Big hydropneumatic Citroëns died out in the 2010s, but at least they went out on a variably high note. The last cars to have the system that Citroën pioneered in the ‘50s were the C5s, but these were also available with other suspension setups. The last luxury barge the marque attempted to date, the C6, was the last Citroën that was only available with the famous green spheres.
For whatever reason, I’ve been running into a number of these lately. There couldn’t have been too many imported into Japan – there weren’t many built to begin with, but I had a close encounter with a very interesting gold example one evening about six months ago. It was in motion, but I followed it and was able to take a few more snaps once it parked nearby.
And recently it happened again: I found a parked one, a superb blue car on a crisp morning. And really, this post is going to be more about the photos than anything else. I have a bunch and these are unusual-looking cars – perhaps the last Citroëns to really try to look different.
The absolute killer detail, as far as I’m concerned, is the rear door. No hydro four-door Cit worthy of the name should ever have the fullness of its rear door compromised by a lowly wheelarch. The XM is the unfortunate exception to that golden rule, which is another reason why I’m not keen on these. (The Traction Avant is exempted due to its prewar lineage, and those windows did wind down all the way).
This individualistic streak even extended to the rear end, with those curious looping lights and that CX-like concave rear windscreen. But the whole rest of the car is just as unique. Even back in the mid-naughties when these came out, the notion of a low beltline to maximize the amount of light in the cabin was completely out of kilter with prevailing automotive trends.
The C6 was unveiled at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show; sales started (timidly) by the autumn of that year. The new flagship spaceship made its way to Japan by late 2006 and was saluted by an “Imported Car Of The Year 2007” award. Only the 211hp 3-litre petrol V6 was imported, as the Diesels (170hp 2.2 litre 4-cyl. and 204hp 2.7 litre V6) that were fitted to most Euro-spec cars were apparently not compliant with Japanese emissions regulations.
When the PSA Rennes factory stopped putting anything but Diesels in the C6s they were still (slowly) putting together starting from 2009, Japanese imports were compromised. The last Japanese-spec cars were sold through to the end of 2010. By that point, production was down to two cars per day anyway. Even Rolls-Royce make more!
Citroën looked at the numbers and figured that there wasn’t much point in bothering with a revamped petrol V6, so they ushered in a 3-litre HDI V6 instead in 2009. That became the most prestigious and performance-oriented option of the lot, with 241hp on tap. A small number were imported in Japan, as those were emissions-compliant.
Uncharacteristically for big foreign cars, the Japan-spec C6s were RHD. Truth be told, there are a few details in this one that lead me to wonder whether it’s a Japan-spec car or, likely as not, a more recent import from either the UK or Australia / NZ.
The nighttime car was definitely a Japan-spec model, on the other hand: they had to change one of the central HVAC vents into a mini screen for the Japanese-language navigation (don’t ask why). Although the six-speed manual was available, nearly all cars got the automatic.
The rear quarters seem spacious enough, though anyone who sampled the back seat of a CX or a DS would probably find the legroom a tad underwhelming. The semi-circular door pockets are a great design touch, harking back to the wilder quirks of the CX.
The C6’s designers channeled grandma CX more than any other car, in my opinion. The concave rear windscreen, the half-moon door cards – even the front end, with that odd mix of sharknose and razor-cut lines, looks like a callback to the ‘70s icon. After all, the CX was the last really successful big French car, with over 1 million made.
Famously enough, the C6 was the complete opposite of that. PSA dreamt of 30,000 units per annum (but would have settled for 20,000), but immediately saw that the C6 was never going to reach even half of that. Peak production only reached just over 7000 units in 2006 and 2007, after which it fell from a (small) cliff. The XM sold 330,000 units in just over a decade (1989-2000), and that was widely viewed as a disappointment. When Citroën finally closed the book on the C6 in late 2012, just over 23,000 units had been made, of which only about 10% were not Diesels. The C6 was the Titanic of flagships and it blew billows of black smoke as it went down. A sad and undignified end.
There were plenty of reasons not to buy one, it turns out. The interior was a particular point of contention. It was nowhere near as comfortable as its predecessors: the seats were Teutonic tough, not the supple armchairs of the CX, and legroom was just average. There was no trace of the wackiness of yore in the design of the dash or controls. The same issue (among others) had plagued the XM, but PSA did not dare to think outside the box.
Some people were not too keen on the exterior styling either, apparently. I find that hard to believe – I have yet to find anyone who thinks the C6 unattractive. It’s not conventional, but then that was Citroën’s only solution. If they tried to design an Audi, they would have been ridiculed. And if they had designed something a bit too weird, like the Renault Vel Satis or the Lancia Thesis? Same result. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, so at least they did. Kudos for that.
Another big issue was the gap between the XM and the C6. For five long years, Citroën were absent of a key market segment that they had had a major stake in, for prestige reasons if nothing else, since the pre-war days. Five years was a pretty long time, it turned out. The buying public was also less forgiving due to the C6’s hefty price. This was true both at home and abroad: the car was very expensive – not a typical Citroën feature.
The expense might have been acceptable had the performance been up to snuff, but the many toys, safety equipment, ersatz-Volvo wood’n’leather trim and all that made for a very heavy car. The C6 tipped the scales at nearly two tons, yet had to rely on PSA’s rather underwhelming choice of engines to move its front wheels.
For its part, the Hydractive III suspension was very good, but was not as pillow-soft as older versions of the famous Citroën suspension. Plus although it kept the car level in pretty much all cases, it could not replace the missing cavalry under the hood, nor counter the heaviness of the whole. And of course, fuel consumption was well below par as well.
What remains is a fatally flawed flagship, now depreciated to near-worthlessness despite its rarity. The workmanship, according to folks who own these, is apparently pretty decent – miles better than the CX or XM, in any case. And there are claims that reliability is better than average for a European luxury car. But there just wasn’t a market out there for a big Citroën any longer, even at home. Still, it’s a far better-looking car than most of its contemporaries, and even turns heads today.
Curbside Classic: 2006-12 Citroën C6 – Classic French Luxury For The 21st Century, by William Stopford
Future Classic: 2007 Citroen C6 – Une Limousine Française Excentrique, by Scott McPherson