Citroen Cactus M concept car channels the Méhari buggy spirit

Published: 02 September 2015

► Citroen Cactus M concept unveiled
► It’s a soft-top inspired by Méhari
► Includes inflatable tent for camper vibe

Citroen is reaching out to the surfer community with its new Cactus M concept car at the 2015 Frankfurt motor show – a soft-top, buggy-inspired family car harking back to the original Méhari beach wagon.

It’s essentially a C4 Cactus that’s been decapitated, trimmed specially and given a surf makeover. Hence the inflatable canvas roof that doubles as a tent; an extendable loadbay that can sleep two in comfort (says Citroen); and the beachwear-alike neoprene seat covers that wouldn’t look amiss in a Fat Face catalogue.

The Citroen Méhari: a quickie history lesson

In 1968 Citroen was hitting its quirky peak: DSes and 2CVs were a-flowing and then came the Méhari, a beach buggy with pared-back trim, Dyane mechanicals and a two-decade shelf life. Named after a trekking camel, the Citroen became a regular sight at wealthier coastlines around France and you’ll still spy some around the Med to this day as utilitarian, retro-chic beach transport.

The Cactus M name-checks the Méhari, but Paris is adamant it channels the spirit of its original beach buggy, too. This explains the pared-back vibe, the rugged cabin that can be hosed down (there are even drainage plugholes in the front footwells) and the exposed door hinges. It’s like a C4 Cactus distilled to its fundamentals. There aren’t even any side windows, for heaven’s sake – and the Airbump doors riff on the corrugated sides of the original.

The original 1960s/70s Méhari beach buggy

Our favourite detail? The step sculpted out in the rear wings: there are no rear doors and the idea is that you’ll simply climb up and over the flanks to jump in the rear seats after catching some big waves on the beach. Sadly Citroen wouldn’t let CAR test this facility at our preview, as an earlier journo had scratched the stirrups while attempting his best Dukes Of Hazzard rear-seat entry…

Citroen Cactus M, by its designer

Frédéric Duvernier, external design lead on the Cactus M, told CAR the project was a continuation of the current Citroen mission: it’s a car to bypass the industry’s obsession with performance and posing and an attempt to reconnect with simpler pleasures. 

‘We believe that cars are becoming overcomplicated and overdesigned,’ he said. ‘The Cactus M is all about the spirit of simplicity. All the best old Citroens have a romantic feeling to them: the 2CV, the Méhari, the DS. That’s what we’re trying to recapture here.’

Unlike the 1968 original’s 600cc twin-cylinder, this Méhari uses running gear from the regular C4 Cactus, whose platform it shares. That means a downsized 1.2-litre PureTech 110 petrol engine with PSA’s latest six-speed automatic transmission, although the concept rolls on larger 19in alloys shod in narrow, retro-style tyres and relies on ESP-managed Grip Control to retain traction on sandy slipways. This concept is a runner and Citroen quotes combined fuel consumption of 58.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 110g/km.

Will they sell a Cactus cabrio any time soon?

We wouldn’t bet against it; the Cactus is out-selling the C4 range in the UK by approximately three-to-one and has done a great job of putting Citroen back on the map. So the Cactus range is likely to expand, just don’t expect to see a camping-equipped version any time soon. The roof/tent combo is very much a work in progress, requiring a degree in canvassing, a noisy high-pressure compressor and we weren’t allowed to see it being inflated to test its 15sec erection time…

But while Citroen waits for its first proper SUV (due in three years’ time, according to CEO Carlos Tavares), the C4 Cactus range is channelling the crossover vibe for now. And the new M amplifies this positioning, with that tip-toe stance, exaggerated wheelarches and the hose-down interior with wipe-clean neoprene seats. It’s not quite a Land Rover Defender, but it is the C4 Cactus that wants to do a cameo on the set of Point Break.

The 2015 Citroen Cactus M: on beach duty

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet