Occam's razor

TEST DRIVE || A 14th century principle explains a 21st century urban crossover with pillows of air on its sides. I hope.
I don’t usually talk about philosophy when writing about cars, as they tend not to have that much in common, but this week I believe I have found a connection. Have you ever heard of the principle known as Occam’s Razor? Well, I have obviously, and it fascinates me. It also makes me look clever and well read whenever I mention it, which is always a good reason to do it. So what is this Razor all about? Well, it is attributed to William Ockham, a Franciscan friar of the 14th Century, who basically stated that the simplest explanation to a problem or theory is usually the best one.
This William priest never dreamed one day fourwheeled machines would rule the Earth but his principle fits the new Citroën C4 Cactus like a silk glove. The Cactus is the fourth member of the C4 family, after the five-door hatchback, C4 Picasso and Grand C4 Picasso. It is, however, a world away from its peers inside the range: the Cactus is a backto- basics machine aiming to attract the crossover crowd. I don’t think the C4 Cactus is exactly a low-cost model, especially because it doesn’t look like one, but cost and pricing were two fundamental elements in the development process of this car and we should address them. Ultimately, I even believe they are a big part of the Cactus’ appeal. On their search to cut production costs, the guys at Chez Citroën have chosen the C3 platform, not the C4, ditched ventilated brake discs at the front and got rid of discs at the rear altogether – welcome back drums, we missed you.
The back windows do not slide down and the front ones do not have the one-touch auto function; door handles are just that, handles, and the windscreen washer bottle is half the usual size. The French say the aim is to reduce weight, but I bet they say it while crossing their fingers. Nevertheless, apart from the pop-out back windows, I think these are all pretty cool decisions and the fact of the matter is the Cactus is 200kg lighter than any other C4 and prices begin at €16,000, so good news all around. Inside, materials are not expensive but they look good and are definitely well thought out, the overall feeling being far from cheap. There are no dials but you get two screens showing all the information you need. Seats are ok and the driving position is satisfactory.
The Multicity connect system allows passengers to be permanently online through their phones and download a number of Apps I would love to tell you about if I cared just a little bit about this sort of thing, which I don’t. I guess I live in the stone age of technology: a phone is to make calls, a camera to shoot pictures, a personal computer to access the internet and a car display to check the oil temperature. I bet my kids will pretend they don’t know me at school parties. No biggie, I will be the one standing by the Ferrari 360 Modena with the analogue dials and the smile on my face. Anyway, I asked for ‘my’ Cactus to come with the new 1200cc, 3-cylinder engine from the PSA Group and have to say I was happily surprised. Compared to the old four-pots it replaces, it is 25% lighter and more efficient, but also faster and more refined.
The 82-horse power version I got was not the fastest on the planet but the long-geared transmission allowed for an average consumption of under 6 litres in four days of normal driving – the 965kg also helped of course. Around town this lightness translated into a nice feeling of agility, whereas stability at motorway cruising speeds was never an issue. So what about those strange panels on the side of the car? – you might be asking. Well, they are called Airbumps and Citroën says they exist to improve maintenance costs, as replacing them is cheaper than a new paint job.
They also prevent minor scratches at car parks from your fellow motorists or third degree encounters with shopping trolleys. It is all very nice, but come on, this is a pure marketing tool that aims to differentiate the car from its rivals. And, at that level, it is 100% effective because these small air capsules organised in horizontal panels are something never seen before and the final touch in making the C4 Cactus look more like a moon landing vehicle than a car for Earth use. Curiously, although it seems like an outlandish machine, this is one of the simplest, most straightforward cars you can buy – and that is why I mentioned the Occam’s Razor principle to explain what the Cactus is all about in the first place.
Albert Einstein, always better at maths than at keeping his hair tidy, made use of the Razor to shape one of his truisms: ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.’ The Cactus is just that.
By Guilherme Marques