As my screen name may indicate, I like Citroën cars. I like the 1930’s unibody front wheel drive Traction Avant, and the basic, yet ingenious 2CV with its front-rear interconnected suspension and absurd twin-engined Sahara version.
And I love how, even as early as the 1950’s, they experimented with active zero-roll suspension on the DS.
(although it took some 40 years before a similar system was available on a production car)
In short, I love how they experimented and didn’t mind doing things differently to everyone else - not just by making a few weird prototypes, but in every single car they made, decade after decade. Even if their method for solving a problem wasn’t necessarily the one later adopted by the majority of manufacturers, I’d still rate them as one of the most innovative companies ever.
Running a company like that wasn’t without its costs, though. After the development of the Traction Avant had drained them of funds they were owned by Michelin. This gave them probably their most interesting and creative period, until in 1974 they were taken over by Peugeot. Since then it has been going steadily downhill - at least if you value unusual engineering over traditionalism and, ahem, reliability. Their cars were still nice, but it was more of an evolution of the old hydropneumatic formula than anything radically new, mixed with some mainstreaming of the design - gone are the front-mid engines, the high-pressure hydraulic brakes and the super-direct, fully power-operated DIRAVI steering, replaced by the same “boring” stuff everybody else uses. The Xantia Activa finally incorporated the anti-roll suspension, but it was in my mind too little, too late, and that suspension design died in 2001 with the Xantia anyway.
Recently things have started to change a bit for the better. The C4 Cactus has some of the old Citroën charm, and the DS series looks plain good. But mechanically they are mostly conventional, and soon they’ll abandon hydropneumatics altogether - and I’m not yet convinced the replacement is a worthy successor.
So after this slightly too long introduction comes my question: Which modern car manufacturer is most like the old Michelin era Citroën? Or are we past the time when car manufacturers could afford to behave like that? (Or, am I a hopeless fanboy who idolizes his marque beyond what is warranted and looks at the past through rose tinted glasses?)