Citroën offers a jolt of electric style
The French car manufacturer’s electric concept car is not the most reliable model the company has ever built, but it shows enough style and power to hint at the future, writes NEIL BRISCOE
‘OKAY, IGNITION to on, battery-management system to on, fan to on. Now hit the power switch.” I do as I’m instructed, flicking upward a small metal toggle that’s protected by a fighter-jet-style red cover. There are some gurgling and clicking noises from behind our heads, and a drone from a cooling fan, but there is no forward motion.
It feels almost like being a test pilot, or maybe being on board Apollo 13. Except that instead of plummeting to Earth or drifting in space, we’ve merely rolled to a stop in the middle of a race track.
“Ah, the joys of the prototype,” muses Patrick Arnaud.
Arnaud is both the designer of and (for today) mother hen to the Citroën Survolt, a one-of-a-kind electric race car, which Citroën is using to promote both its design and engineering capability.
It’s tiny, barely occupying any more road space than a C3 hatchback, but the roofline struggles to get higher than my hip. The low nose is ringed with chrome and boldly sweeping carbon fibre air ducts, while the rear is mounted by a broad, flat spoiler. It’s both aggressively racy and surprisingly feminine – a very French concoction.
Inside, you get the expected, stripped-out race car cabin. Behind the tiny, chopped-off wheel there lies a structure which could possibly hold some sort of futuristic instrument panel but which today, away from the smoke and mirrors of the motor show stand, is merely heavily sculpted black plastic.
The real instrument panels are a small screen set into the steering wheel, and a larger data-panel that juts out above the passenger’s knees. Passenger? Oh yes, there are two proper seats in this racer, Sparco buckets tastefully upholstered in leather and Alcantara. Only Citroën would build a race car that’s also comfortable.
Well, nearly comfortable. The seat and steering wheel were designed for tiny, skinny racing jockeys, so this bulky journalist is cramped and confined, with even that tiny wheel bumping into his kneecaps on full lock. Still, I’m not here to report on the Survolt’s ergonomics. This is about something else.
“Survolt is a concept car, so we don’t want to make a stock car with it,” says Arnaud. “It’s only a concept. We did it in 2010, just after the Revolte concept car, and we wanted to do something more sporty than that car. So the Survolt is electric and also a little bit feminine. It’s not like other race cars. Race cars are for men, Revolte was obviously for women and we wanted to do something in-between.”