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