Road Test - The Latest Citroën DW


A New Version of the Most Scientifically-Contrived Car on the Market. A Safe, Very Comfortable and Essentially “Different” Family Saloon

The many unusual but essentially practical technical features which collectively, enable me to say, with justification, that the 1.9-litre Citroën is the most scientific automobile conception in the World were described – hydro-pneumatic, self-levelling all-independent suspension, front-wheel-drive, inboard disc front brakes, detachable unstressed body panels (just discovered by Rover!), hydraulic clutch, gear-change, braking and steering, braking compensated for weight, safety steering wheel, adjustable ground clearance, a Michelin “X”-shod wheel at each corner, ducted heating and ventilation, etc: – in MOTOR SPORT in 1955. That is a long time back, yet today no other motor car can compete in this respect with the redoubtable Citroën from Paris or Slough.

During 1958 I reported enthusiastically on the Citroën DS in MOTOR SPORT, after driving one for more than 4,000 miles, and later that year I road-tested the somewhat less complex Citroën ID. Those reports, occupying an aggregate of seven pages, except for a few details, are as true of the Citroëns of 1964 as they were of those current when our initial road-test reports were published. That the Citroën remains almost as far ahead of contemporary design now as it was revolutionary then is an enormous tribute to those who foresaw it on the drawing-boards and conceived it in the Citroën factory.

Since those days MOTOR SPORT has from time to time had more to say in praise of this very great and thoroughly satisfying motor car in its various forms, and now it is the turn of the new DW. This model can be described as a cross between the DS and the ID. The latter had a slightly less-powerful engine, a normal clutch and gear-change and non-servo-steering and brakes. The new DW has the DS power unit, power steering and power braking, but retains a normal foot-operated clutch and manual gear-change. In the following report it is unnecessary to re-cap. on the ingenious technical specification of the Citroën, which is largely unchanged after nearly a decade, so I will devote the space to an appraisal of how the latest Citroën impressed me on the road.

The only difficulty is to know where to begin, because this car is immensely satisfying just to regard as a piece of machinery. Its shape is futuristic, wind-defeating, undeniably “right.” The Michelin “X” tyres, looking semi-inflated to the uninitiated, plant their braced treads firmly at each corner of this long car with its generous window area and excellent steering lock – in entirety, faintly reminiscent of the covetable old Lancia’ Lambdas.

The wide doors invite easy ingress, but you step over a sill and down into a Citroën. The separate front seats, no less than the wide back seat with folding central arm-rest, are large, have fully reclining squabs (“typical of a French car,” said one young lady), and are extremely comfortable. In spite of the high “g” forces which the cornering power of the Citroën generates, support is good, although the upholstery is shiny leather and the cushions convex, nor are the squabs specially shaped.

The DW has the faintly space-ship facia of the DS, instead of the wooden slab of a dashboard with which slough burdened the ID, and which I always felt to be not quite in keeping in a car of such functional conception. The minor controls are somewhat close-set but this brings no real disadvantages. Hooded before the driver, on a slightly sunken panel, are a very clear 120-m.p.h, speedometer, needle steady above white figures, trip with decimal and total mileometers incorporated, and a combined water-temperature/ammeter and fuel-gauge dial. A tiny control between the dials gives very effective rheostat control of bright instrument lighting, and neatly spaced about this panel are live warning lights, respectively for full beam (blue), brake pressure (red), indicators (green, but inoperative on the DW, as a light is incorporated in the facia control), ignition/oil pressure (green), and hydraulic fluid level (amber). To the left in the main, raised panel, is a small clock, with, below it, three neat controls for rear window and side windows demisting fans and interior lighting (there is also courtesy action, via any of the doors, if the control is turned to the right).

To the left of the steering wheel, on a lower angled panel, is the ignition lock, choke knob, cigar lighter, manually-operated direction indicators’ switch and control for an o/s. only parking light. Lower still, on a vertical panel, is a big knob controlling the screen-wipers which, when pulled out, brings in the electric screen-washers. None of these controls is labelled, but the neat knobs have plated centres and surrounds, on trimmed panels. The upper part of the screen sill is in matt-black but the window sills are of unembellished metal.

Apart from the chain working the radiator blind, those are all the minor controls on the Citroën DW, because the button-like parking brake and its release lock have been deleted in favour of the pull-forward, under-facia hand-brake of the ID model; this has a tiny turn-button, enabling it to be locked to its ratchet. On the floor-sill on the right, of course, is the magic lever enabling the ingenious Citroën to lift itself to varying heights or lower itself onto its jacks. The former is of very real advantage for going cross-country or negotiating rough lanes or water splashes, nor does road-holding at speed suffer adversely in the intermediate position.

The rigid gear-lever of the DW is the ID arrangement whereby a l.h. lever protrudes from the steering-column nacelle, within convenient reach for poking it into any of the four forward positions or reverse, which is down and below top. The floor brake-button in lieu of a conventional pedal, which is such a characteristic feature of the DS, is used also for the DW.

The heater controls are entirely logical – a big rubber-covered knob on the rear face of the engine bulkhead, which comes close to the front scats, selects heat on or off, two under-facia quadrants, very light to move, control, respectively, volume and screen or interior feed, these controls having red and blue indications of position. At each end of the facia there are the well-known Citroën aircraft-type fresh-air vents, each with triple-levers to control direction and upwards or downwards volume of fresh air.

The doors have those simply splendid twin-action interior locks, so simple to use whether for opening a door or locking all of them from the driving seat, and French logic is again apparent in the provision of good, padded arm-rests on all doors except the driver’s, where such might catch the right elbow.

In describing what the Citroen DW is like on the road it may seem paradoxical to say that because it approaches so close to family-car perfection the report can be shorter than usual, but this is so, because less explanation is necessary when in all the major qualities the car behaves predictably and no deep analysis is required to excuse peculiarities.

Thus the rack-and-pinion power steering is light, for parking or at speed, yet firm and accurate, with no lost motion except for a slight rocking action on full-lock. This is very quick and responsive steering, advantage being taken of the power assistance to gear it high (2 7/8 turns, lock-to-lock), which, allied to the big lock (37 ft. turning circle), makes the Citroën almost as good under the heading of dodgeability as a Mini. It can come up on, say, two cyclists riding side-by-side, and it is almost as if the driver has lifted the car sideways, round the obstruction, and back again, without effort, so quickly will the car change direction. As one person who would normally never contemplate servo steering said: “If this is power-steering, I want it!” Because of the difference of 7 3/4 in. between front and rear wheel tracks, the small turning circle of the Citroen can be put to good use with little fear of the inner back wheel hitting a kerb, or running over someone’s feet.

Coupled with this light, accurate and somehow typically Citroën steering, the car runs dead straight, and the wheel is well placed, of sensible size, and bound with that so-effective sweat-absorbing tape.

The gear-change is quite light, smooth and quick but the lever has rather a long travel; there is synchromesh on all forward ratios and reverse goes in easily. The clutch is perfectly normal in action; the gears are quiet but in top at low speeds there is a transmission whine, more pronounced on the over-run.

I am all in favour of the brake button, because it needs less effort to drop the right foot onto it from the slim accelerator than to lift it onto a pedal, nor is the foot likely to slip from it. The action can be progressive although the movement is infinitesimal, the ball of the foot exercising control instead of the leg muscles. The brakes are very good, only very heavy applications causing snatch and some judder from the action of the suspension, and the Citroën stops straight even in a crash application on patchily-slippery road surfaces. The front discs emit a squeak under light applications but fortunately not a high-pitched one.

The r.h. hand-brake is quite well located but calls for an underhand rather than overhand grip on its transverse handle. It holds securely.

To make the Citroën motor, mainly full throttle is needed and I found that pressing the accelerator to the floor made my leg ache. Because one sits conventionally, knees bent to about 90°, the protrusion of the engine bulkhead does not impede the front compartment, and in any case there is very generous leg-room for two front compartment occupants. Three, if essential four, people can use the back seat.

The highly-technical suspension of the Citroën, whether ID, DS or DW, deals with any sort of surface impeccably, to give about the most comfortable ride in motoring. Yet roll under fast cornering is extremely well controlled and steering virtually neutral. The only thing the Citroën isn’t good at is negotiation of hump-backed bridges at speed. It comes down like a small aeroplane entering an abnormally severe air-pocket. On the other hand, the suspension is so admirably damped that, once down, the car stays down. On the DW slightly softer suspension somewhat mollifies the crash action. The automatic self-levelling is a valuable aspect of this hydro-pneumatic suspension, and the manner in which the car settles down with an audible sigh after you step out of it never fails to amuse me, but perhaps I have a juvenile mind. Judging by the dislike on the faces of cart-sprung motorists when they observe this restful habit of the Citroën, that must be the answer! The hydraulics are far less audible than on the early DS cars.

After ride, road-holding. Again, very few cars can match the Citroën, even when it is being pulled round corners (it’s front-drive, remember, although a driver unfamiliar with the car wouldn’t know this unless he got front-end judder by banging in the clutch at high r.p.m.) so fast that the “X”s squeal. Essentially, this Citroën is a very safe car. It was not deemed necessary, I note, to rig it up with seat harnesses. . . .

Good visibility through the wide, high screen and over the curving bonnet contributes to safe driving, with the proviso that the n/s. front wing is only just visible to average-height drivers and that the sill-mounted mirror cuts off much of the view. This mirror has an entirely effective anti-dazzle night setting and gives reasonable vision, in spite of being thickly-framed. The crash padding in a Citroën is extremely well done, there are soft, swivelling vizors, and the roof pillars are far stronger than they appear. The heating and ventilation system is one of the outstanding aspects of the car; the fan for demisting the rear window is reasonably quiet and this mist-dispersal is most effective; it worked very quickly even on a very cold morning, with the additional handicap that the motoring dog was breathing on the inside of the glass. Not only is this Citroën comfortable, very safe and effortless to drive, it also covers long distances commendably quickly. The alloy-head engine sadly lacks low-speed torque, which means a good deal of gear-shifting, and having to reach over to put on the turn indicators (and cancel them as well as their time-return is somewhat prolonged for simple corners) adds a little to the work the driver has to do. Generally, however, the Citroën makes light work of normally tedious journeys and gets to its destination before one expects it to. It is in its element on long, straight roads (Paris-Nice, maybe), when it cruises quietly at 80 m.p.h. or more, going up to the “ton” when the road is clear for a decent distance ahead. It accelerates rather ponderously, to the accompaniment of an agricultural fuss rather than power roar, valve bounce limiting maxima in the gears to 30, 55 and 90 m.p.h. How little torque the 1,911-c.c. long-stroke engine provides is evident from some aeceleration times I took from a steady 40 m.p.h. to 60 m.p.h., likely to he used coming out of a speed-limit with unambitious vehicles to overtake, requires 8.5 sec. starting in 2nd and going into 3rd gear at 55 m.p.h., but if one merely drops into 3rd the time increases to 10.5.sec., while a top-gear driver will not reach the mile-a-minute gait until 19.1 sec. have elapsed! Contemplation turns thoughts to the rumoured more powerful power unit but such rumours are the bane of a manufacturer’s life and the rumour is now so old that one supposes Citroën to have decided that the weight, size and 83 b.h.p. of their existing modest-speed engine to be ideally suited to front-drive and their particular layout and weight distribution. Anything with more poke would be, perhaps, gilding reasonably refined gold; one has so much to appreciate in a Citroën that some effort to row it along and some noise as the engine responds is regarded by Citroën advocates as of little importance.

In fact, as the figures in the data table show, once in its stride the Citroën, a full-size 2-5-cwt. family saloon, isn’t exactly sluggish. Incidentally, the speedometer was actually slow, by 2 m.p.h. at 30, 3 m.p.h. at 40, 4 m.p.h. at 50 and 5 m.p.h. at 60 m.p.h. In 3rd gear 90 m.p.h. is obtainable, so this gear is almost as usable as top gear.

The deep boot is reached via a very light, self-supporting, lockable lid. The bonnet has to be propped open, but is easy to release after toggles each side under the facia are pulled and a well-placed front lever depressed to free the safety catch. Then, what a great array of machinery and hydraulic services meet the eye! Other good points embrace the rubber-sealed frameless windows (the driver’s causing some air-roar at speed; a pity, as wind noise is otherwise negligible), a big lidded ash-box on the front bulkhead designed, I imagine, by Robert Glenton, the roof-high rear turn-indicators, pile carpets on foam-rubber, twin reversing lamps that are really useful, illuminated boot, starting handle, and the convenient r.h. lamps’ control stalk. The latter permits daylight flashing,. although this involves a turn and flick action. The knob is labelled, mysteriously to insular Englishmen, “0,” “V” and “R,” and turns in conjuncnon with up-and-down movement of the stalk to select all lamp requirements. It has the push for the dual-note horn on its extremity. In view of the self-levelling suspension I was disappointed that the very good headlamps, of wide spread, lit up a good deal too much skyline. For a large car that covers the ground the Citroën is very reasonably economical. It averaged 26.7 m.p.g. of normal premium petrol on fast long-distance runs, and a combination of London driving, performance testing, cold starting and local pottering, about the worst economy conditions likely to be encountered, only reduced this to 26.1 m.p.g. The sensibly angled filler is under a flap on the n/s. rear wing. Starting was prompt after a night in winter frost, Citroën being another enlightened manufacturer who specifies a Weber carburetter (type 24/32DDC).

I was able to enjoy this unique Citroën for a total of 1,180 miles, after which I withdrew the sump dip-stick; it indicated that 1/3- pint of oil would restore the level. Nothing had given any trouble, apart from the radiator blind sticking shut on one occasion. Normally, Water temperature is below 180°F.

Always when testing a Citroën I start by wondering whether I like a car so big and so lacking in torque, but always I end up by regarding it as one of the most satisfying family saloons it is possible to buy, a brilliant car quite without equal.

There are shortcomings. One concerns a fuel gauge which indicates empty when enough petrol remains for something like 100 miles. But the 14-gallon tank, giving a range of some 365 miles, perhaps excuses this very casual gauge; certainly a Citroën owner either never runs out of fuel, or does so with depressing frequency! The other snag is that interior stowage is limited, the deep back shelf apart, to what is scarcely more than an (unlockable) glove-box in the facia, its plastic lid being awkwardly hinged along the bottom edge. Even here French logic prevails and these Citroëns are essentially logical, because I am told the idea that loose objects may slide and rattle about shelves and cubby-holes at the speed at which Citroën drivers habitually corner is abhorrent to the engineers – I mean engineers – who designed the car. The test car was devoid of radio so another small stowage well was available. The rear window carried a label advising you, it must be admitted modestly and with complete honesty, to “Enjoy Today the Car of Tomorrow.”

The above are small shortcomings in a car which has weathered nearly ten years of intense convention and is still quite unique. Moreover, although we are concerned here with the new DW model, the ID and DS versions remain-available. Not only that, but the useful 8-seater Safari station-wagon has been joined by the Tourmaster, which has a fixed back seat ahead of an estate-car type of luggage space and three jolly little occasional seats which fold into the back of the front seat when not wanted, making another entirely fascinating 8-seater, which has a built-in roof rack. And for fresh-air folk, there is the elegant drophead coupé. Various colours are available but externally the only nomenclature is “Citroën” on the bonnet and the chevron on the boot-lid. The prices of all these Citroëns are set out in a separate panel, the DW, as tested, costing £1,568 19s. 7d. inclusive of p.t. For a full discourse on the technical aspects of the Citroën I can do no better than refer you to MOTOR SPORT for April (DS) and October (ID), 1958.- W.B.