C ertain facts in the automotive world are irrefutable. Number one, the Citroën DS, especially the Pallas model, is the most comfortable car in the world. You may not be crazy about the fourcylinder engine, while the transmission’s not the smoothest, but the seats combined with the padded floor truly make it the most comfortable car on the planet.
People sit in my DS after I’ve told them this, and they all say the same thing: why can’t all cars be like this? And why can’t they? When you get behind the wheel of a DS you literally fall into a big easy chair that wraps itself around you. Some manufacturers try very hard; two of my favourite Mercedes-Benz models are my 1972 600, which has hydraulically operated seats, and my ’71 280 SE Coupé, with its big, overstuffed leather chairs. These are the last of the truly handmade Mercedes-Benz cars. Yet even with the finest leather, they’re still not as comfortable as the DS.
The only car that comes close is my 1931 Bentley 8 Litre fourdoor Mulliner sedan. Even though its suspension is primitive, the big, down-filled leather chairs are something you’d be proud to put in your library or sitting room.
W hen I was in England recently, a friend collected me in a beautiful Rolls-Royce Phantom. It is an amazing car – quiet and smooth, with an unparallelled sound system – but still I felt like I was sitting on the seat rather than in it. Shouldn’t a Rolls be at least as comfortable as a DS? And why does the leather in today’s high-end motors have the texture of vinyl? My 1968 Mercedes 6.3 has 327,000 miles on it, but the constant application of hide food has given the leather a patina and suppleness that just can’t be found in modern cars.
And can we stop with the Recaro racing seats? One of my favourite cars to drive would be the Aston Martin Vantage with a manual gearbox. It’s fast and sexy, but it has the most uncomfortable racing seat I’ve ever sat in. I love everything about the car except the seats. They’re slaves to fashion trying to look cool. Astons are for driving long distances across continents, which should be done in the most comfortable way possible.
With these Recaro buckets, after an hour I had to pull over to get out of the car and stretch. It felt like it was cutting off the circulation. Even in my McLaren P1 I replaced the standard seat for a slightly wider one. It’s a little bit better – but not much. I have a Shelby Mustang GT350R . The first thing I did when I ordered the car was to ask for the stock Mustang seats to be put in, instead of the standard racing buckets. If the goal was to crack walnuts with my buttocks, I’d have kept the Recaros. It’s hard to drive if you’re not comfortable. Where’s the fun?
When I was restoring my DS, I took great pains to deconstruct the seats and examine what made them so comfortable. The secret? Foam, and lots of it. Of course, Citroën never took the DS to the Nürburgring. That has a lot to do with it. The Nürburgring has probably done more than anything else to make luxury cars uncomfortable. Any suspension perfected there is designed to handle loads and speeds the average driver would never see in a luxury car. Along with low-profile tyres, which are so popular and have absolutely no give, the combination means cars simply aren’t as comfortable as they should be. My Tesla had 21in tyres. In 1000 miles I hit two potholes and blew out two tyres. There’s not enough sidewall to take the compression, so you split the sidewall. There’s nothing else you can do.
Why do people buy 21in wheels? They don’t really know the difference between sidewall compression rates, they just think it looks cooler. They are willing to give up comfort for that. How many people would prefer to look good or feel good?
Style reigns, unfortunately. BMW has just come out with the R Nine T, which is a twin-cylinder Boxer motorcycle available in three styles. The coolest is the Café bike. I drove the standard version with standard handlebars, and it was so comfortable, but I ordered the Café because it looked the coolest with the little half fairing and the lowered bar. After 20 minutes of riding, I realised I should have ordered the other one.
The idea of selling comfort now seems to have gone out the window. It seems to be about looking cool or sporty, or Nürburgring times. Stuff like that. In the old days they used to sell comfort. American cars used to sell what they called the Boulevard Ride: the car floats down the road. Ford made a fortune selling LTDs, saying it was quieter than a Rolls. Whether it was or not, nobody really knew. It’s like you’re the captain of a ship, driving a big boat.
So much of that seems to have fallen by the wayside. If someone offers you a seat in their DS, take it. It’s the most comfortable motoring experience you can have.
‘WHEN YOU GET BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A DS YOU LITERALLY FALL INTO A BIG EASY CHAIR THAT WRAPS ITSELF AROUND YOU’
JAY LENO Comedian and talk show legend Jay Leno is one of the most famous entertainers in the USA. He is also a true petrolhead, with a massive collection of cars and bikes (www.jaylenosgarage.com).