Citroën is on a mission. Ride comfort is what once defined its cars, with the legendary cushioned glide of the DS 19’s hydropneumatic suspension fondly remembered by anyone who experienced it. But that was a long time ago, originating in the mid-1950s, and recent CitroÎns have had more conventional suspension design and merged into the automotive scenery of average ride calibre.
Now CitroÎn, with canny British chief executive Linda Jackson at the global helm of the proudly French company, is about to reassert its past reputation for stand-out comfort. There is already a hint of what’s coming in the recently introduced CitroÎn C3, which has softly pliant seats and a more cushioned ride than the old model and most of its contemporaries. It is a pointer to where the double chevron-badged cars are heading for the future.
Much more is coming, and CitroÎn used the classically French backdrop of a chateau near Paris as the venue for an in-depth briefing on its new Advanced Comfort programme. Its aim is to make comfort absolutely central to all future CitroÎns, achieved through three core areas: ‘CitroÎn characteristic’ suspension, high-comfort seats and a cocoon-effect for the car’s acoustics.
What makes a vehicle comfortable? It’s a combined effect of roominess, supportive seats, minimised vibration, soundproofing, control of car body movement and suspension damping. Those are all addressed in the package of changes spearheaded by three main new technologies that will be at the heart of CitroÎn’s car range from now on.
The first is a new design of suspension. It’s not a return to classic hydropneumatic, which is now deemed too complicated and costly to be resurrected. Instead, Citroën engineers have come up with a patented design of ‘progressive hydraulic cushions’, incorporating hydraulic stops into otherwise relatively conventional suspension struts. This cleverly uses fluid movement within the struts to cushion the damping without the need for complex electronics and added weight. But it enables road surface irregularities to be diminished, and also reduces the jarring effect of potholes.
The second technology is structural adhesive bonding, which involves using glue as well as spot-welds to hold body panels together more securely, and makes the car’s structure 20 per cent stiffer. This helps to reduce the vibration transmitted through the car body when the wheels encounter bumps in the road surface.
Re-designed seats are the third prong of Citroën’s new strategy. Using a ‘pressure map’ to determine where extra support is needed, the seats are being given firmer springing using memory foam. It achieves a more uniform pressure across the structure, while still keeping the initial soft feel as you sit down.
Other changes include fractionally thicker window glass for improved soundproofing with minimal weight gain, and thicker carpeting as an additional sound-deadener. The steering has been tuned differently, made more direct and with slightly more power assistance, and the spring rates have been modestly softened by five per cent.
So how does this all add up in the driving experience? We were invited to judge that by sampling an Advanced Comfort prototype C4 Cactus back-to-back with a couple of standard cars, to gauge the difference. It was very convincing. The prototype test drive was sandwiched between the two standard models, and the difference was immediately obvious. CitroÎn’s canny combination of clever suspension, double-bonded bodywork, redesigned seats, thicker carpeting and other small changes adds up to something of a transformation in the car’s comfort and behaviour.
Ride quality is much improved, with the car feeling less affected by sharp dips and bumps under the wheels, but it isn’t at the expense of body control. That seems unaffected, with no more lean or drama on corners than the current car. The prototype cushions you better, but doesn’t feel any less taut on the bends.
We were repeatedly told in the briefing that the goal was greater serenity for driver and passengers in future CitroÎns, with comfort once again made central to the brand. During our test drive of the first prototype on lumpy French backroads with frequent potholes and speed humps to negotiate, that seems to have been achieved. It bodes well for future CitroÎns, starting with the revised C4 Cactus due to be unveiled later this year.