C4 Cactus range.

Customisation options are, however, being spruiked as a sizeable selling point for the C4 Cactus. The only standard exterior colour available is white, teamed with Citroen’s patented side ‘AirBumps’ – with 4km/h resistance to trolley door dings – painted in black and with silver alloy wheels.

Exterior paint selections except white cost an extra $800, while a ‘premium white’ adds $1000. Other options include ‘bump’ colours other than black ($400), black alloy wheels ($1000), white roof rails ($250), white or red mirror shells ($150) and C-pillar highlights ($100), while coloured interior cloth or part-leather selections ask a further $800 or $1600 respectively.

Multiple selections are available for exterior paint (10), interior trim (six), C-pillar highlights (five), side bumps (four), side mirror caps (three), roof rails (two), and wheels (two).

“Sixty per cent of our pre-orders have seen some form of customisation, which is what our ad campaign plays to,” Mr Mackle said.

“About five per cent of orders have taken all of these options on their Cactus,” he said, adding that the most expensive C4 Cactus sold so far totalled $42,000 driveaway.

“Obviously managing lead times and inventory has and will be something that we need to work closely with our customers on, however the pre-launch period has allowed us to better understand the wants and needs of potential customers.

“Therefore we have on ground a reasonable selection of vehicles and, save for the panoramic roof and different-coloured interior, most of these options can be fitted locally.

“For those who want a truly personalised Cactus it will be approximately three months in production. The factory will give us as many as we want.”

Citroen Automobiles Australia forecasts an even split between male and female purchasers, with ages ranging from young (20-year-olds) to traditional buyers of the brand (60+).

Although the C4 Cactus has been given a four-star Euro NCAP safety rating, according to Mr Bowen this is because “with the change in NCAP (testing) the vehicle doesn’t offer blind-spot monitor or autonomous brake, so that’s where it loses the final star”.

“The information we have from France is that it’s not a structural issue (and) if we tested it locally we would have to see, but the information we have is that it would be fine,” he said.

The C4 Cactus is pitched as a small SUV that prioritises ride comfort, interior comfort, clever packaging and minimalist solutions for efficiency.

Engineers subtracted 200kg from the C4 hatchback platform on which the C4 Cactus is based, thanks primarily to increased use of high-tensile steel and other weight-saving measures such as pop-out rear door windows that save 11kg.

Front seats are designed like lounge chairs, the passenger airbag was moved into the roof to create an 8.5-litre top storage box and design details such as leather-strapped doorhandles are meant to reference luxury travel items.

Within a 4157mm-long body the C4 Cactus boasts a 358-litre boot volume and weighs between 1020kg and 1055kg.

The vehicle was destined to arrive in Australia more than six months ago, however the single-piece rear-seat backrest needed to be re-engineered into a 60:40 split-fold design to accept a centre top-tether child seat anchor point that conforms to Australian Design Rules (ADR) but adds 3kg.

The C4 Cactus would otherwise have to be sold as a four-seater, which Citroen Automobiles Australia said was not an option.

Citroen sales in Australia continue to fall, with the brand down 6.3 per cent in the first two months of 2016 on the back a 15.4 per cent drop to 1106 units for the full year in 2015, behind fellow French brands Peugeot (4000 sales) and Renault (11,525).

2015 Citroen C4 Cactus pricing*
1.2L petrol$26,990
1.6L diesel (a)$29,990
*Excludes on-road costs

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