What does the word "cactus" make you think of? An old western? Wile E. Coyote? Tequila?
Probably one or all of the above.
But what about a car that is tough, hardly thirsty and an unconventional beauty? That is probably how Citroen is pitching its C4 Cactus.
The car is certainly unconventional. From its wheel design to its headlight arrangement to its Airbumps dink protection, it is not remotely similar to anything you have seen.
Its uniqueness continues inside. For door handles, it has leather straps; and instead of a gear lever, you will see big buttons labelled "D", "N" and "R".
By moving the front passenger- side airbag up to the ceiling, Citroen has freed up space for a sizeable glove compartment. The compartment lid forms part of a textured fascia that, along with the leather- strap door handles, mimics the look and feel of a branded luggage bag.
SPECS/CITROEN C4 CACTUS 1.2
Price: $103,988 with COE
Engine: 1,199cc 12-valve inline-3
Transmission: Five-speed robotised manual with paddle shift
Power: 80bhp at 5,750rpm
Torque: 118Nm at 2,750rpm
0-100kmh: 15 seconds
Top speed: 172kmh
Fuel consumption: 4.3 litres/ 100km
Agent: Cycle & Carriage France
The vertical spoke of its three- spoke multi-function steering wheel (with cruise control, speed limiter and infotainment switches) mimics the design of the alloy rims.
The absence of a gear lever and the use of a nautical-style parking brake handle allow bench seating in the front row.
The parking brake lever works like a charm, unlike the conventional handbrakes found in some premium brands (which have to be yanked to the hilt to be effective).
So does the offbeat configuration of the cabin. While it is nowhere near luxury standards, it is far from cheap and crusty. In fact, it is very tasteful and visually pleasing. So much so that you do not even mind the fabric upholstery and the one-piece backrest in the second row.
For a small car, the Cactus is surprisingly roomy. Four 1.8m-tall adults will fit rather comfortably in it, thanks to its wheelbase that measures nearly 2.6m. And its boot is larger than what you normally see in a Japanese subcompact.
It is also better equipped. Besides cruise control, it has automatic lights and wipers (with built-in washers), and a tablet-like touchscreen with navigation, reverse camera and connectivity.
At 975kg, the Cactus is as light as cars made of exotic materials - thanks to its aluminium bonnet, pop-out rear windows (they cannot be wound down), and a diminutive 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine.
Despite its lightness, the car does not feel too tinny. It has excellent dampers, which cancel out the harshness associated with speed humps and poorly paved tarmac.
At the same time, the suspension brilliantly keeps the car on an even keel when it is taken briskly around a bend.
Briskness, however, does not come very frequently. Despite its weight, the Citroen's puny power plant has to huff and puff at times.
It feels adequate if you are tooling about leisurely in the city, but if you are in need of haste, it is best to resort to the handy shift paddles mounted on the steering column.
Or you could select a speed and leave things to the cruise control.
Otherwise, stomping on the accelerator pedal will only worsen the robotised manual transmission's propensity to lurch.
While it is a marked improvement over earlier versions, this type of gearbox is still far from ideal. However, it sweetens the deal by being as fuel-efficient as a manual - in theory, at least.
Despite being so light and powered by such a small engine (with stop-start function to boot), the French hatch averages 8.3 litres per 100km, which is about double its stated economy.
Herein lies the Cactus' only thorn.