The Citroën DS may have been legendary but each flagship Citroën that has followed has enjoyed less and less success. First there was the CX, then the XM whose sales figures (330k) were only a third of its predecessor. Finally, there was the C6 whose total production was a woeful 20k. Was the Citroën magic gone or was it still there and people just didn’t care?
Australia may be a small, intensely competitive market but you know when a car is a flop when it musters only 104 sales over 7 model years. Given those paltry figures, I’m sure you can imagine how gobsmacked I was to see this one in traffic.
In the C6’s sophomore season, 7600 left Citroën’s Rennes production line in France. That number had sunk to only around 1000 units just two years later. The C6 wasn’t just a failure in global markets, it was a failure in its homeland.
Blame the Germans. While Citroën could still rely on government and fleet sales in France, private buyers in Europe had abandoned mainstream large cars in droves. By mainstream, of course, I mean non-luxury brands as there was certainly nothing mainstream about the C6. But the Citroën name lacked the cachet of BMW and the C6 was destined to meet the same fate as the Ford Scorpio, Opel/Vauxhall Omega, Peugeot 607, Renault Safrane, Mazda Xedos 9, Nissan Maxima QX, Hyundai XG… deep breath… Mitsubishi Sigma, Honda Legend and Toyota Camry. Consumers were more than happy to give up the size and even some of the luxury features of those vehicles in exchange for a smaller BMW 3- or 5-Series or Mercedes C- or E-Class or Audi A4 or A6. That the Germans were offering efficient turbodiesel powertrains was the icing on the cake.
So, if the Europeans weren’t to buy a C6, could one expect a consumer in another country? In Australia, the C6 was priced at just over $AUD100,000. That sounds like a lot to our US readers – and, well, it is – but it corresponded to a mid-range BMW 5-Series, such as a 530d.
The C6 initially launched here with a choice of 3.0 V6 petrol and 2.7 V6 twin-turbo diesel engines. The latter engine, developed by PSA, was shared with Peugeot and also Ford and Land Rover. Buyers much preferred the more expensive diesel, which quickly accounted for 90% of Aussie sales; the petrol mill was dropped after just 2 years. The 3.0 petrol had been pretty unexciting anyway, producing just 207 hp and 213 ft-lbs. The 2.7 HDi V6 produced a stump-pulling 324 ft-lbs and almost exactly the same horsepower, while achieving a combined 27 mpg. Now that’s a diesel! It managed to haul all 4200 lbs of Citroën to 60 mph in less than 9 seconds, almost a second quicker than the petrol. The 2.7 was later replaced with a 3.0 with similar torque but almost 50 extra horses.
But who cares about 0-60 times and horsepower when you’re driving a French luxobarge? That simply wasn’t the point. French luxury cars are supposed to cruise effortlessly and possess a soft, cushy, magic carpet ride, and the C6 didn’t disappoint. Citroën utilised their iconic Hydractive hydro-pneumatic suspension which was called “pillowy” by some reviewers and likened to “riding on a mattress”. The Sealy Posturepedic…. I mean, Hydractive system constantly read the road and making adjustments, resulting in a car that floated across bumps but didn’t lean in corners or nosedive when braking.
It wasn’t just the ride that was distinctively French. The styling was modern and yet clearly in the flagship Citroën tradition. It was most intriguing at the rear end, with horseshoe taillights and a concave rear window. Despite the fastback styling, the C6 was a sedan; the concave rear window was said to improve practicality. Maybe it did, but like a rear spoiler on a family sedan, this feature was clearly there to add style. Like it or loathe it, the C6 had style in spades.
The exterior was a tough act to follow and the interior inevitably disappointed. The clutter-free dashboard and pale, pale beige trim were clean and inspired but the switchgear was fiddly and much of it was lifted from cheaper Citroëns; in black, like the featured car, the interior was somewhat dour. The button overload on the dash looked similar to cheaper PSA models like the Peugeot 407 and the materials quality wasn’t on par with the Germans. It also looked rather dated by the end of the C6’s run.
While lesser four-cylinder powered and manual transmission-equipped C6s were available in France for taxi duty, Australian market models came in a single specification level best described as “The Works”. This included things like a 10-speaker sound system with speed-sensitive volume control, head-up display, 5 (!) heated seats, automatic and directional xenon headlights with washers, rain-sensing wipers… The list goes on. One of the few options was the Lounge Pack, which offered “TGV-style” rear seating for two with reclining seatbacks like on a TGV train. This option was an extra $4000 in Australia but if you were already paying over $100k for a Citroën, why not splash the extra cash?
Also remarkable was the C6’s safety. It came with the full gamut of safety features like 9 airbags and ABS with EBD and EBA and a bunch of other fancy acronyms. In layman’s terms, it was actually the world’s safest car. This appellation was given because it was the first car to be awarded the maximum occupant and pedestrian protection ratings by European NCAP. If you had to be hit by a car, the C6 was a good option thanks to its active hood which popped up a bit upon impact to separate your screaming, traumatized self from the hard, hard engine components below. Nice to know!
But all of those gadgets and safety features weren’t enough to woo executives and the C6 proved to be a failure, the lack of a wagon variant (as there had been for the DS, CX and XM) further hampering sales. The C6 had arrived 6 years late and left probably 6 years early, as Citroën’s new standalone DS marque has yet to release a proper flagship. Oh, sure, Citroën of China will sell you a “C6” but it’s now a humdrum large sedan. The “real” C6 was a genuine Citroën flagship, the likes of which we shall never see again, at least not with a Citroën badge or hydro-pneumatic suspension. Quel dommage!