Citroën could radically overhaul all its mainstream C-line offerings in the spirit of this Citroën Cactus Concept car, revealed at the Frankfurt motor show today, and due to go on sale largely unchanged in February.

The Cactus Concept will become the Citroën C4 Cactus when it goes on sale, and be offered alongside the standard car in the same vein as the Citroën C4 Picasso. More Cactus spin-offs of existing models are expected to follow. However, if the new look is deemed a sales success, Citroën officials say that they are optimistic that Cactus cars could eventually replace more mainstream, conventional offerings.

“For now, the standard C4 has many years ahead of it in its product cycle, so we have time to evaluate the success of the Cactus line,” said Citroën boss Frederic Banzet. “However, our research suggests that it will be a sales success. We have chosen to develop a line that will be loved by some and hated by some – it is better that way than being an average choice in an overcrowded market.”

The Cactus Concept is 4.21m long, 1.75m wide and 1.53m high, but with a relatively high ride height of 21cm. It is expected to sit on the firm’s new EMP2 platform when it goes on sale. The most obvious concept touch of the show car is that its B-pillars and side and rear windows have been removed to focus attention on the radical interior. They will be in place for production.

“We think that some of the established automotive design standards of today are lacking,” said Cactus design manager Mark Lloyd, who helped launch the hugely successful DS brand. "We wanted to reduce the complexity of living with a car and make interaction with the car less stressful. Simplicity and elegance were the goals. Citroën should be about innovation and well-being; this car is our manifesto for that.

“There are typical concept car flourishes, but they are all there to accentuate our goals – nothing is superfluous. You will clearly recognise the production car from this concept.”

Citroën describes the Cactus as “shedding the superfluous” but is at pains to stress that it is not pushing to build budget cars in the style of Dacia. Instead, it says it plans to use the new look to re-engage customers with the traditional Citroën values of comfort and style at a modest price premium over a standard C4.

Highlights of the interior’s new look include the entirely digital controls, which sit on a slimline dash on two separate screens, a sofa style front and rear bench, and the use of more natural materials on all surfaces. The central eight-inch touchscreen is used for all the car’s functions, such as sat-nav, air-con, audio and all driver aids.

To help improve interior space for occupants the passenger airbag has been located in the car’s roof lining and the gearlever has been replaced by push-button controls on the dash and paddles behind the steering wheel. However, it is not clear if all production models will get both touchscreens, and a manual option will be available.

The car also features what Citroën calls ‘Airbumps’ on the sides and around the bumpers of the car. As well as breaking up the clean lines of the rest of the car, these air-filled capsules are designed to absorb minor impacts, such as from a supermarket trolley, without scratching, and will make production.

The concept is also powered by Hybrid Air technology, previously shown by Peugeot, which uses a conventional petrol-powered engine assisted by a compressed air system and a hydraulic motor assembly - which can also propel the car on its own. This gives the Cactus a fuel economy that Citroën says is “more than 94mpg”, although the technology is still thought to be too expensive to make production.

The idea for the Cactus was originally shown in the 2007 Citroën C-Cactus Concept car that was unveiled at that year’s Frankfurt motor show. However, potential customers suggested that the car was too stripped out and basic to be sold, suggesting that while they wanted to embrace a more elegant, minimalist ethos, they were not willing to do so at the expense of comfort or essential equipment.

“The DS line has shown that customers want cars that stand for something,” said Lloyd. “With this concept and then the C4 Cactus we are defining what the C-line represents and clarifying what it stands for. We are rediscovering the best things in our history. As a car company we have produced the DS – the president’s car – and the 2CV – the people’s car. With DS and Cactus we can get some of that back.”

The Cactus name was chosen for production because of the parallel between the plant’s ability to survive without much water and the car’s fuel efficiency, the plant’s ability to protect itself and the car’s Airbump technology and the plant’s relative light weight despite its size and the car’s efficiency of design and build.

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