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Alfasud v CitroŽn GS

Motor week ending December 22 1973


Perhaps partly because the willing nature of the two engines encouraged us to drive the cars so hard, we obtained unimpressive overall fuel consumption values from our original tests - by another of those coincidences the figure was 26.9 mpg of 4-star fuel for both cars. But the Citroen has a touring consumption of 35.7 mpg - a tribute to its low drag factor again - while the equivalent value for the Alfasud is 32.4 mpg, so the potential for considerable improvement is there. And although most cars of this size have fuel tanks of around 8 gallons capacity, the Alfasud has an enormous 11 gallon tank and at 9.5 gallons the Citroen’s is significantly bigger than par as well.


Front-wheel drive cars rarely have good gear changes, even when, as on the Alfasud their transmission units are located behind their engines and thus close to the gearlever. But the gearchange in the Alfasud tis almost as free and precise as those of the big Alfas -which means that it is very good indeed. Clean downward changes into second sometimes accomplished with difficulty in other cars, are a particular delight, and the gearbox only baulks slightly at the selection of bottom on the move.
Marks on the speedometer at 26 mph, 48 mph and 72 mph indicate the maximum recommended speeds in the gears (no rev-counter is fitted) and show how well spaced the ratios are. But these markings, which correspond to just under 6000 rpm, rate the engine very conservatively, as it seems completely happy to run up to just under 60 mph on the dial in second and just over 80 mph in third. Allowing for the rather inconsistent speedo error, these speeds correspond to nearer 7000 rpm than 6000 rpm - a further tribute to the sweetness and strength of the power unit.
Although the gearchange of the GS has gradually improved since the car was first introduced, and although the change of our test car was a particularly good one, it is not in the same class as that of the Alfasud, being vague and notchy. Unlike the Alfasud, the GS Club is fitted with a rev counter, but one which lacks a red line to guide the driver. But at the quoted 6250 maximum, the top speeds in the gears are almost exactly the same 'as those recommended for the Italian car: 28 mph, 46 mph and 70 mph. There is little temptation to exceed these speeds, however, as the Citroen’s engine becomes too noisy at high revs, though paradoxically the gearing of the car subjectively feels higher than that of the Alfasud - but it isn’t: in top gear the speed/revs relationship is 15.3 mph/l000 rpm compared to the 16.3 mph/1000 rpm of the Alfasud.
A big weakness of the Citroen’s transmission is the noise it makes. Or rather the assortment of noises: the raucous whinings in top, the synchromesh whistlings at every gearchange and the grating vibrations on the overrun reminiscent of a 'box with straight-cut gears or faulty bearings. In all this the GS seems more like a car of the Fifties than a car of the Seventies, and by comparison the Alfasud seems quite quiet though its gearbox whines loudly, too.


At 3.7 turns from lock to lock for a mean turning circle off just under 31 ft, the steering of the Alfasud is not very direct for a small car, as confirmed by the 1.2 turns needed to circumscribe a 50 ft circle less than one turn would be more appropriate to a sporting compact of this sort. So much for the theory: the fact that in practice the Alfasud’s steering contradicts these bald statements by feeling pretty direct shows how much more such matters involve. To begin with, the steering makes friends by being precise or without lost motion and by requiring little effort, thanks, probably to its near-centre-point geometry. In addition it provides good feel of the road, becoming light, for example, to give advance warning of imminent front-end breakaway in the wet. The lack of roll-due to the anti-roll bar action of the dead rear axle and to a conventional anti-roll bar at the front contributes to the immediacy of the whole car’s response which helps to diminish any sense of indirectness in the steering. But more important, the Alfasud is one of the few front-wheel drive cars with almost no understeer: its behaviour in the dry, at least, is virtually neutral even on tight bends, and towards the very high limit there is actually a touch of gentle oversteer.
Some of these virtues may be attributable 'to the various subtleties in the suspension which is not as straightforward as it looks. The dampers of the coil-sprung front MacPherson struts, for example, are inverted, so that the steering swivel pin is no longer formed by the damper piston but by the much larger and better distributed load-bearing area of its outer tube. And inversion of the damper brings its gas compartment uppermost, so any fluid leaking past the free piston which seals it will tend to be returned by the action of gravity. The dead axle at the rear is located transversely by a Panhard rod and longitudinally by Watt linkages at each end, arranged to provide some anti-dive action and to twist the axle when the car rolls to give the anti-roll effect already mentioned.
But the Alfasud probably gets most of its neutrality simply from its recommended tyre pressures: 26 psi front; 20 psi rear. The very successful results confirm our belief that the handling of many other front-wheel drive cars would 'be much improved by running the front tyres at higher pressures than the rear ones - as we found with our staff Renault 12. To the tyres, or more precisely their 165/70 section - generous in proportion to the 16.7 cwt overall weight-the Alfasud mostly owes, we feel, its outstanding adhesion. The limits are so high that to explore them one needs a private test track and they are almost never exceeded on ordinary public roads in the dry. The Ceats fitted also provided good adhesion in the wet, though as might be expected, there is then more understeer and the front tyres will lose their grip if excessive power is carelessly applied.
The steering of the Citroen is a little more direct than that of the Alfasud, but it has this rather remote feel, as if it were a very good power system-though of course a straightforward rack and pinion without power assistance is fitted, just as in the Italian car. Even so, the GS steering does give reasonable warning of impending front-end breakaway in wet and slippery conditions. With such very soft springs it`s not surprising that the GS rolls quite a bit, despite its two anti-roll bars. Nevertheless it reacts to the steering in almost as responsive a way as does the Alfasud, and so is a most pleasant car to drive along a twisty country road. And even though it has relatively skinny 155 section tyres (Michelins on our test car) and the roll angles are quite high, it still holds the road extremely well - not quite as well as does the Alfasud, but still very well indeed. It is, however, a definite understeerer, and although the understeer is seldom obtrusive, it does become noticeable on tight bends when the inside front wheel sometimes lifts and spins. This is when running at the recommended tyre pressures - 26 psi front; 28 psi rear-but we did not have time to establish whether reversing this pressure differential to go some way towards emulating the Alfasud would improve the handling.


Like its springing, the all-disc braking system of the GS is a feature unique to Citroen. The power that actuates these brakes is taken wholly from the hydraulic system with its pump and accumulators and is simply metered by a spring-loaded valve controlled by the brake pedal, the resistance felt being merely that exerted by the spring. A further shuttle valve takes care of front/rear apportioning: the full pressure of the system is available to the front brakes, but the source for the rear brakes is the rear suspension system which is at a generally lower pressure proportional to load. This reduces the chance of premature rear-wheel lock-up.
The GS system differs from the similar systems of the DS range and SM in being actuated by a conventional pendant pedal rather than by a small button on the floor. For some reason this makes the brakes apparently much more progressive in their action. Even so the pedal has very little travel, so we still find these brakes too sensitive despite requiring about the same effort as the Alfasud’s. Their excessive sensitivity makes it difficult for enthusiasts to heel and toe and easy for less experienced drivers to lock the wheels unnecessarily. But the brakes did not fade during our original test and there is an effective handbrake which works on the front wheels.
By comparison the Alfasud’s braking system seems very simple, but in fact it is advanced for a small and relatively inexpensive car, featuring discs all round, servo assistance, a load-sensitive rear pressure relief valve and twin circuits. Special calipers allow the main circuit to operate all four brakes and the emergency circuit to operate the front brakes only.
This system is light but progressive in action and gave an excellent l.0g reading on our Tapley meter and did not fade. The handbrake works on the front wheels and achieved an outstanding 0.6g maximum deceleration.

The spare wheel (right) is squeezed into the Citroen's engine compartment. The little spheres either side of it are the two front springs. In the Alfasud's engine compartment (left) can be seen the electric fan and radiator of the water-cooled power unit

Only a driver of exceptional height would fail to find enough legroom in the Alfasud, and even with the front seat at its rearmost position, six-footers can sit behind it in complete comfort. The boot, too, accommodated a remarkable 9.4 cu ft of our suitcases, so with an overall length of less than 13 ft the car is an exceptionally efficient piece of packaging. And for oddments there is a rear parcel shelf and a full-width front parcel shelf under the facia. But we don’t like the location of the boot lock release (on the floor next to the front passenger’s seat), or the lack of a stay for the bootlid which has to rest on the rear window when open.
Perhaps to obtain a better drag coefficient, the GS is over 8 in longer and uses up a little more road space. There is less front-seat legroom than in the Alfasud, and a little less rear-seat legroom once your legs have been wriggled past the padding at the sides of the front seat. But with a capacity of 10.4 cu ft of our suitcases the boot is larger than the boots of many cars which are much bigger externally, and its flat floor makes it easy to load. For oddments there is a lidded but unlockable glove compartment, a parcel shelf at the rear and a front parcel shelf which is rather smaller than the Alfasud’s.


Little metal spheres, smaller than footballs, and filled with nitrogen gas, form the Citroen’s exceptionally soft springs. The spaces between the rubber diaphragms which contain the gas and pistons actuated by the suspension links are filled with hydraulic fluid supplied by an engine-driven pump. The volume of fluid present is controlled by two suspension-operated sensing valves which separately maintain at a constant level the ride height at the front and at the rear. Thus the Citroen arrangement has no front/rear interconnection as do the Hydrolastic and the Hydragas systems, and gets its similar insensitivity to pitch oscillation simply from its very low spring rates. For the GS, the anti-dive geometry of the front suspension (anti-dive is inherent in the trailing arm rear suspension) largely minimises the exaggerated dive and squat with braking and acceleration that would otherwise be a defect of such a system. Subsidiary benefits are built-in power jacking for wheel changing and the ability, for short distances at low speeds, to increase the ride height to clear obstacles when the going is rough.
At low speeds, and on rough, cobbly surfaces, the ride of the GS is not particularly impressive, especially as there is a very great deal of road noise. But once the car is out of town and at higher speeds on the open road, there is an almost magic smoothing-out of road surface bumps and irregularities which significantly reduces fatigue on long journeys and makes the car easier to drive fast on twisty roads. There is no one aspect of this Citroen’s ride which is particularly good: it’s just better in overall quality than that of any other car on the road today. And the GS is not caught out by hump-backed bridges and similar obstacles as are the bigger DS cars which tend to react with a crash and a violent jerk.
Though the Alfasud depends on nothing more than conventional coil springs and dampers, it rides pretty comfortably-we gave it a four-star rating in our original test-showing how well ordinary systems can be made to work these days with adequate development and properly chosen rates even when these are biased towards good roadholding rather than ride comfort. In town the Alfasud is rather more jittery than the GS, but at higher speeds the ride smooths out, becoming very well controlled and comfortable, though it does not give the gliding sensation which makes the Citroen’s ride so superior.


The comfort for drivers of all shapes and sizes conferred by the Alfasud’s exceptional range of fore-and~aft seat adjustment is further enhanced by a steering wheel tilt adjustment. Reclining backrests are also a standard fitting, and with the help of an Allen key the seat cushions can be adjusted for height. These front seats are pretty comfortable, too, providing unusually good lateral support, but on further acquaintance since our original test some of our drivers complained of a slight lack of lumbar support and found the backrests rather too short.
All the major controls are well located, the pedal layout being particularly suited to healing and toeing. We also liked the fingertip minor controls, but the right-hand stalk controls the heater blower-which is not normally wanted in a hurry-in addition to the wipers, and this seems to us a waste, especially as the washers are operated by a facia-mounted button.
Less legroom and less lateral support, but more lumbar support and almost too much thigh support are the main characteristics of the GS front seats compared with the Alfasud’s. Also cloth upholstered and with reclining backrests, they are softer than the seats of the Italian car, imparting a feeling of great luxury and comfort which tends to last throughout a long journey. As in the Alfasud the major controls are generally well laid out, though not all our drivers were keen on the spade-handled facia-mounted handbrake which is badly placed for a good tug in an emergency. Three stalks control the lights, horn, wipers, washers and indicators - the stalk for which is not self-cancelling.


Although the Alfasud has front quarterlights, the dividing strips that delineate them are very slim, as are the front pillars themselves, and the wipers clear the screen fully to its right-hand edge. So forward visibility is very good, and the slab-sided bonnet is easy to aim in confined spaces. The thickish rear quarters are placed too far back to present much obstruction at angled T-junctions, and although the tip of the boot cannot be seen from the driver’s seat, the cut-off tail of the two-box shape makes it easy to judge the length of the car. A dipping interior mirror is a standard fitting and the rectangular headlamps gave a good blaze of light both when dipped and when on main beam.
With no quarterlights and fairly slim pillars, forward visibility from the GS is also good, but the wipers retain their left-hand drive pattern, while a falling bonnet line and slightly bulging sides make the car a little less easy to manoeuvre in cramped spaces. The tail, too, is further away. But the headlamps are extremely powerful, an external mirror is fitted and the interior mirror is a dipping one.


The ordinary Alfa Romeo models are renowned for the size, attractive styling and completeness of their instruments, but the Alfasud’s dials, though big enough and pleasant in appearance, are not very numerous for a car of its price and character. There is merely a speedometer containing trip and total mileometers and matching cluster containing warning lights and a fuel gauge. But the two circular displays are well located directly in front of the driver on either side of a further block of warning lights, and to minimise unwanted reflections are deeply recessed and protected by angled glasses. The water temperature warning light, incidentally, is not only energised in the normal way if the engine overheats, but also remains illuminated after a cold start until the proper working temperature has been reached, to discourage the use of maximum performance during the warm-up phase and also effectively to serve as a choke warning light.
British purchasers of the GS are fortunate in escaping the extraordinarily ugly cyclops-eye speedometer and square-clock rev-counter inflicted on French owners. Instead they get a good selection of clearly and pleasantly marked round-dialled instruments which are easy to see through the single-spoke steering wheel: a speedometer with trip and total mileometers, a matching rev-counter, a clock, a fuel gauge and a voltmeter. The rev-counter lacks a red line or sector, however, and because the glasses are parallel to the dials of the instruments they create some unwanted reflections, as does the polished metal facia panel which surrounds them.


Good heating is rarely possible with an aircooled engine, since the warm air required is drawn through heat exchangers by the cooling fan and so tends to vary greatly in volume with speed. But the GS has a more constant flow than in most other aircooled cars, and is unusual in having an electric fan to boost the throughput when the engine is idling or running at low speed. But at no time was the heat output impressive.
As the Alfasud is watercooled, the delivery of its heating system doesn’t vary with engine speed, but its temperature is difficult to control. Its distribution system is crude, too, effectively consisting of a flap which can be closed to cut off the flow of warm air to the footwells. It is therefore difficult to maintain warm feet and a cool face, since the flow to the screen cannot be separately controlled.


Both cars have eyeball vents at the ends of their facias which admit adequate volumes of fresh air. But the right-hand vent of the Alfasud could be better located as it tends to direct too much air on to the driver’s right hand.


Both road-roar and bump-thump are badly suppressed in the GS and the assortment of noises which penetrate to the interior contrast oddly with the luxury of the ride. And as already mentioned, the gearbox is also very noisy. But wind noise is low, and although the engine is noisy towards maximum revs in the gears, it is quiet when cruising at high speeds. Road noise insulation is not the Alfasud’s best feature either, and the car suffers from a fair bit of wind noise, but it has a quieter gearbox with an engine which is less noisy when revved and which is also quiet at high cruising speeds.


Both cars have reclining front seats, reversing lights, vanity mirrors and the usual complement of armrests and ashtrays. The Alfasud has grab handles, coathooks, childproof locks, and front seat height adjustment but the brake servo is an optional extra (costing £15.49) and there is no cigar lighter. The GS scores in having a rev-counter, a clock, a boot light and electric screen washers with a combination wash/wipe facility. Club models like the one we tested additionally have a cigar lighter, courtesy lights, carpets, cloth upholstery, halogen main beams, reversing lights and a heater back light. A heater backlight is also an optional extra for the Alfasud.


Rubber floor mats instead of carpets, protruding boot hinges and a number of other poorly executed details like the plastic loops that serve as door pulls give the interior of the Alfasud a somewhat cheap and Spartan appearance. With carpets and better door trims the GS looks much more luxurious, but in our opinion the colours and textures of the materials used have been poorly chosen and the standard of aesthetic design is low.

A brace of boots : the Citroen's (left) is the bigger and has a flat floor with no lip to impede loading
Make: Alfa Romeo
Model: Alfasud
Makers: Alfa Romeo SpA,
Via Gattamelata 45,

Concesslonaires: Alfa Romeo (GB) Ltd
Edgware Road,

Price: £1174.00 plus £97.83 car tax plus £127.18 VAT equals £1399.01. Brake servo £15.49 extra with tax, exterior mirror £2.39 extra with tax, total as tested £1416.89.

Make: Citroen
Model: GS 1220 Club saloon
Makers: S.A. Andre Citroen,
133 Quai Andre Citroen,
Paris 15e,

Concessionaries: Citroen Cars Ltd
Trading Estate,

Price: £1194.00 plus £99.50 car tax plus £129.35 VAT equals £1422.85.


Citroen GS 1220 Club
Accommodation (L)
Accommodation (P)
Ride comfort
At the wheel



Max. speed, mph
74 (6000)
Max in 3rd (rpm)
70 (6250)
49 (6000)
Max in 2nd (rpm)
46 (6250)
27 (6000)
Max in 1st (rpm)
28 (6250)
0 - 60 mph, sec
30 - 50 mph, in top, sec
Overall mpg
Touring mpg
Fuel for 10,000 miles, £
50 lb on brakes, g
Turning circle, ft
Steering turns, 50 ft circle
True speed at ind. 70 mph


4, horizontally opposed
4, horizontally opposed
1186 cc; 72.4 cu in
1222 cc; 74.5 cu in
77/65.5 mm
sohc per bank
sohc per bank
63 bhp DIN at 6000 rpm
Max. power
60 bhp DIN at 5750 rpm
62 lb ft DIN at 3500 rpm
Max. torque
64.4 lb ft DIN at 3250 rpm
4 speed manual
4 speed manual
16.3 in top
mph/1000 rpm
15.3 in top
Ind by MacPherson struts/coil springs/anti-roll bar
Front suspension
Ind by double wishbones/Hydropneumatic/self-levelling
Dead axle/coil springs/Panhard rod/Watt linkages
Rear suspension
Ind by trailing arms/Hydropneumatic/self-levelling
Rack and pinion
Rack and pinion
Servo/dual circuits/discs all round
Fully powered/discs all round
165/70 SR 13
145 SR 13 *
16.7 cwt; 848.4 kg
17.2 cwt; 874 kg

* the tyre size is actually 145 SR 15

© 2011 CitroŽnŽt