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If you have read my rundown of the Geneva motor show you’ll know that I’m quite fond of the Citroen C4 Cactus but, much like when I professed my love for the profoundly brilliant BMW i3, it seems that, to some, these bold design moves are a little more abstruse and scary than they ought to be. So, here’s why I think that cars like these define a huge portion of mainstream automotive design and will become the icons of the future.
So, what makes a desirable car? For most people the dream usually consists of owning a characterful classic car or status enhancing super car and, for most people, they’re unobtainable for various reasons. On the most part then, obtainable cars become little parodies of the cars we really desire, a compromised version of the real thing and as a result they leave you only half filling that aspirational void. An Audi A1 might have some of the visual thrills to look at as an RS5 but it will leave you disappointed if you ever want to race one off the lights. A Mini might have character, as ubiquitous as it is, but it doesn’t quite have the character of the original, as any original Mini owner will tell you.
So what if a car didn’t try to give you a slice of your current aspiration but instead it tried to change your aspirations all together, to give you something you didn’t know you wanted? In steps the BMW i3, which for me is every bit as exciting as a Porsche 911 but in a completely different way. Nothing about the design of an i3 suggests anything other than the true qualities it possesses. A Prius, for some reason, tried to be a heinously boring, normal car which to me almost implied that your expectations of a hybrid were so low that just being normal was some sort of incredible achievement. A Tesla, whilst making huge steps in the right direction, still seems to hide behind the conventional car facade and remains too compromised for the price bracket. But the i3 is all new and arguably within most people’s reach and when you’re driving along there’s nothing that could drive past that you wish you could afford. Before you say the i8, well… yes there is the i8 but it’s still an evolution of the ostentatious super cars we already love and, for me, isn’t the pure and intelligent solution that the i3 is. So, finally you can look as smug with your car as the inordinately smug people in the adverts with the added benefit of having the environmental moral high ground which should make you really popular at dinner parties.
The Cactus then? Technologically it won’t stand up against the i3 and neither will it be the revolution that I’m sure the i3 will be but it does offer something that I don’t think many cars offer. For a start it’s very unique, Citroen seem to be keeping well clear of the copy, paste and re scale effect that the VW group seem to be making popular on the other end of the scale. The Cactus’ individuality doesn’t just run skin deep though, it feels like care has been taken to make sure the message runs through every part of the car. For example, 2011 bought us the Nissan Juke which was, by all accounts, immensely popular. This showed that people like alternative design but drive one and it becomes apparent that the design doesn’t encourage you to see it as anything other than an ordinary hatchback with a slightly higher driving position. This is where I think the Cactus differs slightly, it celebrates its functions and isn’t ashamed to be what it is. One of its defining features is the ‘Airbump’ patches on the exterior which will not only protect your car but will also attract herds of people endlessly examining their tactility, an exciting prospect to say the least. It wears its roof bars with pride as well, they say ‘I’m adventurous’ not ‘I’ve lost all enthusiasm for life and I need some way of getting the kid’s bikes to Centre Parcs’. It doesn’t stop there either because i think that a car’s true qualities are often reflected in its interior. I think that the Cactus’ interior, from a design perspective, is quite a clever one. Notice how all the parts you touch or are in the drivers eye line are beautifully detailed but all the areas you may kick or scuff with muddy boots seem far less precious. The comfy bench seats upholstered in rugged fabrics akin to that which you might find on a Danish sofa give it a homely feel, this is no hose down Land Rover defender either. Time (and driving one) may prove me wrong but it has the feel of a ‘demi’ icon but hopefully not in the same way as the Avantime.
A dream car, then, is a car that doesn’t compromise in giving you exactly what you want, no matter what that is. The Cactus wouldn‘t be mine then because I’d have to go out and buy an inactive surf board to put on the roof or have a litter of children just to justify the purchase. Doing that would go against everything this car is meant to be… practical.
I’m not saying these examples are necessarily anyone’s dream car just that they offer something to the mass market that doesn’t feel compromised, doesn’t necessarily leave you longing for something better and is designed from the ground up to fit its purpose. At the end of the day, I like to think that a car should be exciting and inspiring and if that means spending time with family or saving the planet then so be it. I still love fast cars, it’s innate, but it’s good to see that great cars can be more inclusive and exciting but we need more bold and clever designs before we’re all happy.