► Rip Curl edition is a tenuously surfing-themed Cactus
► So we take it on a road trip to Newquay’s Fistral Beach
► Adds Grip Control switch, all-weather tyres – and stickers
How many cars have you spotted on your travels bearing surfwear-related stickers? Maybe the mighty Renault Clio Rip Curl? Or perhaps the fabled Peugeot 106 Quiksilver edition? Now there’s another tenuously surf-themed special edition on the loose: the Citroen C4 Cactus Rip Curl.
The special-edition Cactus – the product of a marketing tie-up with global surf equipment brand Rip Curl – features a few cosmetic frills, mud and snow tyres as standard, and ‘Grip Control’ software. This offers up five different traction control modes to theoretically aid the Cactus in making its way across various off-road surfaces.
Suspecting that not all that many Rip Curl Cactuses (Cacti?) may actually go near a beach, we called Citroen’s bluff by taking the car to Newquay’s Fistral Beach – the self-styled home of British surfing. If a 600-mile round trip from the East Midlands to Cornwall and back doesn’t allow us and the Cactus to get to know each other properly, nothing will.
What makes the Rip Curl edition different from a regular Citroen Cactus? Apart from those stickers, of course
Orange seatbelts and orange rings around the (surprisingly decent-sounding) door speakers and Rip Curl-branded floor mats. You get a glass roof, too, which has the dual function of making the cabin nicely light and airy, and also a similar temperature to an oven if you leave the car parked in the sun – despite the glass’s UV coating.
But the main news is Grip Control. The Rip Curl is the first Cactus model to get the multi-mode traction control system already available in sister company Peugeot’s 2008 crossover. It serves up five settings for tarmac, mud, snow, sand or off altogether (up to 30mph, when the TC automatically turns itself on again), which are accessed through a rotary controller. Backing it up are standard-fit all-weather tyres as standard, wrapped around smart-looking 17in diamond-cut alloys.
There’s also a gloss white finish for the roof rails, making them look a bit like surfboards before you strap one to them – and yes, you get the aforementioned stickers on the front wings and C-pillars. There’s a choice of five body colours but we’d probably avoid the slightly flaky metallic finish on our Obsidian Black test car, a £495 option. The only other upgrade fitted was leather seats (£695) – surely neoprene would be more appropriate for a surf special? Probably not as comfy, though...
Otherwise, it’s a regular Cactus, priced at £500 more than the otherwise identical Flair trim (which means sat-nav, cruise control, parking sensors and a reversing camera as standard).
Lending a little more substance to the surfing link, Citroen’s also collaborated with Rip Curl on a set of Cactus-themed surfboard designs, to be auctioned for Cornwall-based charity ‘The Wave Project.’
Does Grip Control work?
We tried to get onto the beach, we really did, but we weren’t allowed. We did experiment on gravel and grass but the dry summer weather wasn’t enough to trouble the tyres, even in ESP off mode. It’s mostly those Goodyear all-weather tyres that will make the difference, anyway – we’ve previously tried the Grip Control system on snow in a Peugeot 2008, back-to-back with a non-Grip-Control-equipped 2008 on summer tyres, and the rubber did more to help the car scale the slope than the software.
Annoyingly, the dial for the Grip Control system sticks out from a plastic moulding in the centre console so prominently that it makes it impossible to fit anything into the cup holders beneath it. If you and your passenger both want a coffee, you’re stuck. And you can’t use the door pockets as an alternative since they’re not deep enough to take a cup or a bottle.
What engines is the Rip Curl edition offered with?
A choice of a 3-cyl turbo petrol or 4-cyl turbodiesel, the latter adding a few hundred pounds to the list price. We’re in the petrol, which is impressively quiet and powerful for its size, and reasonably flexible too, with minimal turbo lag. Official combined fuel consumption hits the heady heights of 65mpg, helped by epically long gear ratios in the five-speed manual ’box. We managed a less-impressive 43.7mpg during our trip, which was predominantly motorways and dual carriageways, interspersed with slow-speed urban driving.
What did you discover about the Cactus during the trek south?
Not only is the engine creditably quiet on the motorway, so is the car as a whole. The Cactus is built to save weight, and save costs, with pop-out rear windows and doors that need a proper slam to close properly – but there must be plenty of sound insulation in there somewhere, because it doesn’t sound like a tin can at a cruise.
The armchair-like seats feel comfy initially, but before long you might find yourself craving a little extra lumbar support, or a makeshift cushion. Special mention for the air-con system; while that glass roof can turn the cabin toasty if the Cactus has been parked for a while, the climate control is able to drop below 14degC (most cars are done by 16) and ventilation is very effective, even if the dashboard design means the front passenger only gets one vent to the driver’s two.
It’s not actually that roomy, though. When four of us pile into the car at Newquay (me, a friend, surf instructor Johnny Fryer and photographer Aaron Parsons) the interior space quickly disappears, and it’s easy to clock your head on the cant rail if you’re not careful. Isofix is standard in the back, but manoeuvring a rear-facing child seat could be tricky.
And there’s a frustrating lack of interior storage space – I’d happily swap the centre armrest for a little extra water/snack storage on the motorway, especially given that it obstructs the gear lever when it’s down anyway. The door bins are broad but the shape of the door makes it difficult to actually put stuff in them. Ultimately, there’s useful space for a mobile phone but not much else. A bit ironic given that most of the physical switches have been deleted in favour of a touchscreen – which can be tricky to prod accurately if you want to adjust the air-con on a bumpy road, for example.
Is the Cactus Rip Curl a proper surf vehicle then?
Judging by the other vehicles around Fistral Beach, it looks like the optimum surfer’s wheels of choice are a van, preferable one with lowered suspension and tasty alloys. Our instructor, Newquay Activity Centre’s Johnny Fryer, uses an estate car – ideally you want to put the boards in the car, not strap to the roof as we did here. The Rip Curl Citroen’s glass roof does help you keep an eye on them on the move, though.
Surfing, by the way, is fantastic fun. The sense of elation when you manage to stand and surf into Fistral Beach is worth every minute of the nine hours of motorway driving it took to reach it. Funnily enough, driving the Cactus feels a bit like you’re on the water. There’s plenty of body roll on its soft suspension and the car bumbles down the road in a gently oscillating, wobbly kind of way. It’s a car to meander in rather than hurry, but it has its own character and it’s not at all unpleasant to drive. And if you are in a hurry, it’s ultimately grippy and stable, even on those winter tyres in hot weather.
Grip Control and decals aside, the Rip Curl’s no different from a normal Cactus, which means the same flawed but fascinating car you’ll find either irritating or interesting. I’m in the latter camp; I like the Cactus, despite its ergonomic weaknesses. It’s different, perhaps partly for the sake of it, but there’s much about its approach to be praised: its lightweight construction, distinctive style, efficient engines, long wheelbase and comfort-centric ride quality are all A Good Thing.
The Rip Curl costs only marginally more than a regular top-trim Cactus, so if you like the stickers, go for it. But we reckon it’s a car that makes most sense in cheaper, more basic form.
With thanks to Johnny Fryer at Newquay Activity Centre and Aaron Parsons Photography.
Supplementary photography by Thomas Chapman
Read CAR's long-term Citroen Cactus review here