Citroën: Comfort as standard for 100 years
Comfort has been a staple for Citroën since production began 100 years ago. To celebrate the carmaker’s big birthday, Martyn Collins drives significant models from the past, through to the present day.
Alongside safety features, comfort rates as an attribute most sought after by fleet drivers for their car choice. So, it’s good to know that comfort is at the heart of the iconic French brand Citroën, with the latest Progressive Hydraulic Cushions fitted to the C4 Cactus hatch, and the recently launched C5 Aircross SUV.
However, many people may be unaware that comfort is nothing new to the brand, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.
The first of the Citroën comfort model pioneers has to be the Traction Avant. It was produced from 1934
to 1957 and, on top of pioneering a mass-market front-wheel drive car monocoque chassis, the Traction Avant also boasted independent suspension
as opposed to the live sprung arrangements of many rivals of the time. At Citroën’s anniversary event, I was able to drive the 1955 Traction Avant and, despite the slow steering, the composed ride and tidy handling felt much newer than a car of its age.
The next major Citroën comfort development arrived with the quirky 2CV. It wasn’t really a fleet car but many were used by the police! Originally designed to mobilise French farmers, its clever swinging arm, fore-aft linked suspension system meant this Citroën could cross a ploughed field without breaking a basket of eggs in the boot. I tested a late 1990 car and found the forward-back gear selection from the dash-mounted change difficult to master. The cornering angles even at low speed amuse – but there’s no doubting the grip, or the comfortable, refined and arguably planted ride.
The next major model in Citroën’s timeline was the DS, which launched in 1955. On top of changing the way people looked at car design, the DS saw the
first proper fitment of Citroën’s hydropneumatic suspension system that, instead of gas-filled shock absorbers, used an engine-driven pump to pressurise hydraulic fluid as well as suspension spheres. On top of the suspension, this could also power the brakes, power steering and other features such as the clutch. A lever (later replaced by an electronic switch) beside the driver’s seat or in the centre console allowed the driver to adjust the height of the car; this height proving perfect for clearing obstacles, fording shallow (slow-moving) streams and even changing tyres.
After the DS, nine million Citroën models including the GS, CX, BX, XM, Xantia, C5 and C6 benefited from the hydropneumatic suspension. The GS brought this suspension system to small family buyers and earned the Car of the Year award in 1971 in the process. Citroën scored a deserved reputation for its distinctively styled executive models, as I found out with test drives of the CX, XM and C6. Despite the CX being the sportiest 1989 GTi Turbo 2 version, the ride was impressively composed and comfortable over French cobbles – the steering was surprisingly responsive too. Developments to the suspension by the time the XM was launched in 1990 kept the comfort but made the 1996 car I drove feel much smaller and nimble – belying its size. The 2006 C6 had the most refined ride, masking the worst of the French tarmac. The noise insulation is top notch too, making this the most relaxing Citroën drive yet.
I also tested the modern incarnation of Citroën’s hydropneumatics – the afore-mentioned Progressive Hydraulic Cushions. They work by replacing the bump-stops in a conventional coil-over suspension unit with compact, carefully calibrated secondary dampers. These dampers or cushions then soak up oscillations such as road surface irregularities, equalling an extremely smooth ‘magic carpet ride’.
It was fitted to the C4 Cactus and the all-new C5 Aircross SUV, and it was the Cactus that we drove first. The technology might have changed, but the way noise and vibration are filtered out of this small family C4’s ride remains the same.
Coming bang up-to-date, the C5 Aircross must surely be the most composed riding SUV in its sector. Bump absorption is particularly good, considering the standard 19-inch wheels that are part of the range-topping trim level that I drove. All this comfort makes for the perfect antidote for the long drives a fleet driver must face daily.
This isn’t the end of the Citroën comfort story, with the recently revealed 19_19 Concept showing the manufacturer’s vision for future long-haul motoring. Even as a concept, 19_19 has innovative forward-looking comfort features, such as individual seats with a bench in the rear designed like a comfortable sofa, plus 30-inch wheels with specially designed Michelin tyres, which are made up of layers of rubber. This concept might be a way off, but the focus on comfort at Citroën remains unchanged.
After the DS, nine million Citroën models including the GS, CX, BX, XM, Xantia, C5 and C6 benefited from hydropneumatic suspension.
FW Editor Martyn experiencing the comfort of the latest C5 Aircross.
The latest C4 Cactus is the first model to benefit from Progressive Hydraulic Cushions.
XM feels smaller and more nimble thanks to hydropneumatic suspension. mods.