Although every aspect of the functioning of the Hydractive systems was described in the previous chapters, considering the number or factors influencing the suspension and the amount of rules and decisions made by the computer, it is not easy to grasp the actual behavior of the car, including the differences in the various Hydractive generations. To make it easier, we summarize how the various Hydractive systems work in real life.
The new C5 has a new suspension system, doing away with many solutions used on Citroëns for several decades, yet offering the same or even better comfort than before. Recent developments in electronics and computics made it possible to delegate many functions previously solved by mechanical-hydraulical components to electronic units.
This third generation suspension system retains the same basic functioning as the previous systems. It also comes in two flavors: a simpler Hydractive 3 reminiscent of the original hydropneumatic suspension of the DS–GS–BX–CX and a slightly more complicated Hydractive 3+, building upon the former Hydractive I and II (actually, Hydractive 3 is not hydractive in the sense we used this term before, its only special activity is to adjust the road clearance depending on speed and road condition).
Although the basic functioning is practically the same, the actual layout underwent significant changes. Most importantly, the previously mechanically operated height correctors became electronically controlled hydraulic units. And all hydraulic units except for the spheres—which were redesigned to give unlimited life expectancy—are now housed in a single unit, the Built-in Hydroelectronic Interface (BHI). This compact unit has three main parts:
The Activa suspension—used only on some Xantia models—creates mixed feelings. Drivers requiring sporty handling and roadholding praise it because this car turns into curves without turning a hair: it stays completely horizontal and neutral. However, this comes at the expense of ride comfort.
The Activa system operates in two distinct steps. The first one is controlled mechanically by a roll corrector (the component is identical to the height correctors used in the suspension).
The corrector is connected by an L-shaped spring to the bottom wishbone. When the car takes a sharp left turn, its front left wheel will be forced down by the body roll caused by centrifugal force. As the wheel moves down, so does the end of its wishbone, pulling the linkage to the corrector. The piston inside the roll corrector moves upwards, opening the pressure feed into the stabilizing cylinders. These two cylinders are attached to the wheel suspension differently: in the front, the piston pushes the left wheel upwards while in the rear, the right wheel will be forced downwards. This diagonal correction counteracts the roll of the body.
Turning to the other side result in an inverse operation: the roll corrector opens the connection from the stabilizing cylinders back to the reservoir. The front left wheel moves downwards, the rear right one upwards, once again countering the effect of body roll.
Many contemporary Citroëns—including both regular hydropneumatic and Hydractive Xantiae and XMs—have an anti-sink system (SC/MAC) fitted, to keep the car from lowering when not used. The system does not interfere with the normal functioning while in use. It attempts to minimize leaks inside the system by having only one element that can leak, the anti-sink valve itself.
The introduction of this anti-sink valve coincided with the appearance 6+2 piston high pressure pump. As the suspension is fed from the smaller, two-piston side of the pump, pumping the car up from the low position would require a lot of time (although its performance is perfectly sufficient for the normal operation once the car is already running).
To avoid this scenario, the anti-sink valves fitted for each axle between the height corrector system and the suspension struts (or the hydraulic control block on Hydractive systems) keeps the car body from lowering when the engine is switched off. The valves operate on the pressure differences in the system, without any electrical control: when there is significant pressure in their control circuit, they keep their work circuit constantly open.
The second incarnation of the hydractive suspension appeared at February 1, 1993 (ORGA 5929). It was designed to overcome the biggest problem of the previous system, the very uncomfortable hard mode.
Switching to Sport does not mean sticking to a hard, uncomfortable ride any more. On the Hydractive II, the relation between suspension modes and dashboard switch settings became more complicated: in both settings—Normal (the new name of Comfort) and Sport—the computer can switch to both hard and soft mode as it finds it necessary, however, when set to Sport, the suspension becomes more sensitive and will sooner and more often switch to the hard mode.
Many models were also fitted with an anti-sink system that locks the system when the car is not running, using yet another sphere. Its only purpose is to keep the car from sinking when not used, it does not influence the functioning of the suspension system in any way.
The Hydractive I suspension system appeared with the XM. Unlike the simpler hydropneumatic suspension used on the DS, GS/GSA, CX, BX and some XMs, this one has two modes of operation, soft and hard. The suspension functions in soft mode but it will be switched to the hard mode when the computer deems this necessary for the sake of roadholding and safety.
To achieve this, the first hydractive system adds two spheres (one for each axle) and an electric valve to the struts and spheres of the standard hydropneumatic setup.
During normal driving, the computer keeps the suspension in soft mode most of the time but—based on the input provided by many sensors (steering wheel, accelerator pedal, body movement, road speed and brake), including the Sport/Comfort switch on the dashboard—the suspension ECU decides when to switch to hard mode; in other words, when to deactivate the additional spheres for extra roadholding and safety.
When the driver selects the Sport setting, the suspension is switched to hard mode constantly. This setting is not what any Citroën driver would call comfortable… The successor system, Hydractive II overcomes this limitation.
As we saw, the ideal suspension would require elasticity decreasing with the load, constant ground clearance, shock absorbers integrated into the suspension—all these beyond the obvious independent suspension for all wheels. And this is exactly what Citroën’s unique hydropneumatic suspension offers.
According to the Boyle–Mariotte formula defined in the 17th century, the pressure and the volume of a mass of gas are inversely proportional at a constant temperature. Therefore, by keeping the mass of the gas constant and changing the volume of its container, its pressure can be controlled (the usual pneumatic suspensions operate on the opposite principle: air is admitted or withdrawn from the system by compressors and exhaust valves, modifying its mass while keeping the volume constant).
The volume changes are controlled by hydraulics, a technology in widespread use in every branch of the industry. As liquids are non-compressible, any amount of liquid introduced at one end of a hydraulic line will appear immediately at the other end (this phenomenon was first formulated by Blaise Pascal). Using this principle, motion can be transmitted, multiplied or divided (according to the relative sizes of the operation cylinders), with velocity increased or decreased (using varying cross sections in the tubing), to any distance desired, over lines routed freely.
Hydraulics are immensely useful, very efficient, reliable, simple to use, and—due to their widespread deployment—relatively cheap. It is no wonder that it is used for many purposes even in the most conventional vehicles: shock absorbers, brake circuit and power assisted steering being the most trivial examples; however, Citroën is the only one to use it for the suspension.
From the early days of the automobile—and even before, in the time of horse-drawn carts—it was already well known that the body of the car, housing both the passengers and the load, has to be decoupled from the unevenness of the road surface.
This isolation is much more than a question of comfort. The vertical force of the jolts caused by the repeating bumps and holes of the road surface are proportional to the square of the vehicle speed. With the high speeds we drive at today, this would result in unbearable shock to both people and the mechanical parts of the car. Jolts in the body also make it more difficult to control the vehicle.
Consequently, there has to be an elastic medium between the body and the wheels, however, the elasticity and other features of this suspension medium are governed by many, mostly contradicting factors.
Just like it is the case with gasoline engines and carburetors, a mechanical device—even one as complicated as a diesel injection pump—cannot match the versatility and sensibility of a microcomputer coupled with various sensors, applying sophisticated rules to regulate the whole process of fuel injection.
The only input a mechanical pump can measure is the engine speed. The amount of air entering into the engine, unfortunately, is far from being proportional to engine speed, and the turbo or the intercooler disturbs this relationship even further. As the injection always has to inject less fuel than the amount which would already generate smoke, the mechanical pump—capable only of a crude approximation of what is actually going on in the engine—wastes a significant amount of air, just to be of the safe side.
The satisfactory combustion in diesel engines relies on the exhaust as well—if this is plugged up, more of the exhaust gases stay in the cylinder, allowing less fresh air to enter. A mechanically controlled injection pump has no feedback from the engine (except for the engine speed)—it will simply pump too much fuel into the engine, resulting in black smoke. An electronically controlled injection pump, on the other hand, can tell how much air has actually entered by using a sensor (although only the latest systems use such a sensor).
Diesel oil has been a contender to gasoline for many decades. Earlier diesel engines were not refined enough to win the hearts of many drivers but recent advances in technology made these engines not only worthy competitors in all areas but in some features—fuel economy or low end torque, to name just two—even exceeding the characteristics of their gasoline counterparts. And in addition to the general technological advantages, Citroën’s diesel engines have a widely accepted reputation—even among people blaming the quirkiness of its suspension or other features—of being excellent and robust.
As it is widely known, diesel engines have no ignition to initiate their internal combustion, they rely on the self-combustion of the diesel oil entering into a cylinder filled with hot air. Due to this principle of operation, the supply of the fuel has to comply with much more demanding requirements than it is necessary in the case of gasoline engines.
Unlike in the gasoline engine, not a mixture but air enters into the cylinders via the inlet valves. During the adiabatic compression all the energy absorbed is used to increase the temperature of the gas. The small droplets of fuel will be injected at high velocity near the end of the compression stroke into this heated gas still in motion. As they start to evaporate, they form a combustible mixture with the air present which self-ignites at around 800 °C.
This self-ignition, however, is not instantaneous. The longer the delay between the start of the injection and the actual ignition (which depends on the chemical quality of the diesel oil, indicated by the cetane number), the more fuel will enter the cylinder, leading to harsher combustion, with the characteristic knocking sound. Only with the careful harmonization of all aspects—beginning of injection, the distribution of the amount injected in time, the mixing of the fuel and air—can the combustion be kept at optimal level.