Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

PARIS – With its diesel hybrid C-Cactus concept car, Automobiles Citroen will give this month’s Frankfurt auto show visitors a chance to decide how much they’re willing to do without in exchange for a super-high-mileage car at a standard price.

While designers at Automobiles Peugeot contented themselves with incorporating hybrid concepts into a standard 308 model, Citroen tore the next C4 apart in creating the C-Cactus.

To offer a family-sized diesel hybrid at the same price as an entry-level C4 (about €18,000 [$24,000]), Citroen says it “decided to abandon features that are not essential to comfort and to focus instead on technology, styling and equipment that are positive, ecological and valued by users.”

As a concept of new thinking, the Cactus is a wonderful success.

Parts are flung away with abandon. The cabin is made with 200 components, half as many as a C4. The dashboard and window lifts are gone, metal door panels are left unpainted and two speakers in the center console replace the usual four or six and all their wiring.

At 165.4 ins. (420.0 cm) long and 63.0 ins. (160.0 cm) wide, the C-Cactus has the squatty form of a C3 rather the current C4. It weighs just 2,601 lbs. (1,180 kg), 15% less than the C4 Hybrid HDi concept shown in January 2006.

With a 1.4L 70-hp diesel engine and a 30-hp (22 kW) electric motor that provides zero emission driving in town, C-Cactus achieves 81 mpg (2.9 L/100 km) for carbon-dioxide emissions of 78 g/km.

Peugeot engineers used a different hybrid configuration for the Peugeot 308 HDi Hybrid, with a 1.6L HDi diesel rated at 108 hp and an electric motor at 22 hp (16 kW), for fuel economy of 69 mpg (3.4 L/100 km) and CO2 emissions of 90 g/km.

Radical changes are aimed at balancing the extra cost and weight of the hybrid drivetrain, yet Citroen did not want to give up features such as air conditioning, cruise control, navigation system, panoramic glass roof and 21-in. tires.

With no instrument panel, systems such as the steering column and air conditioning ducts become interior features. The glove box (a holdover from the industry’s infancy, when people wore gloves every day) is replaced by a hanging sack.

Controls are either on the fixed-center steering wheel or center console.

Because the car is air-conditioned, Citroen figures windows normally won’t be opened, so manual-sliding glass eliminates window frames and motors or cranks. And because owners can do so little under the hood, the front fenders and hood are a single piece, with a small flap giving access to oil, water and windshield wiper fluid refills.

The front bumper is the same part as the lower tailgate in the rear, contributing to the unique look and lowering production costs.

Door panels are made of two parts instead of 12 in a conventional hatchback, and flower-shaped cutouts allow the green felt soundproofing inside to double as decoration.

Integral-skin foam is molded over a solid monoblock frame to make 2-part seats.

Citroen worked with Michelin SA to design narrow 21-in. tires that make the car look good while reducing rolling friction. Top speed is capped at 93 mph (150 km/h), because anyone driving with the environment in mind wouldn’t want to go any faster, the auto maker says.