There's not another automaker out there that has the cojones to bring quirky concept cars to life like Citroën does. In the French automaker's own words, it aspires to bring to market "cheery, optimistic vehicles that are different from the rest." The all-new E-Mehari fits that description to a T, as an all-electric crossover cabriolet based on the recent Cactus M concept and inspired by the classic Méhari.
For any other automaker, something like impact-absorbing "air bumps" would be an offbeat idea added to a concept car, showcased at a couple of auto shows, quickly retired, and maybe revived decades later for a museum exhibition or heritage-based press release. At Citroën, though, such an idea actually makes it through to production, and quickly. The 2013 Citroën Cactus concept becomes the production C4 Cactus months later, air bumps and all.
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Even the standard C4 Cactus wasn't as funky as Citroën could go, so it reworked it into the airy Cactus M concept (pictured above). The "M" in Citroën's Frankfurt show car was short for Méhari, referring to the open, plastic-bodied Citroën off-roader built between 1968 and 1987. Citroën reimagined the Méhari as a modern small convertible crossover, and while the design lacked the hard-edged, slab-sided look of the original Méhari, it did have the same fun-loving, beach-cruising vibe.
Even knowing what we know about Citroën, the idea that it would be rolling out a production model based on the Cactus M never entered our minds as we eyed the concept over in Frankfurt. But Citroën being Citroën, and having a ready-made platform in the Bolloré Bluesummer, production it is, just three months later.
Citroën flips the common script of turning a fancy electric concept car into a ho-hum petrol commuter by dropping the Cactus M's PureTech gas powertrain in favor of a 67-hp (50-kW) electric motor. As in the Bluesummer, the motor is powered by a 30-kWh lithium-metal polymer battery pack that offers up to 124 miles (200 km) of city range. That range seems robust enough to consider the car an everyday commuter, not just a novelty weekend/collection vehicle, but the extra-urban cycle range of 62 miles (100 km) is a little lean.
Even Citroën does a little requisite toning down between concept and production car, and some of the less practical features of the Cactus M have been left behind in Frankfurt. The E-Mehari loses the concept's wide-open cabin for the Bluesummer's structure of upright roll bars at the B and C pillars. The M's skeletal-frame seats are replaced with a more standard quartet, but the E-Mehari does have the option of tropical-style upholstery. Not surprisingly, there's absolutely no mention of a removable roof inflating into a tent.
The E-Mehari stays true to its namesake with a thermoformed plastic body. That plastic shell distinguishes the E-Mehari from the Bluesummer, with a Cactus-inspired face, grooved doors inspired by the original Méhari, and a redesigned rear-end. The car may not be quite as off-road-inspired as the original, which had military and rally experience on its resume, but it does have a raised chassis aimed at all-terrain driving. After getting dirty, it can be hosed down, inside, as well as out, thanks to waterproof plastic-coated fabric.
Nothing about the E-Mehari says "speed demon," but the 68-mph (110-km/h) top speed is still a little disappointing. Part of the fun of such an open design is dropping pedal on the freeway, not slow-laning it the whole way to your destination. With only 62 miles of highway range to work with, we reckon owners had better just park it at the beach house and use it for cruising the town and immediate coast.
The charge times of 13 hours from a 10A domestic socket or eight hours from a 16A public charging station are also uninspiring. But when you build odd, quirky vehicles that the other guys won't, there are bound to be some downsides.
Citroën will begin selling the E-Mehari next spring in France where it will come in four heritage-drawn colors – blue, orange, yellow and beige – with a black or orange-red roof. The interior will be offered with tropical orange-red and beige fabric options. No word on plans for other markets, but we're not holding our breath for a big global release.
Citroën is showing the E-Mehari at its headquarters between December 9 and 11, as part of the COP21 climate change convention.
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