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R.A-S.H: The Citroën XM

Citroen XM, intro

Every week Jeff Glucker of this parish is privileged to drive shiny new deep-waxed cars of significance;  he undoubtedly has Hooniverse’s headline gig.

As soon as the keys are handed over the maker knows they have nowhere to hide. Reputations are forged based on the reviewers opinions, and often their instincts. How many of us rushed straight down to the Chevy Dealer with wheelbarrows full of benjamins as soon as we read Jeff ZL1 review? Yes, all of us. And that was based on the opinion of one guy who likes cars and knows a reasonable amount about them. Chevrolet are grinning all the way to the bank.

It’s always interesting to see exactly what the firms had to say about their own products when they were hawking them. We obviously remember what we choose to, but what did they want us to think? We start the ball rolling with the enigmatic Citroën XM, and a launch brochure from 1989.

XM Page 2

EVERYBODY KNOWS AND LOVES THE XM. Phaqt. You’re all “car people”, so you all know about the XM, even though the Big Frenchie was never a common sight on American roads unless you lived next door to CXAuto. When launched in ’89 the XM was a bit of an alien in an obese European “Executive” sector. Here was a somewhat stagnant marketplace where individual thought was a somewhat thinly-spread commodity.

At a time where Germany was starting to get the upper hand as more and more E34s and W124s were hitting the road, normal executive cars were in ready supply from Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot, Rover et al, and there was even a violently charismatic Alfa 164 or a nice turbo-boosted Saab 9000 to thrust you along, it took considerable balls or sheer recklessness to pump your thirty grand into a Citroën.

But what a car. Citroën had a well-deserved reputation for eccentricity and that was in full effect in the XM, which looked decidedly as if it had arrived early from the near future. It had dramatic styling, dramatic engineering (and dramatic depreciation as the dozens of owners would later discover) and at the top of the list of technical wonders was the latest evolution of the Citroën hydropneumatic suspension system. It was famed and feared for its complexity, but delivered terrific ride quality and addressed many of the stability questions raised by its CX predecessor.

XM3

Citroën went much further, though, in enbiggening their wondrous technology, taking things into full-scale fantasy:

“…It’s not simply the XM’s ability to switch from limousine to Sports Car that puts it way ahead of any other car on the road. It’s the way in which this is achieved: instantly, with no ‘transitional’ mode. The driver experiences an extraordinary sensation of control, unaware of the changes taking place.”

What we have there is a half-truth. It would be a misled man who could possibly think that his XM was a 944-beater. But never mind that, in Citroëns determination to pursue this expensive and unconventional technology, there is much to admire. Unfortunately, before very long rivals were able to achieve comparable levels of smoothness without straying too far from bendy bits of metal in the age-approved way, and this XM trump-card became irrelevant when people convinced themselves that they wanted Nurburgring handling rather than hovercraft smoothness.

Almost as brave was the styling. A paper dart profile developed from the same schematics as the BX several years ago, XM looked like nothing else on the road with its flush glazing, multiple-quarterlights and glazed panel between the taillights.

XM4

“…But perhaps the most striking feature of the XM’s style is designer Nuncio Bertone’s dramatic ‘Belt of light’.”

Well said. In a dark colour the XM looked terrific in the right lighting conditions and many of my schoolboy sketches were influenced by it in no small part. I would like to also give special mention to those original alloy wheels seen on early V6 models, which score a solid 8.6/10 on my peculiar design-o-meter.

At launch many a respected journo commented ruefully on how conventional the interior was. Well, yes; compared to the “must drive under influence of LSD in order to understand what’s going on” cockpit of the CX, the XM certainly seemed to be playing by the rules. But in hindsight a big, black edifice with green liquid-crystal displays either side of the wheel, a profusion of buttons and a one-spoke steering wheel, was still trippy as hell for anyone weaned on Teutonism.

And still there was cleverness in the mix:

“…Citroën’s innovative designers have also overcome one of the inherent problems of a five-door car: that of keeping occupants in a warm and quiet environment when the rear hatch is opened. On Si and SEi models, Citroen have introduced a full-width glass screen between the rear seat and the hatchback which keeps out unpleasant draughts and noise when the hatch is opened”

This is one of my favourite features of the XM, and one that survived the gradual de-loonification that the car suffered over its eleven year production run, by the end of which sales had virtually dried up and the world was left with absolutely no hatstand French offering until the surrealist C6 arrived in 2004.

XM4

As is the case with most of my brochures, the paper promotional item has outlived most of the actual cars it was supposed to publicise. XMs are a rare sight these days, though survivors tend to be well kept by enthusiasts. Having never been seen as particularly aspirational they never suffered the fate that BMWs tend to, where the third or fourth owners tend to run them on a budget and end up killing them.

And if I never own one, well, at least I have the brochure.

<Disclaimer:- All photos taken by the author are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, resting on the bonnet of a 1998 Audi A4. All copyright rights remain in the posession of the manufacturer, whether they want them or not>

Currently there are "48 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tanshanomi says:

    Wow, there is SO MUCH WANT here.

    Seriously, this is one of those cars that, being US-born and bred, normally flies far below my conscious radar. Then, at times such as this, pops up in front of me and slaps me in the face. And I like it.

    Per Wikipedia, one of the XM designers said, "We wanted a car that looks good from every angle." Mission accomplie.

  2. julkinen says:

    I just contacted a seller with a 1998 XM, since he's open for trades. Here are the selected bits from his ad, translated:

    "You don't buy one of these with sense, but with passion, so I advise all technical engineers and play-it-safers to close this ad immediately. If you've owned more than one Toyota, I also bid you farewell. However, if you believe, that:

    - The XM will be a future classic
    - The road comfort of an XM is unparalleled
    - The XM has that something about its looks
    - The XM will come into your dreams
    - You're supposed to tinker and fiddle with your cars on a weekly basis to prevent boredom

    You're welcome to deal!"

    I like his attitude.

  3. Alff says:

    I want to like this more than I actually do. The wedgy exterior is too simple, too clean and too monochromatic. On the other hand, the interior is absolutely inviting.

  4. failboat says:

    of course now I want to watch Ronin when I get home from work….

    <img src="http://content8.flixster.com/question/36/40/33/3640334_std.jpg"&gt;

    • Jay says:

      The brochure failed to mention one important fact: an XM can outrun a nitrous-injected Audi S8 for quite some time!

      • M44Power says:

        Not to mention how nicely it handles off-road. All with the hydractive comfort demanded by bald guys with a briefcase chained to their wrists demand.

        • Jay says:

          I'm gonna chalk up the S8's lameness in the film to Skip Sudduth's driving – dude had it in second gear THE WHOLE TIME!!

          /facepalm

  5. Xehpuk says:

    I tried to get an XM, a turbo CT to be precise, but I couldn't find a good one. All of them were either in way too "rough" condition or (almost) pristine with a ridiculously high price tag. I was looking for a quirky, comfortable daily driver. There's an excellent Citroën specialist just 2km:s from my place, so reliability really wouldn't have been an issue. It seems there are just two types of owners, those who keep their XM in a garage and never drive it and those who can't even be bothered to give their XM a wash&wax or hoover the interior. Also the latter ones have a habit of making dodgy DIY electrical "repairs".

  6. Matt says:

    I have a French Car crazy neighbor about 5-6 houses down from me. He has a dark green Citroen XM, a red Peugeot 405 Mi16, and 2 (yes, two) Renault Alliance GTA convertibles – one red and one white. Those two cars probably represent 10% of all GTA convertibles in North America.

    All of his cars are in great shape, too. Not derelicts.

    Just to prove he's crazy, the top is ALWAYS down on the Renaults when he takes them out. Eight degrees or eighty.

        • Jay says:

          I know that car, here it is in my coverage of the 2012 Citroen Rendezvous:
          http://hooniverse.com/2012/06/26/2012-citroen-ren

          It recently got diff plates, and it may have changed hands in the last couple years. I don't think its a 1998 though, every year the car's info placard displays a diff year. All XMs were brought in in the early 90s.

        • Jay_Ramey says:

          I know that car, here it is in my coverage of the 2012 Citroen Rendezvous:
          http://hooniverse.com/2012/06/26/2012-citroen-ren

          It recently got diff plates, and it may have changed hands in the last couple years. I don't think its a 1998 though, every year the car's info placard displays a diff year. All XMs were brought in in the early 90s.
          There are usually one or two of these at Rendezvous, and usually one at Carlisle Import Nationals every year. I think in 2012 I saw a total of three.
          Only one XM station wagon was imported into the US, it is believed. Its supposed to still be in daily use on Long Island.

        • Jay_Ramey says:

          I know that car, here it is in my coverage of the 2012 Citroen Rendezvous: http://hooniverse.com/2012/06/26/2012-citroen-ren

          It recently got diff plates, and it may have changed hands in the last couple years. I don't think its a 1998 though, every year the car's info placard displays a diff year. All XMs were brought in in the early 90s. I usually see 2 or 3 a year at various car shows on the east coast.

          There's an XM station wagon on Long Island still in daily use, though I haven't seen it.

        • Jay_Ramey says:

          I see that car almost every year, it's included in my coverage of the 2012 Citroen Rendezvous from the last week of June.

          I believe that XM changed ownership within the last couple years, as well as wearing different plates now. I'm not sure if its a 1998 or not, though. Most of the 20 or so XMs were brought in all at once in the early 90s, and from what I recall this car wore an info placard at the show stating a different year almost every time, so I am not even sure anymore.

          There is an XM station wagon still in daily use on Long Island, though I haven't seen it. I usually see 2 or 3 XM sedans per year here in the states.

  7. Vavon says:

    One of the few cars with 13 windows! Yes, go ahead, count them… 10, 11, 12!

    Ah, but you forgot this one!

    <img src="http://www.carmagazine.co.uk/ImgGalleryTn/20/13320/2574_5510.jpg&quot; width="600/">
    <img src="http://www.carmagazine.co.uk/ImgGalleryTn/20/13320/2575_5512.jpg&quot; width="600/">

    • dukeisduke says:

      And doesn't it have *two* rear defoggers? I mean, you'd have to defog both of them, because passengers' breathing could cause the inside of the inner window to fog up (like at the drive-in).

  8. dukeisduke says:

    I used to follow Citroën's WRC program pretty closely, so I've got three or four Citroën posters hanging in my garage, including one for the first-gen C5 sedan and the second-gen C8 minivan. They probably get a lot of "WTH?" looks from people driving down the alley, who are used to seeing NASCAR posters.

  9. facelvega says:

    The XM makes the E34, C4, and W124 look like frat brothers in a movie where the nerd is the hero, and the nerd is the XM. I'd take one in a second. Ditto a CX or C6. Just when the rest of the world was getting samey and boring, the XM reminds us that the reason to be alive is more than making money or being efficient.

  10. owl says:

    Its the one Citroen (well apart from an SM and anything pre 1960) that I have never owned. I was in the market for one to replace my CX as my daily driver (40k per annum) back when it came out and, well, I really didnt like the styling – much too fussy after the cleanness of the CX and the D – and it didnt 'feel' like a Citroen. No hisses and wheezes as the hydropneumatics are all electrically controlled (which was its downfall) and an interior which i though bland. If I wanted bland there was plenty of choice.

    So I stood it out and experimented with an Alfa 164 (great interior, so stylish) and a SAAB Turbo amongst others before getting a C6 – which feels terribly normal compared to an XM. Time is a healer: time to get an XM I think…

  11. Maxichamp says:

    I should do a post on my drive of a friend's XM from Portland to Oakland.

  12. Rover1 says:

    And now the C6 has ceased production and with the C5 available with steel suspension, are we near the end of the use of the hydropneumatique in cars? Are the technically interesting Citroens set to disappear in exchange for ones that are mechanically prosaic, but full of little surprise and delight features to keep us occupied in traffic jams.Are Citroens to become like Japanese cars of the 1970s, engineering-wise ,mechanically simple, even crude and underdeveloped, but better made,and stuffed full of little toys to catch the eye and entertain us and divert our attention from the second rate ride handling compromise?After the DS,CX,XM,and C6 will their be any Citroens for Citroenophiles like me. (Disclaimer, rant from owner of BX and CX )

  13. Jay_Ramey says:

    Out of the 10 or 20 XMs brought into the US in the early 90s, and sold for well-specced W140 money after all the mods, one was a station wagon, and is still believed to be in daily use on Long Island somewhere.

    I usually see about 2 or 3 sedans each year at various shows on the east coast. Here's one from 2012 Citroen Rendezvous from earlier in the summer: http://hooniverse.com/2012/06/26/2012-citroen-ren

  14. Devin says:

    For some reason, one of the toy stores in my area was thick with the foreign cars, so I had a toy Citroen XM and Renault 11, both in dark gray, and this may have had a significant impact on what I like today, especially the Citroen.

    • Maymar says:

      Are they Majorettes? They seemed fairly successful in Canada (I certainly have plenty, including the XM), and their lineup (being a French company) is delightfully Eurocentric.

      • Devin says:

        They are Majorettes. I've also got a Saab 900 and Volvo 740.

        Those dastardly Majorettes, making me yearn for euro sedans.

  15. Peter says:

    For what it's worth, I've heard that the XM doesn't have very good spare parts support. My CX isn't bad in this regard.

    I also mourn the watering down of Citroen's unique engineering solutions. I don't need hydropneumatics forever but sure hope they don't (continue to) become Paugeots with funky styling.

    I also wish the French would re-enter the US market.

    I want World Peace too.

  16. salguod says:

    Was this photographed on the hood of your car?

  17. Davesta says:

    One of my neighbours has one of the only turbo diesel XM's in Australia. He is a retired electrical engineer and even he can't keep some of the electrical demons at bay. He let me have a drive of it- amazing. The ride felt like a clapped out Ford Falcon taxi I once drove- very floaty. But it cornered really well. Magnificent car

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