Act of Contrition – Citroen C6 (part two)

We drive a C6 and discover there’s nothing penitential about Citroën’s swansong big saloon.

Image: Car
Image: Car

On my return to Randle Engineering in November 2016, I re-introduced the subject of the C6, but this time with a more contrite tone. I ask Steve to tell me more about his example. By UK standards at least, Randle’s C6 has a virtually unique specification. It’s a 2007 C6 2.2 litre model with a six-speed manual transmission, one of 38 in the country.

Steve’s stewardship of the big Citroën has led to some firm views as he points out.  “It’s been the best car I’ve ever owned. I’m never going to let this one go, it’s just been wonderful. In terms of bangs for your buck it beats everything I’ve ever owned hands down”.

“I was told that it would be an absolutely ruinous waste when I bought it seven years ago, by people, all of whom (without mentioning a certain prestige German manufacturer), have had some fairly significant problems with those vehicles. It’s ten years old, done about 105,000 miles and nothing meaningful has gone wrong. There’s been minor niggles, but nothing much.”

Image: Carsbase
Image: Carsbase

Discussing the car further, Randle asks if I’ve ever driven one. When I reply that I’ve never even sat in one, he suggests we take his for a spin. There’s only one answer to that. Steve hands me the keys and as we approach the car, my first surprise are the frameless side windows, a feature I hadn’t associated with the model. I understand they were also laminated, part of the C6’s impressive suite of safety features which includes nine airbags.

Randle’s C6 has a black interior, with piano black trim in place of the pale wood finish lighter trimmed C6’s came with. It’s a little gloomy in there but impressively well finished, although the central HVAC panel is a bit of a visual weak point. The instruments are a combination of high-tech digital displays and ’60’s strip speedo chic. It’s unorthodox, but kind of fun. (No Linda, not that kind of fun…)

Image: Car
Image: Car

An interior highlight for me was the lidded half moon shaped storage compartments in each of the doors, featuring the same piano black wood finish as elsewhere in the cabin. By pressing a button atop the half moon, the panel slides smoothly downwards, revealing a space big enough to take a thick road atlas. Pressing the top of the half moon once again closes the panel. I rather childishly could have played with these for hours without getting bored.

Big Citroëns have often presented an intimidating face to neophyte drivers, but in fact there’s little, apart from sheer physical size that requires recalibration in the C6. Visibility as I reverse out of its parking space is panoramic, a marked contrast to the Jaguar I drove up here. Parking this car would be a doddle by comparison.

At low speed the C6 is quiet, docile and utterly benign. Unlike a CX there’s no acclimatisation period, nothing to make an inexperienced driver ill-at-ease. No, the most immediate impression is the palpable and lineal connection the C6 has with its forebears. Because the big Citroën DNA is there at a granular level, despite the lack of powered hydraulics for steering and brakes.

I point the C6’s dignified snout out onto the A425 Banbury Road, the Citroën sweeping imperiously out into late afternoon traffic with a well insulated hum from the surprisingly stout-willed 2.2 litre turbodiesel. And unlike CX’s of blessed memory, the manual gearchange is slick and the clutch weight pretty much ideal. Steering has precision, heft and accuracy but elicits no deeper impressions. It isn’t trying to be a sports car and unlike the Jaguar XF which conveyed me to Warwick, the brakes, while impressively powerful and well modulated, will not attempt to stand the C6 on its nose.

With Steve directing, we sweep along the A452 before swinging back towards Warwick. Mindful of speed cameras, the standard-fit head up display proves a brilliant driver aid and one I believe should be mandatory in all new cars. As we exit a roundabout he instructs me to spool up both turbo’s. Mindful of the damp November roads and the fact this is someone else’s primary mode of transport I comply and the C6 whips through with barely a trace of body roll and a delicacy and finesse I didn’t quite believe modern era Citroëns were capable of.

But overriding all other dynamic sensations was the superiority of the ride quality. The C6 rides with the same sublime cushioned isolation that characterises and defines all (proper) big Citroëns. What a wonderful car to contemplate a journey in. How fortunate the man with one!

It wasn’t a long drive, but it was a decisive one. The A425 might not be everyone’s idea of a road to Damascus, but today it was mine. As we walked back to Steve’s office block, I cast a backwards glance to the C6’s spearhead-shaped tail lights and realised not only had I been utterly wrong, but was now rather smitten.

But the problem now for Randle is one of preservation and ultimately, what to replace it with. “There isn’t anything, he tells me in a despairing tone, that’s why its still out there. I’ve looked in vain for a 3-litre diesel version to replace it but there were only a tiny handful of those made as well, so that’s not happening. It’ll probably have to be partly retired at some point because I don’t think I could bear to sell it, to be replaced by some boring po-faced German luxo thing.”

Image: ebestcars
Image: ebestcars

With interview formalities concluded, I trudge back in the gloaming to the waiting XF and as its suspension grumbles and thuds its way through evening traffic towards Leamington Spa, I fervently wish I was driving something else. Recalling the C6’s imperious poise over similarly pockmarked tarmac I reflect on how we’ve allowed ourselves to be cheated out of what the esteemed LJK Setright once described as a ‘logical imperative’.

Logical it may well have been Leonard, but Citroën failed to win that argument. Our fault or theirs, I cannot be certain, but I can say with no little conviction that the C6 is probably the most impressive car I have driven in about a decade and if my heart wasn’t so irreversibly set on another equally fine riding vehicle, I’d be scouring the classifieds as we speak. But that’s me all over: one extreme or the other.

So yes, I was quite wrong about the C6 and for that I apologise, but as acts of contrition go, driving one beats the living hell out of ten Hail Mary’s.

Thanks to Steve Randle for his forbearance and generosity.

Part one here
Citroen C6 goes head to head with Honda Legend
More on Steve Randle here…

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

36 thoughts on “Act of Contrition – Citroen C6 (part two)”

  1. A beautiful car in the outside, utterly let down by its woefully inadequate interior. Every other Citroën if its time had a better interior. The C4 and C5 of the time even sported the fixed steering wheel hubs this barge inexplicably doesn’t. A hardly ever used and nearly never seen door bin maketh a quality interior not.

    But heartening to hear its been so reliable.

    An interesting article to read alone the same lines is this one:

  2. I admit that, 6 years ago when the C6 was on my shortlist for a used car, I was greatly disappointed by the interior when I sat in it. So much so that I decided against taking it any further. In my case I think I might have made the right decision, but only because I’m not sure that the restrictions of a saloon body would have suited me.

    But looking at it now, although the interior might disappoint compared with a CX, it’s so much more elegant than, say, the bad music centre that was in the Insignia I rented last year. Imagining driving along with the HUD, I think I’d quite warm to the interior.

    It seems that whoever engineered the first C5 and the C6 understood just how a big Citroen (actually how any decent car that isn’t going to double as a ‘track tool’) should behave. I’ve mentioned before my own Damascene conversion as a passenger in a C5.

    Do we get the cars we deserve? I might find Jeremy Clarkson’s behaviour aesthetically unpleasing, but really it’s his (and countless other’s) presentation of cars as things you need to give a good spanking to, rather than drive and passively enjoy, that does most to make the average punter feel that they’d be a muppet to tell the salesman “I’m not buying this, it rides like crap”.

    1. Clarkson actually rather liked the C6 when he tested it on Top Gear in 2006 – praising the pliancy of the ride compared to a Bangle era 5 Series.

    2. He also spoke highly of the Berlingo too (justifiably). So I’m using the same lazy stereotyping I might accuse him of here. So best read that as Generic Clarkson.

  3. Johann: I think you’re being a little harsh here. The C6’s interior, if I’m being pedantic is entirely adequate. Decent materials – (centre stack notwithstanding), high quality of assembly, acres of usable space, folding rear seats – (take that XF!) and what I considered a charming mix of retro and futuristic. Very Citroen. Personally, I like cars to have a few gargoyles. Symmetry is over-rated.

    Yes one could argue a flagship model should have all the features available on lesser models but from my own experience, the fixed centre steering hub proved a bit of a gimmick in practice. Once can make an argument for PSA taking a necessary hit on a loss-leader halo model such as this, as it represents at least one of the brand’s polar stars. Perhaps if PSA hadn’t got their business into such a parlous position we might have seen another C6, instead of this cavalcade of pointless concepts, vacuous DS derivatives and the shameful Passandeo thing they’ve foisted on the Chinese market.

    What is interesting about the C6 is that the people who bought them have held on to them, absolutely love them and like Steve Randle, utterly despair of what to replace it with. Because when a latter-day approximation of a left-field choice of large luxury saloon is something like a Hyundai Genesis, it really is time to stop all the clocks.

    1. I have the same problem about what to replace my Cube with. You have reminded me that one of the things that turned me against the C6 was that it didn’t have the fixed boss wheel which, at the time (and I think still), I found a very satisfying idea. But I never realised the rear seats folded. Damn! That might have swung it and those 4 years of rock hard Audi driving would have been avoided.

    1. Wow! I was never a fan of the updated car’s alloys – the original Roccastradas were clearly meant to be from Day 1, those later ones were borrowed from the C5.

  4. I have the same problem with my XM. There’s nothing like it in character (even though the Astra estate I just drove is measurably better in every way). Maybe a Multipla would be as interesting. Or perhaps a Thesis. Really, the more interesting cars are from back in the day.

  5. Just a few points here about this surprisingly positive pair of reviews.

    First, on the folding rear seats, many C6s in the UK seem to have the TGV seat option, which takes away this practical function, but provides rather lovely and novel heated electric slide and recline items.

    Second, the HUD is excellent – however, it means that a replacement windscreen costs well over a grand as they have to be sourced from Citroën direct to ensure there is the requisite coating inside the screen into which the image is projected.

    Third, I envy Mr. Randle for the reliability of his C6, I reckon I have had to spend many thousands on replacement parts, some a few times over. Maybe having a less heavy (?), 4 cylinder engine helps?

    Fourth, I smiled to myself to find I’m not alone in struggling to replace the C6 – I have part retired it and treat it a bit like a classic: there really is nothing like it to consider as a replacement. The ‘current’ C5 is very similar underneath to the C6, but wrapped in an attractive but most un Citroën-like body and interior, and so would feel like a step backwards. I’d thought about going mad and buying a Ghibli, or a previous generation Quattroporte, but they are either a bit disappointing (former), too pricey (both), or just too different in comparison.

    On the interior, the biggest crime is the centre stack of the dashboard and the laziness in not updating the steering-wheel with the fixed hub item launched on the C4 before the C6 hit the road, but designed after the C6 was signed off. The door bins are a masterpiece and I am amazed no one has copied the design – at least that of the sliding mechanism (or maybe they have and I just don’t know it – the C6 is by far the most luxurious car I have ever owned)

    I do dream of finding a RHD 3.0l HDi in black with Alezan leather interior – but it probably does not exist. In the meantime, it’s hard not to keep a soft spot for my 2.7l HDi Ganache with Mistral. I don’t think we’ll see the likes of it in for another generation or two.

    Thanks for the excellent reviews!

  6. It’s a shame there’s no (AFAIK) nice coffee table book about the design and development of the C6 along the lines of Martinez and Sauzay’s XM book.

    1. There are two Citroen XM books and the launch brochures were massive affairs. The C6 was smaller and had very much less technical detail. It’s nice enough but not superb. You might find some material in Auto & Design or, better, Car Styling.

    1. The Avantime trumps the C6 and VelSatis on the interior and exterior stakes. However, you’re correct in judging the VelSatis as having an excellent interior. And nobody really noticed to judge by the dismal sales. None of the three cars deserved their poor reception. Even if they had flaws they deserved to have sold steadily and at numbers the double (or quadruple for the Avantime) the ones they achieved. The customer is king but kings can be idiots.
      The garage is new to me. It’s rather hard to see it fitting with existing homes.

    2. No – the interior of VelSatis was far superior to the Avantime’s.

    3. Am I the only person interested in design that isn’t terribly fond of the Avantime?

      For once, I’m with Sam: I too prefer the VelSatis’ cabin by quite some margin.

    4. When I drove one of the first Avantime’s in NL, I remarked how wonderful it would have been fitted with the suspension from a C6. Would have made a superb wafter on a nice summer’s day with all the windows down and sunroof(s) open.

    5. Paul H: The Avantime only has one sunroof that can slide and open – the rear glass is fixed. And it is DREADFUL. On any car you can drive with the roof open at any speed but on the Avantime you cannot drive over 40mph before the buffeting becomes unbearable sadly.

    6. Much as I applauded the Avantime’s design, and have even trailed the ads in Autotrader and from time to time, I am forced to concede that it was Renault at its most superficial – mediocre beneath the skin with too many flaws in everyday use. Matra might have done the engineering, but Renault put their name to it.

      Even when I was considering one maybe 7 years ago, I got the idea that many of them were on their third or fourth owner, suggesting a car that people bought in enthusiasm, then got disillusioned with rather quickly.

      You can argue that some vehicles (like the C6) are failures because the market is too brainwashed or stupid to see their qualities. The same can’t really be said of the Avantime. Though it did suggest a genre that a more conscientious manufacturer, or a less fickle Renault, might have developed into something rather more desirable.

  7. I can’t say the Vel Satis interior brings anything new to the game on any front. It is bland and utterly devoid of any character. It is more solidly constructed than that of the Avantime I bet and I’ve spent a lot of time in my friends’ Avantime.

    The Avantime’s interior has a beautiful simplicity to it that still look like nothing else – whereas the Val Satis interior could be from anything – be it Japanese or French. It has nothing to it that says French or upmarket apart from tiny strips of wood. The Avantime on the other hand just screams being French.

  8. I find the VelSatis interior looks plusher, but it needs the right combination of colours (i.e. not black) and wood inserts

    1. There’s something wonderfully Andrée Putmanesque about the VelSatis as specced in Sam’s photo. The Avantime’s cabin isn’t bad, but it’s just a bit too obviously a redressed Espace in my opinion.

    2. I think the Vel Satis was an intelligent design attempting to get away from some of the normal cliches of the ‘important timber inlaid’ interior. But, personally, I side with Johann and I’d be far happier in the Avantime.

  9. I would love to have a go in a C6. Not to get on my high horse (as a below the line commenter, of course I will), but as a frequent sufferer of back maladies, I despise the ride of most modern cars. Few if any make the effort to even round the edges off the worst road conditions. BMW are particularly culpable here, their ride “quality” being far too flinty even in SUV guise. And yet I am also the kind of person who seeks out performance variants. I must be one of the few people in the world to have considered sourcing softer dampers for their FN Civic Type R, but I found the firmness of the setup a hindrance when attempting to lay down the undoubted performance of that car on real roads. I always say this, but since Peugeot dropped the baton, Ford have been leagues ahead in terms of ride/handling compromise. Kudos too to Opel, who on occasion manage to find terrific isolation without introducing float. If only their steering wasn’t so glassy.

    1. I’m not astonished at all of SUVs having a harsh ride. What else would you expect from a car with a high centre of gravity that wants to be safe and sporty? Riding on 40 profile tyres doesn’t exactly help, either.

    2. The ride of the wife’s CX5 is by no means cushy, but it isn’t crashy and does a capable job of keeping all that metal out of the hedgerows. Not as well as a Mazda 6, mind, but that car was “too big”. Yeah, I know.

  10. I have to agree with what many are stating here: replacing a C6 seems impossible. I’m lucky to have a petrol version, which is no advantage on the consumption and acceleration fronts, but with its relatively simple setup is much more likely to survive for a longer time and not be banned from more and more city centres over time.
    I’ve pondered options over and over again, yet I see no conclusion. The most astonishing thing is that every time I mention potential replacements, my wife starts panicking and begs to keep the C6 as long as possible. I can understand her. She likes travelling in quietness and pease on a comfortable, roomy seat. Eventual tendencies to seasickness have vanished after 16 years of Big Citroën passengering.

    1. I understand the boredom motivation all too well. But when you are only ever presented with inferior options, the only answer is to stick with what you have.

    2. It’s not exactly boredom (although I admit that I’m often tempted to change just for change’s sake. There is a lot of metal around I’ve never set foot in). But experience shows that every car will become unsustainable as a daily driver at some point. A point which might even enter as a surprise, through accident or critical failure. It’s good to already have some options in mind for such an occasion.

    3. Lexus was on my list for quite some time, but if I’d want a newer car (ideally about three years old) – no! Their designs have become so terrible in the last decade.

    4. I am in agreement there, although the outgoing fourth generation LS maintains a stately appearance. It will also be your last chance to buy a demure Lexus, the fifth generation LS being thoroughly over-blinged.

  11. The interior is clearly the C6’s most controversial part. Not the seats or the door pockets, both of which never fail to impress any passenger. Its basically all the stuff between the front seats that screams ‘cheap’ or ‘compromise’: the creaky central armrest / storage combination, the uninspired, old fashioned gear lever, the parts bin central panel. Things get better towards the top, though. While the central screen console isn’t exactly a specimen of elegance, the screen itself is placed very conveniently and is well readable. And you have the clever cupholders that softly and smoothly open at a gentle push.

    The steering wheel is another letdown. I don’t have to have the fixed hub like in the C4 or C5. In fact, while it looks good and is a plausible concept in theory, I was underwhelmed on the occasions I drove one of these cars. But the C6’s design is clumsy and the moulding of the central section looks cheap. I’d have liked something closer to a single-spoke design in appearance, like on some newer Citroëns.

    After all this criticism, I must say that I really like the basic design and the instruments. True, it’s not something that all the chronometre and chrome bezel aficionados would ever like. But seeing all the ‘modern’ interiors with their overwrought designs, their myriads of fake carbon fibre and aluminium applications and their bulky central consoles, the C6 dashboard is of a calmness and clarity that exactly suits its road behaviour. And just how good its instruments and the HUD are I realise every time I drive a different car and have to look down to a cluttered dial with minuscule numbers to figure out my speed.

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