The Citroën Advanced Comfort programme is based on four pillars: Driving comfort, Travelling comfort, Comfort of use and Comfort of the mind.
All four pillars have concrete examples throughout the history of the brand, so let’s rediscover Citroën comfort in four individual episodes. Today, Episode 1, Driving Comfort.
DRIVING COMFORT: FEELING LIKE YOU’RE IN A COCOON
A FOCUS ON COMFORT FROM THE ORIGINS OF THE BRAND
Driving comfort is an essential notion in Citroën vehicles. As soon as you step into a Citroën, you instantly perceive this emphasis on comfort, distilled by the soft suspension and welcoming seats, giving the impression of being in a cocoon isolated from the road. The vehicles in the current range are widely recognised as benchmarks in their respective segments in terms of comfort.
Citroën has consistently sought to introduce innovations that isolate its cars’ cabins from the outside world.
A comfortable driver is a safer driver, and passenger comfort is equally important. From the very start, Citroën has set industry standards for driving comfort, and has created new technologies and introduced new features to make its cabins as comfortable, relaxing and refined as possible.
At the dawn of mass motoring, cars lacked comfort. Yet, with the arrival of Europe’s first true mass-produced car in 1919 – the Citroën Type A – Citroën created cars that offered more equipment, greater comfort and new luxuries such as a self-starter, padded seats, and electric lights. The Type A had a novel suspension system too, using inverted quarter-elliptic springs that were tuned to behave in concert with each other, removing the need for dampers. Even then, a Citroën drove and rode with a higher quality of comfort.
With the Citroën Type C in 1922, André Citroën sought to make the motor car even more comfortable. He wanted occupants to step down easily into his cars, into comfortable seats – and not to have to climb up onto a standard flat seat. He even thought about female drivers and their preferences – long before other carmakers threw off the blinkers of all-male motoring chauvinism. The Type C appealed to women for its easy, light steering, while the car was easier to enter and exit in the fashions of the day. Citroën’s advertisements of the era even targeted female buyers.
Citroën’s cars weren’t just famed for their comfort by French buyers. In the early 1920s, Citroën vehicles were used as taxis, not just in Paris, but also in London. The Type C, of which more than 80,000 were produced, brought motoring to many, and as the 1930s arrived, even Pope Pius XI ordered a Citroën, renowned as the company was for its comfortable cars.
The Citroën model line-up reached from the top of the market down to the small family car sector, yet innovation was to be found at every level. Throughout the 1920s, Citroën produced steel-bodied cars such as the B10, which provided a stiffer structure to better isolate the cabin from the road and the car’s surroundings. In the 1926 B14 model, new servo-assisted brakes were a major innovation, making it easier to slow the car down.
André Citroën realised that adding comfort was key. In 1928, the company introduced the AC4 and AC6 series, each offering more lavish fittings. These were followed by the C6 Berline sedan in 1929, which boasted an array of driver aids and passenger luxuries in a strong body.
Citroën was the first manufacturer in Europe to mount its engines on rubber blocks to reduce vibration into the cabin – this was the ‘floating motor’ system, known in French as ‘le Moteur Flottant’. Often cited as an American invention, the idea was, in fact, thought of by two Frenchmen. The C4, C6, and ‘Rosalie’ models would soon deploy the innovation and, ever the marketeer, André Citroën decided that a badge depicting a swan should be fitted to all ‘Moteur Flottant’ cars – indicating the vehicles’ serene progress.
In the era of ‘Luxe et Style’, these cars paved the way for one of the greatest innovations in comfort, safety and driving ever announced. In 1934, Citroën introduced a car with so many novel design features, delivered in a single package, that it caused a sensation: the Traction Avant.
TRACTION AVANT – THE WORLD’S FIRST MASS-PRODUCED MONOCOQUE
In the Traction Avant, Citroën created the world’s first mass-produced, front-wheel drive, monocoque-bodied, highly aerodynamic family car. The car’s revolutionary welded steel monocoque body was stiffer and safer, and it transformed driving comfort and handling. It introduced new standards of torsional rigidity to car body design, greatly benefiting ride quality, while also isolating the engine from the cabin to reduce noise and vibration.
The Traction Avant featured independent front suspension, an advanced rear suspension design and hydraulic brakes.
A comfortable, ergonomic cabin was fitted with a new type of seat, and its flat floor and absence of transmission tunnel created more room for front seat occupants to relax.
Michelin provided its new ‘Pilote’ tyres with reinforced sidewalls to further improve ride comfort. These were the world’s first low profile tyre in 1937, where the depth of its sidewall was eighty per cent of its overall tread area, yet ride comfort and handling were improved.
The car boasted a new level of driver engagement for a sedan, with superb steering, low-mounted engines in a taut, streamlined body, and – for passengers – supreme cruising comfort. It led the world in its driving and its overall comfort levels.
The Traction Avant was so advanced that it remained in production for more than two decades. Then, in the 1950s, the Traction Avant 15H pioneered the early development of a new type of hydro-pneumatic suspension. The Traction Avant was replaced by Citroën’s latest innovation – the iconic DS 19.
Introduced at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, the DS 19 offered a revolutionary aerodynamic body that reduced fuel consumption, while also lowering noise levels and improving stability. Of even greater engineering significance was the car’s unique new hydraulic – or hydro-pneumatic – suspension system. With its ‘magic carpet’ ride to soak up all but the very worst road conditions, this was the car’s vital ingredient – a defining piece of advanced engineered pioneered by Citroën.
The hydro-pneumatic suspension system created an ‘air cushion’ for the DS to ride on, and it was adapted for a range of cars that followed. Designed by Paul Mages, the suspension featured an engine-driven pump, pushing high-pressure mineral oil liquid to inert gas ‘spheres’ with self-levelling struts at each wheel. A spring-less system, this eliminated metal-to-metal harshness in the DS 19’s suspension. The same system powered the brakes and the steering, and even changed the gears. The hydro-pneumatic suspension also allowed drivers to raise and lower the car’s ride height on demand, enabling the DS to take on tracks, mud, snow and ice. The DS could even ‘jack’ itself up if it had a flat tyre.
Not only did the DS ride in a unique way – isolating its occupants from the stress and fatigue of ‘normal’ suspension behaviour – the suspension also ensured that the car remained level at all times, reducing pitch under cornering and ensuring constant aerodynamic balance.
Other manufacturers would follow Citroën, with the likes of Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz both inspired to fit air suspension to their cars later in the century.
It was not just Citroën’s flagship DS 19-23 series that focused on comfort. Other Citroën cars, both premium and mainstream, would benefit from the same lessons in suspension development.
The torpedo-shaped SM coupé, built between 1970 and 1975 was a hydro-pneumatically suspended, two-door grand tourer, which majored on comfort and style. The SM’s hydro-pneumatic suspension was adapted for the GT class, with a firmer ride and less roll, yet still boasted supreme comfort.
The GS, European Car of the Year in 1971, was praised by the media for its ‘limousine’ ride and was compared directly with the most comfortable vehicles in the world at the time, such was the quality of its ride. Citroën also applied the famous suspension system to the CX, the world’s first true four-seater, hydro-pneumatically suspended, four-door coupé-sedan. The CX was named Car of the Year in 1975, with a range that included luxurious ‘Pallas’ trimmed versions, sporty GTI and Turbo variants, and a ‘Prestige’ long-wheelbase model used by presidents, VIPs and celebrities around the world.
Ultimately, the hydro-pneumatic system reached its electronically enhanced zenith in the 1990s. The XM’s ‘Hydractive II’ suspension introduced more electronic control over ride comfort. It was adapted further for the Xantia Activa, with suspension revered by drivers and the motoring media alike for eliminating body roll and pitch. Later, the C5 Hydractive III+ and C6 ranges further carved out Citroën’s comfort credentials, setting new standards for driving comfort.
Today, modern technology is refining Citroën ride quality in new ways. The brand’s ‘progressive hydraulic cushion’ suspension on C4 Cactus Hatch and C5 Aircross SUV features intelligent shock absorbers, acoustic vibration control techniques and extra-compliant suspension arm linkages to filter out road imperfections more effectively. Where conventional suspension systems use springs, dampers and mechanical bump-stops, Citroën’s progressive hydraulic cushion technology adds two hydraulic stops to each corner – for rebound and compression – to ensure optimum driving comfort in the company’s latest cars.
PERFECTION OF THE PALLAS
Citroën’s famous ride quality, and the brand’s focus on reducing noise, vibration and harshness, did not begin with the DS and its hydro-pneumatic suspension. Neither is superb ride quality and top-level comfort the sole preserve of that system. The features of the cabin are also important for driving comfort.
From the ‘Grand Luxe’ variants of Citroën’s earliest cars, to the range-topping ‘Pallas’ trim levels that have featured across several models since, the brand realises that true driving comfort can be enhanced by more luxurious fixtures and fittings. The ‘Pallas’ trim level, for instance, was first seen on the DS, with a name derived from the legend of the Goddess Athena. Pallas editions of the DS, GS and CX and others featured lavish new trim materials, beautifully sculpted cabin fittings and seats designed for relaxation. Pairing true driving comfort with maximum style, Pallas introduced elevated levels of comfort.
Even Citroën’s more ‘conventional’ vehicles have seating that offers something greater than other manufacturers’ cars. Citroën’s commitment to seat comfort is long-established, with seating softer than many rivals – yet providing the correct orthopaedic posture support for ache-free long-distance travel.
Citroën’s commitment to comfort in the DS included the car’s advanced seating cushions. The density and rebound rates of the ‘Dunlopillo’ seat foam was actually ‘tuned’ to match the suspension characteristics. But even before the revolutionary DS, Citroën was on a comfort journey. Citroën cars of the 1920s boasted sumptuous seating. Later, one of the many innovations of the 1934 Traction Avant was a new design of seat frame and cushion. The 2CV would create a design ‘first’ with its hammock-style seats that was highly comfortable, as well as being removable from the car.
Carefully-tuned Dunlopillo seating would also be adopted for the DS 19’s successors. In the GS, CX, SM and BX, Citroën created superbly comfortable seats that offered soft cushioning and under-thigh and leg support, as well as lumbar padding. In these models, Citroën also offered its luxurious ‘Jersey’ special seat fabric, bringing improved comfort and new materials to the mainstream market. These seats felt every bit as good to sit in as they looked.
With generous legroom for rear passengers, the CX Prestige was the first Citroën to offer private jet-inspired ‘lounge’ seats in the rear of the cabin, paired with raised footrests for maximum comfort. Commensurate with its ‘grand tourer’ brief, the SM featured leather bucket seats designed to cosset and support passengers over any distance. Later, the ‘grand luxe’ Citroën C6 – manufactured between 2006 and 2012 – offered first class-style rear seats that could recline electrically. Rear passengers could also slide the front seats forwards remotely to create their own lounge – the embodiment of a certain type of ‘Citroënism’. The C4 Cactus introduced a front ‘sofa’ seat concept, which was a brilliant adaptation of earlier front seat ‘bench’ design.
Seats continue to offer Citroën’s traditional soft-yet-supportive characteristics, allied with special trims, novel features and safety conscious designs. In the modern era, advanced suspensions and structures are allied to a range of in-cabin features such as adjustable lumbar support and electric massage seats. Driving comfort is as important to Citroën now as it has always been.
Today, the brand’s Advanced Comfort seats – an innovation that made its debut in 2018 on C4 Cactus Hatch and subsequently on the flagship C5 Aircross SUV – echo the past with immediate visual comfort and a seat base padded with an extra layer of foam. The new seat design also ensures on-road and postural comfort, reinforced through the use of high-density foam for added support over long journeys.