AS BREATHS of fresh air go, the Cactus is like a lungful of West Scotland’s finest in the middle of rush hour London.

The Cactus is built to take life’s little trials in its stride with a radical re-think and that’s why you’ll find those curious and distinctive coloured panels along the sides.

These ‘AirBump’ air-filled blocks are scratch-resistant and a bit bouncy, so errant supermarket trolleys and swinging coat zips won’t leave a mark. The same material is on the boot and in a few other places too, helping to avoid any ugly and expensive bodywork damage.

The Cactus is the first truly honest Citroen for years. It’s a bit madcap but not so much so as to be off-putting.

The controls are where you’d expect them, the pedals do what they should and the wheels aren’t made out of cheese. You don’t get as much outright space as you do in, say, a Seat Toledo, but the Cactus has a far greater character garnish to go with its healthy dollop of practicality.

There are door pockets aplenty and a panoramic glass roof to give a more spacious-feeling cabin, and it’s fair to say that there’s enough rear legroom for adults – just.

A really nice touch is the ‘suitcase-style’ interior detailing on the door pulls and glove box. It adds a sense of travel adventure, but there’s loads of room inside the glove-case to add substance to the style.

Citroen openly admits the Cactus is built to a price. That’s half the point; realistic ownership costs. With that in mind it’s amazing how quietly the 1.2-litre 110-horsepower petrol version bimbles around town. At 30mph in the fourth of five gears, the loudest thing is the air conditioning fan, which itself is only lightly breathing away in the background.

The soft, chunky seats are unusual these days and very comfortable, the steering is quite slow and unthreatening, and the ride is very smooth over good surfaces and undulating bumps. It’s worse over sharp bumps, mind you, where the suspension crashes unexpectedly and noisily, but on the whole the driving experience is that of a car you’d never regret buying or dislike owning. It feels like a loyal family pet.