First drive: Citroen Advanced Comfort prototype

  • Citroen's Cactus-based prototype majors on comfort
  • New suspension, seats and body technology tested
  • This technology will be used on production cars

Just how important is ride comfort and refinement to you? When did you last shudder when your sports-suspended saloon hopped and skipped from one pothole to another? If you're coming to the end of your tether with poorly surfaced roads, Citroen might well have something up its sleeve for you.

The French carmaker has unveiled the Citroen Advanced Comfort programme, and we've driven a running prototype fitted with a raft of modifications, which prove that you can still make a soft-riding car that handles well. The uprated Citroen C4 Cactus is a rolling demonstration of how a few reasonably small modifications can make a profound difference on how comfortable a drive is.

We hear there are already elements of this thinking in the latest C3 supermini, which we'd already commended for its comfort. 'You'll notice almost immediately that the soft seats are complemented by an equally cosseting ride,' we concluded in our road test.

So, what changes have they made?

Citroen says that achieving comfort is a lesson in understanding the causes of discomfort. Sounds obvious, but it's surprising how many cars are available to buy today that fail on basic insulation. In essence, they say that it comes down to a combination of factors: springing/damping, noise levels, seating comfort and body rigidity.

One the first point, Citroen has a lot to live up to. Its classic hydraulically suspended cars, such as the DS and CX, are legendary for their ride quality. However, a suspension system like this is complex and expensive, so returning to this is not on the company's radar.

Instead, the company has devised a new suspension set-up, which adds two additional hydraulic stops to each suspension strut. In essence that means small bumps are more effectively ironed out, while larger irregularities (such as potholes) are progressively damped, minimising shocks though the body.

To make the body stiffer, Citroen has devised a new assembly process. It's called structural body bonding, and uses adhesive in addition to spot welds to marry up panels. The result is a 20% stiffer body – and that means you get less shuddering from the structure when you hit bumps.

Finally, a new design of seats that incorporates firmer springing with memory foam is said to give more comfort and compliance, by filtering out yet more vibration. Combine this with additional soundproofing and thicker carpets, and you'll see why Citroen engineers kept using the word 'serenity'.  

How does it drive now?

Amazingly well. We were given the chance to drive the company's one-off prototype alongside a standard C4 Cactus to see the differences between standard and 'comfort'.

Admittedly, we weren't expecting that much of an improvement, in what outwardly looks like a set of trick dampers, new seats and thicker carpeting – but even before we'd driven our first mile, the improvements in comfort and overall refinement are little short of astonishing.

The additional ride compliance over all surfaces makes the C4 Cactus a far more relaxing and rewarding car to drive. Rough roads are shrugged off, the edges are smoothed off speed humps, and potholes send far less shudder through the car. In short, it really does offer additional serenity for the driver.

Given that there feels like softer suspension under you, you'd expect it to roll more in corners. But when pushed into bends, this C4 Cactus hangs on and leans just like the standard car. In fact, if anything, with the additional damping compliance, it's easier to drive in less-than-perfectly surfaced corners.    

When can I buy one?

Citroen has committed to introducing elements of the Active Comfort into its upcoming production cars as soon as possible. The company won't say how much extra this technology will cost on its cars, but as it's designed to work effectively across the range – from C1 to C5 replacement – it will need to be inexpensive.

With the proviso that the additional comfort comes at no premium, then we can't see why Citroen wouldn't run with this – it's in keeping with what its customers expect, as well as living up to a long tradition of comfortable cars.

Expect to see the first elements of this – the seats and suspension set-up – in the new models from as early as the end of 2017. We're hoping that all the features shown to us in the prototype will come sooner, rather than later, as it's about time that buyers demanding genuine comfort in their cars are offered the choice, even in the cheapest cars.