Cohort Classic: Citroën XM – Its Three Predecessors were Hard Acts to Follow


[Curbside shots by CC Cohort glen.h]

Before we embark on our very comfortable ride in the Citroën XM, consider this: Since 1934, Citroën has built only five generations of full size/executive class sedans–and the three before the XM were all legendary, to put it mildly. The Traction Avant pioneered FWD; the DS is simply the Goddess, and needs no further explanation; and the CX managed to follow in her hallowed footsteps quite successfully. Understandably, the expectations for a new Citroën to replace the CX were huge and, in some regards, the XM met them.

The XM was also a disappointment, in part due to a rocky start whose issues included reliability, a cheap dashboard and a few others. But its biggest challenge was a changing world in which the German marques were in ascendency, and conventionality, consistency, and brand cachet trumped eccentricity and innovation. Citroën’s big-car star was in decline.

While the XM’s design may have had its exotic and unconventional aspects, it wasn’t quite in the same league as its predecessors. Designed by Marcello Gandini, of Bertone, it shared the platform of the Peugeot 605. While the body design provided superb visibility and comfort, the front end was generic and bland, and the kicked-up rear was a bit hard to take. In any case, the XM certainly had a distinctive profile, even if it did try a bit too hard to look unconventional.

The XM’s dynamic qualities were another mixed bag. Its suspension was (again) truly brilliant; In response to the CX’s tendency to lean and wallow in turns, the XM used a very advanced, electronically-controlled active version of Citroën’s famous hydro-pneumatic suspension, now called Hydractive. Offering both Sport and Comfort modes, as well as continuous active intervention, the XM’s ride remained unparalleled; what’s more, its handling was now much improved–factors that undoubtedly made it the European COTY in 1990.

But besides those nasty teething problems, which mostly involved its complex electronics and barely average power plants, the XM suffered from the thrall that Audi, BMW and Mercedes had cast upon the executive class market in the ’90s. Being odd just didn’t cut it anymore. The XM sold well below projected levels, and was a particular disappointment in the UK, where its predecessors’ sales had always held their own.

There was a five-year gap from the last XM to its C6 successor’s arrival in 2005. In many ways, the C6 continues the XM’s qualities, notably a (still) superlative ride and non-cookie cutter design. But its sales, too, have been modest, and its future hardly bright. The European market is contracting, with both Peugeot and Citroën (which are co-owned) being squeezed hard; maybe even by a death grip. Will there be a sixth large Citroën sedan?