When backache strikes and comfort is the priority, big luxury cars are the only solution. James Ruppert looks at the soft options that will iron out those bumps in the road

When John Tomlinson retired two years ago, he bought a new Audi A4 convertible with normal suspension. It's been great for him; less so for his wife; their first journey, from Hampshire to Scotland, left her with severe back and sciatic pain. She feels every bump in the road and now he must find a car with softer suspension. He is happy to stay in the same price bracket.

Ride is one of the most underrated and misunderstood of automotive qualities. Sporty cars need a firmer suspension set-up so that they don't roll too much in corners and hug the road better at speed. A luxury car does not need hard suspension; the emphasis is on soaking up the road's imperfections and isolating driver and passengers from them. Indeed, certain models are notorious for their hard and soft riding qualities.

Audis have always had a reputation for making cars with suspension that can be described as being on the firm side. By contrast, Citroëns have mostly employed sophisticated suspension systems making for smooth, bump-free progress. I know John is aware of the larger Citroën range. A C5 has Hydractive suspension with gas spheres, which does the work of traditional steel springs and dampers. That means it wafts over bumps, although it leans much more through corners.

The thing is, I don't know whether moving from a high-quality Audi to a more economically finished Citroën would be acceptable to John. The issue, however, is not John but his wife, who must have a car with a super-smooth ride.

A car for the head

The new Citroën C6 is a distinctive entry into the executive car market, trying to be something a little different from a BMW, Mercedes or Audi. Prices start at £30,000 to £35,000, and just about everything is standard. The big problem is depreciation. In two years, John's Audi convertible will have retained a good slice of its original value - well over 60 per cent - and the demand for it will be strong. The Citroën C6 will probably depreciate sharply.

I realise this car choice isn't about money, but there's no point in wasting it when it is possible to save a lot by going for the C5. An early new or year-old example will be much cheaper and discounts of up to £4,000 can be had through brokers. The model to go for is the diesel, which will hold its value better, be far more economical than the petrol and suit longer journeys. A year-old Exclusive specification with 2.2 HDI engine should not be much more than £10,000. The body is wide, meaning more space and comfort, and the interior is well thought out and very comfortable.

A car for the heart

Luxury should be John's aim. Larger cars ride better because the longer wheelbase helps the vehicle soak up bumps. Suspensions are sophisticated and designed to smooth out every road surface; that is a luxury car's job.

There are plenty of candidates, including the Jaguar XJ, Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-series. Driving any one of these is a sublime experience but it is essential that John's wife go on the test drives.

Best in class would be the Lexus LS. John need not pay more than £50,000 for a brand new one, and would get a superb used example from a Lexus dealer for much less. The LS430 has air suspension, like a Mercedes S-Class. Also, the ride height can be raised an inch on unpaved roads so that it can cope with just about every surface condition.

* Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk giving your age, address and contact number, details of the type of vehicle you are interested in and your budget

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