The thing you’ll have noticed first about the 19_19, Citroen’s second centenary concept following the cutesy Ami One, will have been its ginormous wheels.
Yup, when the average family SUV has its comfort torn to shreds by 22-incherss, Citroen has fitted some quite mad 30-inch rims to the 19_19. There are all manner of reasons why, but we’re assured—because the wheels and their arches are effectively isolated from the body, and move independently—the ride won’t be ruined.
Increasing their size means more tire on the road, too—important when the car’s supposed eco-friendliness brings super narrow wheels. As a concept car in 2019, it’s inevitably electric-powered, after all.
“Of course, on traditional suspension, a 30-inch wheel would be super bad,” admits Citroen designer Frederic Duvernier. “But by isolating the cabin and piloting the suspension, you don’t have this problem anymore—it’s another world.”
Suspension that riffs off the system used on the Citroen Xantia Activa from the ’90s. If you’re unfamiliar, the Activa was an otherwise boring rep sedan that cornered as flat as a hypercar thanks to clever hydraulics at each corner.
The 19_19 operates a system with the same mindset but much cleverer thinking, with cameras and sensors reading the road ahead to prep the suspension for what’s coming.
Did you know Citroen made a helicopter in the ’70s? Neither did we, but the rotary-powered anomaly helped feed the design of the 19_19. Note just how much of it is made of glass, especially the frontal area, which would normally be draped in grilles and bumpers.
Citroen is hoping that as autonomy creeps further into motoring, safety regulations will morph to reflect it. You won’t need huge absorbent overhangs if the car is successfully using all manner of intelligence to avoid crashing in the first place.
As a centenary-celebrating concept, all walks of Citroen life have crept into the 19_19’s design. Okay, perhaps there’s no whiff of the Saxo VTR we all unashamedly loved in the late ’90s, but the mystique of the DS and the sheer impact of the Traction Avant are all meant to be evident in the way the 19_19 looks, while its color apes the record-breaking Petite Rosalie from 1933.
“When the original DS was displayed in 1955, all the other cars were bricks,” says Duvernier. “The Traction Avant, it just killed the competition; it was 20mm lower than other cars by being a monocoque design. It was a revolution at the time. When we embrace this change to autonomy, we can really repackage everything and us designers can be super creative.”
“There is nothing so simple as an egg, so that is the philosophy. Soft, fragile, suspended in the air, an aerodynamically friendly shape.” The words of Citroen design boss Pierre Leclercq. Never change, car designers, never change.
The real revolution of autonomous cars will likely happen inside, when self-driving cars allow the driver to relax just like every other occupant. Citroen’s designers have gone wild in this regard, designing different ‘seating experiences’ in each corner of the interior.
“You can move around inside the car,” says Leclercq. “Even if you’re alone, you might sit in the back.”
So while the driver gets a curious-looking but deeply supportive seat, the front passenger gets an actual chaise longue and those in the back get to enjoy a ‘sun deck,’ basking under all of the 19_19’s glass.
All right, it’s not real marble. That’d bugger up the 19_19’s attempts to save weight and extend battery life good and proper (its range is 805km).
Instead, it’s a resin that apes the look of marble, and it’s applied across numerous surfaces. Not least the steering wheel and a center console that contains an artistic D-N-R gear selector while looking like the love child of a coffee table and magazine rack. Which gives us hope people will still be reading actual magazines long into the future.
That swathe of glass at the front doesn’t just spill light into the cabin; it also houses a projection that replaces the use of traditional screens. Up top, all the information the driver needs. Below, a movie screen for passengers to enjoy while on the move.
“We think at the moment it’s a bit of a race in the car industry for who can get the biggest screen from pillar to pillar,” says interior designer Raphael Le Masson. “So we think, ‘Why not get out of that?’ We want to travel lighter. We need some information, but we can display it in a different way.”
Naturally, it’s all controlled via an Alexa-esque voice control that’s activated with a simple ‘Hello Citroen.’
And we do mean everywhere. The steering-wheel screen cycles through all of the badges in Citroen history, and there’s one displayed on the screen in the middle of each wheel’s fixed central hub.
The gaps in that magazine rack carve a sneaky chevron shape, and even the elasticated string that separates the sun deck from the luggage compartment (parcel shelves are so old hat) has been pulled taut to mimic the company’s logo. There’s no forgetting who made this car.
The fixed central hub of those wheels does more than ensure the badge is always the right way up. It’s also packed full of tech, with sensors in the tires feeding information on their wear and the road conditions back to the hub and then to the car itself, keeping its (and the driver’s) brain up to date.
Those tires have been specially developed by Goodyear, and if you look closely, they bleed into the wheel itself, which helps reduce noise. Important when silent electric drivetrains open our senses up more to road roar and wind rush.
With 153 sipes around their tread (versus around 60 on regular tires), they also disperse water with greater efficiency, aided by a sponge-like material whose properties change between wet and dry conditions for maximum grip in each. Those ginormous wheels may be the 19_19’s biggest talking point, but they probably deserve to be, too.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.