Elise has been a journalist across the trifecta of TV, radio and print for more than twenty-five years. When not shackled to her computer or beloved kid, you’ll find this working mum indulging her other passions — skiing powder off-piste or trying to catch a wave on her 8’ Mini Mal.
IT'S AN extraordinary experience driving a 1974 Citroën D Spécial. Its futuristic body shape is something to behold; the old-school column shift transmission seems novel today; the seats are couch-comfy; and the suspension is superlative.
The fact I’m driving such an iconic car while enjoying a little tête-à-tête with Citroën’s global CEO, Linda Jackson, adds a certain frisson to proceedings.
“You do feel like you’re sitting in an armchair. And that amazing suspension gives what I like to call the magic carpet effect,” says an incredibly calm Jackson. She’s neither ruffled by jetlag, nor the fact I’m chauffeuring her in a 45-year-old car.
The French have a word for it: sangfroid. It translates as 'cold-blood' but really means composure and self-possession. This Brit has it in spades and it’s probably what’s kept Jackson at the helm of Citroen since 2014.
That, and the fact she eschews working weekends or meetings before 8am or after 6pm.
“It’s important people can find that time to have a work-life balance. We also encourage staff to work from home because we all know it’s easier to manage your life that way. You need to be flexible. We call it the ‘feel-good rules’,” Jackson says.
Speaking of feel-good, the D Spécial garners plenty of attention cruising through Melbourne’s streets. Despite the intrigue, Citroën is somewhat of an enigma in Australia; it’s an unusual brand that’s yet to find traction here.
“You’re right and we need to change that. We are very strong in Europe obviously, but we want to be more international,” Jackson says.
How does Citroën intend to do that?
“We’re hitting the market with two SUVs. I hear they are very popular here,” Jackson says.
Indeed. Almost 50 per cent of car sales come from the SUV segment. Thing is, it’s an overcrowded market. How can Citroën stand out?
“We’re making comfort the new cool,” she says. “In the past, it was about suspension and seats. We need to take it further with a more modern approach; now it’s about connectivity, big screens, storage spaces, light in the car and air quality.”
Citroën believes three innovations will ensure a smooth ride: All new suspension with progressive hydraulic cushions; the use of a special structural body bonding; and shape memory seats that adapt perfectly to the physique of each passenger.
I’m not yet convinced by Jackson’s sales pitch, though. I’m also concerned Citroēn has shed its quirkiness — something that made the innovative French brand famous.
After all, a yellow Citroën 2CV helped James Bond escape in the movie For Your Eyes Only. And a DS (affectionately known as Déesse — or, goddess) has been praised for saving French President Charles de Gaulle’s life after a failed assassination attempt.
They’re big tyres to fill.
Jackson and I float in the D Spécial to our destination - the classic and collector car exhibition, Motorclassica - where Citroën’s latest trifecta of vehicles is on show. Despite my earlier fears, the three models look impressive.
There is the diminutive C3 hatch costing $26,990 (plus on-road costs). In the compact SUV segment, the C3 Aircross is offered in one variant costing $32,990 (plus on-road costs).
The marque’s flagship vehicle, meanwhile, is the C5 Aircross SUV (above). Powered by a small but handy 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, its patented suspension system promises both comfort and handling. It’s priced from $39,990 for the Feel and $43,990 for the Shine. It has a massive 580-litre boot and impressive safety tech, too.
Read More: Citroen - history, trivia and fast facts
While perhaps not as avant-garde as a DS, Citroën’s SUV offerings look unique; an important selling point. Drivers can further personalise their car by choosing from a base palette of seven colours, then pairing it with a highlight pack of silver or red.
Jackson surveys with satisfaction the three models on offer.
“We have taken our unique design into the future,” she says. “Coupled with our commitment to comfort, I feel we have been true to the past and true to the future, as well.”
Watch out for the full interview on WhichCar TV, which kicks off again for season two on Channel Ten from January 26!