Time was, Citroën could be counted on to build some of the most gloriously weird cars in the world. Sure, most Americans never quite got it (the brand left our shores in 1974), but a small and loyal fanbase watched with a mixture of envy and astonishment as new models hit European showrooms year after year. With beautiful, otherworldly designs, and a unique suspension layout that gives the cars unique magic carpet ride-like handling, suddenly the idea of spending long hours cross-referencing a shop manual with a French-English dictionary, and stocking up on cans of special hydraulic fluid for the aforementioned (and maddeningly complex) “Oléopneumatique” suspension system didn’t sound half bad.
But in recent years, the Citroën lineup has swung slowly back to the middle of the road. Its one-of-a-kind suspension technology is soon to go the way of the dodo, and its car lineup has been remarkably unremarkable since the discontinuation of the C6 back in 2012. The only direct link the company has left its iconoclastic past is the compact C4 Cactus crossover. And boy, is it weird enough to do the legacies of the DS, CX, SM, and 2CV justice.
With its Kia Soul-like boxy styling and surprisingly attractive polyurethane “Airbump” body cladding, the Cactus has reignited the “if only they’d sell it here” contingent in America in a big way, and announced to the world that the old French automaker still has some tricks up its sleeve. For its next act, Citroën has unveiled the Cactus-based M Concept for the Frankfurt Motor Show, an open-topped beach cruiser that draws directly from the brand’s storied past, while still being unabashedly futuristic – just like a good Citroën should be.
The “M” in the Cactus M Concept stands for Méhari, the little off-roader built from 1968-’88 and based on the 2CV. The Company says “The CACTUS M concept is a modern take on the values that led to the development of the Méhari. Values relating to comfort, well-being and leisure, which have always been part of CITROËN.” But unlike the Mehari, which was a plastic-bodied no-frills buggy, the Cactus M is a fully-loaded, comfortable take on the long-dead Beach Car icon.
Unlike the standard C4 Cactus, the concept is a two-door, with its Airbump panels and exposed door hinges styled to resemble the corrugated sides of the Méhari. Rear seat passengers are treated to footholds behind the doors, and instead of having to worry about getting the interior dirty, the seats are upholstered in waterproof neoprene, and with drain holes in the floor, it can be simply hosed down after a long day at the beach.
Instead of a roof, the concept’s tall windshield and rollbar were designed to hold wakeboards or surfboards. And in the event you get caught in the rain, there’s an inflatable roof that doubles as a tent for two, while the seats can be turned into a “couchette” that turns the Cactus M a comfortable base camp. Built for a life on sand, the concept has a taller ride height than the production Cactus, and has an automatic transmission with a “Grip Control” function to make sure it stays sure-footed.
In all, the Cactus M reaching production is as realistic as waiting for Citroën to make a surprise announcement that it’s coming back to the U.S. next year. Still, while most automakers are content to parade concepts that are equal parts unrealistic and self-serious, the Cactus M is the breath of fresh air Citroën wanted it to be. We may never end up romping around the south of France in a Cactus M, but at least we know that Citroën hasn’t forgotten how to build the cars that it built its reputation on.
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