We saw a Citroen Cactus concept in Frankfurt five years ago, but the new C-Cactus concept appearing at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show is far more sensible and, it seems, destined for production next year. The C-Cactus shows Citroen's vision for a new, more efficient type of modern family hatchback.
Dimensionally, the C-Cactus is somewhere between a Ford Fiesta and a Focus hatchback, although at 60.2 inches high it is a fair bit taller than either of those models. Spy photos from Europe show that the basic shape and design will make it to the showroom, and reports suggest that the C-Cactus will hit European markets as a Citroen C4 next year.
The car is powered by a small gasoline engine with a novel hybrid arrangement. Called Hybrid Air, the system dispenses with a traditional battery and electric motor/generator, instead compressing air under regenerative braking and then using that air to provide extra power under acceleration. Citroen (as well as corporate partner Peugeot) has been tinkering with air-compression hybrids for several years and previously promised that the technology would hit the marketplace by 2016. The original Cactus concept's name was chosen because it barely sipped fuel, just as the eponymous plant needs very little water to survive.
Bubble wrap has never been so useful
The most prominent design element on the outside of the Citroen C-Cactus concept is something called Airbump, a series of air pockets on the doors and bumpers that help cushion the car from impacts. Think of it as a grown-up, extra-tough version of bubble wrap that keeps careless motorists from dinging your Citroen's precious bodywork. There are even lights, which appear to serve no useful function, illuminating the individual air pockets.
The high-riding C-Cactus has black rub stripes around its lower body and fenders and boasts 8.3 inches of ground clearance, giving a mini-crossover stance. Skinny headlights with LED running lights sit at either side of the large Citroen chevron badge up front, while the black windshield surround, the lack of a B-pillar, and a black C-pillar create a floating-roof look. The roof itself is canted toward the rear of the vehicle and is topped by a black roof rack with curved rails.
Moving inside, occupants are treated to an enormous glass sunroof that keeps heat and harmful UV rays out. The minimalist dashboard allows for more space beneath and has a wide, flat top that Citroen says is useful for storing bags. It even has a larger-than-normal glovebox because the passenger airbag resides in the headliner, not the dash. The biggest advantage, though, is that the shelf-like design and lack of a center console allow the C-Cactus concept to feature a front bench seat. Citroen says this promotes "more human warmth and comfort," which European teens will no doubt put to good use once a version of the car goes on sale.
Blue cotton and camel-dyed leather are used throughout the interior. The door pulls are even fashioned to look like the handles on old-fashioned leather trunks. A thin LCD screen has replaced the instrument cluster and the transmission is shifted by buttons and paddles rather than a bulky lever. Climate controls, vents, and a touchscreen infotainment system all protrude from the dashboard shelf on their own miniature shelves.
Due next year
Citroen says that the C-Cactus concept gives strong hints to the future of its car lineup and promises that "more will be revealed in 2014." Indeed, spy photography suggests that a new Citroen C4 based on this concept car is imminent. Expect most of the exterior design to carry over to the production model, as camouflaged prototypes have already been spotted with the high-riding stance, angled rear windshield, and chunky nose. It's less clear whether the funky interior, with its bench seat and tiny dashboard, will make the cut. Nor is it certain that Citroen will be ready to put its Hybrid Air powertrain on the market within the next twelve months. Either way, European buyers can look forward to a compact hatchback that boasts far more style than most of the segment's mainstays.