Yeah, it has a funny name and its "airbumps" are for fending off shopping trolleys. Look beneath the panels and Citroen's compact Cactus is quite a sharp prospect.

Value

The petrol variant we drove — 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbo with five-speed manual — goes for $26,990, which seems a lot. Compare it with similarly specified competitors, add the made-in-France cachet, and the Cactus makes an appealing case.

There are no hi-tech driver assistance items but Citroen sweetens the deal with a generous features list: reverse camera and rear parking sonar, decent digital connectivity with satnav, seven-inch touchscreen, hill start assist, cornering lights and auto headlights and wipers, Bluetooth phone and audio, climate control aircon, cruise control, 17-inch alloys and tyre pressure monitor.

Comfort

Comfort rates highly, starting with generously sized front seats and a supple but controlled ride from strut front and rudimentary torsion beam rear suspension. Some engine warble is audible when you work the Cactus hard but otherwise it's smooth and quiet. Minimal road noise intrudes despite Citroen going to great lengths to cut weight (1020kg). The hinged rear windows are a bit iffy.

It causes passers-by to take a good look.

Safety

Five stars so it's top-flight in terms of half a dozen airbags, electronic nannies and strong body structure. But front discs and old school rear drum brakes belong in another era.

Driving

Not sporty at all, Cactus is still proficient at its intended purpose as a small, practical, family wagon that's economical and fun to own and drive. The three-pot engine has a surprising turn of speed and is stronger than you'd expect off the line and on the highway. Outputs of 81kW/205Nm are what you'd get in regular 2.0-litre petrol four but the claim is for 4.7L/100km on premium unleaded. It causes passers-by to take a good look, which makes you feel better about your choice of wheels.

Alternatives

Plenty of rivals, many of them fairly average. Honda's HR-V is a good thing and costs in the same range as Cactus. Mazda CX-3 is a front runner and looks a million bucks on the road and can be had for under $20K. Mitsubishi ASX …. yawn. Nissan Qashqai — nice face shame about the name. Peugeot 2008, possibly the most direct competitor, is from the same company. Renault's Captur is a handsome alternative. The boxy Skoda Yeti comes into the picture, as do the Subaru XV and Suzuki Vitara.