In The End It Ends In Tears That Mark The End

It’s high time to quench the thirst for all things Citroen that I know smoulders among the denizens of this little corner of the World Wide Web.

And Jaguar comes into the story too, so that’s another little need satiated. If I push it I can also mention Lancia*. First we’ll start with the source. My reading today is Autocar & Motor January 30 1990 Vol. 187 No 5 (4901). A delightful little snippet about A&M is that in those days a certain Mr James May acted as the chief sub-editor.

And Jesse Crosse served as the technical consultant; now there’s a journalist whose work I always like to read because he has a knack for explaining things with concision and clarity.  With those preliminaries out of the way we can now

1990 Alfa Romeo 164: source

get on with the main theme of today’s epistle.

The anonymous A&M roadtesters put the Citroen XM V6 24v and Alfa Romeo Cloverleaf up against each other. This duel ran under the headline “Assaults on the establishment” which is the kind of unimaginatively relevant headline we try to resist here at DTW (I notice my own recent headlines add up to a poem when put together into one lump of text but I have no idea what it might be about). A&M introduced the French and Italian cars (£27,000 and £28,000 respectively) as being aimed at claiming sales in the top end of the market.

Because this is not an Agatha Christie story, I will cut to the end right away.

The XM won the contest on points and lost as well. The Alfa, as usual, had the best engine. A&M declared it to be “wonderfully responsive and fulfilling”. The core of the matter was charisma. The testers loved the Alfa and only ever respected the XM which was better in so many other areas. A&M declared the Citroen to be an uneven performer, “high on ability but somewhat retarded in the finesse department” notably the ride (unforgivable) and the gearchange: a five-speed manual which is “sticky and unhelpful and over-long in action”. I have a 2.0 litre version of this car and it is a baulky gearchange, bafflingly so.

So, having said reluctantly that the XM was the better car (p.s. buy the Alfa though) they pulled the mat from under the XM’s tyres with a “none of the above” remark. The Jaguar XJ-6 3.2, one of the cars the Italo-French pair were supposed to challenge, was better value since it cost only £23,000.

All XM’s looked pretty much like this: source

So, what did these cars have going for them? Both the Alfa and the XM were roomy, the XM especially so. A&M loved the Alfa’s engine: “You only have to feel the thrust of the Alfa’s big V6 and listen to the music of its bellicose bark to recognise the presence of greatness.” And about the XM: “The uncannily unruffled ride of the XM, as it levels without trace a series of daunting undulations is special too”.

The Alfa got from 0-60 in 7.8 seconds, almost half a second faster than the car absent from the test, the Jaguar. The XM offered a brisk 10 seconds trip from standstill to sixty. Not enough to knock the ash off your cigar but not bad all the same. A&M called it an “impressively lusty performer” and “marginally smoother and plays a tune almost as melodious” (as the 164).

Further, the XM put down its power well. “The big Citroen gets its power down more effectively and unobtrusively than any other front driven car of similar power in our experience”. The Alfa, on the other hand, spins its wheels in the wet very easily. Super. Don’t drive it in the rain, then.

No leather, but this is what the XM looked like inside: source

Let’s find out what was wrong with the Citroen’s suspension and other elements. A&M thought the XM had no steering feel. I don’t get this. I’ve driven an XM for almost two decades along with lots of other cars. I can’t say I notice a lack of feel at all …. someone might explain what this is supposed to mean.

A&M viewed the XM’s chassis as “manageable…” with “superior grip, especially through tighter corners and medium-speed S-bends, meaning quicker progress than the Alfa”. So, that acceleration deficiency meant little once one is up and running on real roads. The XM leaned less than the Alfa too. “Merely keeping up with the XM (in the Alfa) often results in the nose running wide as the 164’s narrower tyres fail to stay on line”.

164 cockpit. Just look at it and weep. How did we get to where we are now? How?  Image: australian car reviews

Now, here’s where I kneel and pray for strength. “But while the XM’s coldly efficient yet rapid progress scorns the 164’s best efforts, there’s always the feeling that the Citroen is just that bit too cool and collected to offer much satisfaction.” Isn’t this as dunderheaded as the claim someone is being “too clever by half”?

I would have thought the requirement for a smooth and spacious limousine was to be able to go quickly without drama. If a 205 offered cool and collected that would be a problem, but not in in large five-seater car like the XM.  Then the next bit of bafflement: “In addition to this aloofness, there’s an acclimatisation period before the driver can be fully confident about its abilities. Only then can its considerable talents be exploited. The XM is an acquired if potent, taste”. Like Chartreuse, I suppose.

I know they wrote these essays quickly but I imagine the acclimatisation period for the XM is a few hours at the wheel, or maybe a deeper adjustment over a week or two. What is that in the three to five years people own a car?  Why didn’t they think of this? Porsches take time to get used to and so does a whopping great Bentley Continental.

After praising the Alfa Romeo 164 for its light and communicative steering, the testers say the XM is “more accomplished in handling, balance, traction and grip.” That´s obviously not good enough. And there’s more: the XM has “reassuringly powerful and firm brakes”. But the feel isn’t any good, they add and then counterpoint: “not that the 164’s brakes offer any more.”

“The XM’s range’s principle claim to greatness is its hugely effective suspension control. The combination of Citroen’s traditional oleo-pneumatic suspension spheres coupled with an ingeniously simple electronically controlled dual-rate adaptive system, places the XM on a plane well above the norm, but only in certain conditions does it excel”. At least is excels sometimes, I’d have thought.

The biggest problem seems to be the XM’s tendency to pitch vertically under “the slightest upset of momentum”. That means, I think, that if the car slows then the front end of the car dips suddenly. And if you dab the accelerator the nose rises up and the tail squats. But braking does not cause this see-sawing, they wrote.

After that, the article returns to praise mode: the car has “a solid finish and first-rate interior mouldings”. The Alfa had an “inviting” and “sporty” cabin, though. For space and versatility the XM “comes out comfortably ahead, carrying five” easily versus the 164’s payload of four people.

A&M did not discuss the styling, and a good thing too because both cars are exemplars of late 80s design. The Cloverleaf had more addenda, natural for is sporty role. The XM V6 looked much like other XMs outside – pointy, sleek, determined, elegant; inside it had hide seats and pointless walnut embellishments.

The Alfa’s headlamps are almost comically wide-eyed compared to the gimlets of the XM – slim, horizontal (and appalling at night) but oh, so sinister. Neither car looked like anything else on the road despite the assertion that the XM was a bigger BX and that the 164 resembled a Peugeot 605.

On the inside, the cars had totally distinct dashboards: the 164 offered a study in Italian geometry, one of the most fastidiously executed IPs of the decade, almost austere; the XM appears to be a study in restraint too with very formally laid out lines and rigorously severe main volumes. They thought it was too German at the time. A look at a BMW or Audi from the same time shows the Germans in party mood in comparison.

Today, either car is a design statement, dripping in charisma and exuding style. And the absent third car, the XJ-6 is no monster either but is most clearly a stylistic mongrel of Anglo-modern and Anglo-classical with fudged and flunked detailing whereas you’ll look in vain for mis-steps on the French and Italian cars. Today, all three are desirable and the apparent demerits that led the testers to decide as they did have, in my eyes, vanished. Time heals all wounds, the tears do one day dry.

Details:

164

Engine: transverse, FWD, 2959 cc, V6 60 degrees; max power 200 bhp. Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear suspension:  struts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. 1446 kg. Top speed: 143 mph.

XM

Engine: transverse, FWD, 2976 cc, V6 90 degrees; max power 200 bhp. Front suspension, MacPherson struts, Hydractive gas spheres; anti-roll bar.Rear: independen, trailing arms, Hydractive gas spheres, anti-roll bar. 1525 kg. Top speed 143 mph.

 

*A&M ran a Lancia Dedra on their long-term fleet. They said it did not cope well with cross-winds at high speeds. The handling tended to understeer and “displayed excellent adhesion regardless of road surface”.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

31 thoughts on “In The End It Ends In Tears That Mark The End”

  1. This reminds me of many other Citroën reviews I’ve read in the past forty years. “It’s excellent and we basically like it, but we’re supposed not to because it’s French. Oh, and it actually looks quite solid and well – built, but we’re sure it will let you down at any time.” (Unfortunately, for early XMs, the latter was only too true.)

  2. It’s taken a while but I’ve come to the conclusion that car reviewers/journalists can’t be trusted. Every car I’ve ever driven has had design faults or inadequacies that they’ve failed to mention while those that they have seem trifling or non-existent. My memory of the XM was of an effortless long distance cruiser with comfortable seats and rattle free interior. I also owned a Dedra and don’t recall any cross wind instability. I and my passengers did enjoy it’s smart interior and the sunroof which produced no buffeting at 90mph. Conversely, I’ve just bought a new Ibiza which has had praise heaped upon it by the press, none of whom seem to notice that it’s stability in cross winds is shameful, while wind and especially tyre roar at speed are barely abysmal.

  3. Headlights that are ‘appalling at night’ could be more economically described as ‘appalling’.

    The XM always appealed to me, though, and lovely use of velour. The 164 always seemed like a mediocre car grimly holding onto an exquisite engine.

    1. In some countries lights have to be on during the day as well. In that case the XM´s lights are fine for alerting oncoming drivers to the car´s presence.

  4. I have to agree with Mark’ s sentiments; can car reviewers and journalists be trusted? Is it case of time pressures? A weekly magazine must take its toll on time. Photography takes more. Belt round for an hour in each motor and tell the punters what they think they want to hear.
    Or is it the punters expectations? We KNOW Citroen’s are quirky, comfy but how can it be as sporting as an Alfa? And apart from the truly interested and ones who read things properly, like the devotional DTW kindred, does anyone take notice of what’s actually written?
    As for those interiors, my word, how comfortably inviting does the 164 suggest?
    And is that a cb radio on the XM dash?
    Or is it a PA system to announce some Gallic flair approaching?

  5. I wonder what the purpose of this comparison test was because I can’t see many customers facing the choice between a family barge with a mildly powerful engine and a sports saloon putting driving fun at the top of its priority list.
    It’s interesting that you mention the 605 as the missing link. The 164 was all a bankrupt manufacturer could afford to stay in business and the XM was a cynical exercise of a parent company luring customers into believing they’d cherish the values of the brand they bought.

    In most respects those two cars are poles apart. The Alfa has an absolute gem of an engine which in two valve form with a warm cam can beat the ZPJ4 crap of an engine with balancer shafts in the cylinder head (!) and tappets wearing like Old English Cheddar until they were treated to ceramic coating. A 164QV 24V has the XM 24V for breakfast and is still seriously fast by today’s standards.

    The biggest difference surely is in the way the cars look. Take away the nasty Eighties addenda of the QV and you get radically modern and clean Pininfarina looks. Take away the XM’s silly (and function-less from an aerodynamic point of view) spoiler and you are left with a design full of unnecessary gimmicks and surely one of the ugliest cars on the road before CB changed our perception of ugliness.
    (I have to confess that I disliked the XM from day one and think it deserved its failure in the market)

    1. It´s a puzzle and a wonder how ugliness and beauty are so close together. I adore the XM and have plenty of time for the 164 as well. Was the XM cynical? I´d call it the best that could be done in a market less and less tolerant of character and identity (and then came the “brand values” era where brand values waffle stood in for actual brand values).

    2. In the mid to late Eighties the market was still willing to tolerate character. A German market analysis showed that the relation between lovers of the CX and actual buyers was more than seven to one and what kept people from buying a CX were corrosion, unreliability and lack or proper engines.
      Had PSA given them a car with CX flair and proper corrosion protection combined with up-to-date electrics and better engines it would have sold like hot cakes. Instead they decided to create something with its flair largely derived from questionable design gimmicks and just the same unrealibility. They didn’t even manage to provide better engines and in addition made a big step in the wrong direction in the suspension department.
      DS and CX were designed from the inside out as results of a school of thought and a method of engineering where the XM was just trying to hide its Peugeot underpinnings (except for the 605’s much better but more expensive rear suspension) by outrageous looks.

  6. It’s funny the XM’s headlamps are so woeful as Citroën made a big deal of the car’s “complex surface” units when it was launched. Also, I struggle to think of a car with a nicer set of wheel trims/alloy wheels across the entire range than the XM.

    1. The XM Y3’s headlamps suffered from their double diffuser screens that absorbed a lot of light even before the inner plastic lenses turned yellow or brown in short time because they weren’t head resistant. Fitting Y4 lenses or complete light units makes them much better but still nowhere as those of other cars (like a Series II 164 with lens optic ellipsoidal design lights).

      Many older Citroens have very attractive wheels because their brakes were designed dissipate the heat in direction of the inside of the wheel, enabling the use of rims or wheel covers without ventilating holes.

  7. Richard: you seem to have forgotten every single diaeresis (I think that is what the umlaut is called in French?), on the word Citroën. 😄

  8. Thank you for this excellent meta review! Three thoughts I would struggle to keep to myself:

    1) As a former owner of a Citroen (excuse me, Citroën) XM I have nothing but praise for this car! Mine was one of the very last of the line, leaving the factory on the odd Feb 29, 2000. Yes, with the facelift the car shed a lot of the Y3’s avantgarde character, that to my eyes can only be convincingly surpassed by the now famous Yugoslav War Memorials. Especially those to-die-for dish wheels, the two-tone-exterior, and the one-of-a-kind dashboard are hard not to miss in the presence of the Y4 XM. What it loses in style, it makes up in reliability though and especially on a long road trip through the Balkans, that often is a worthwhile trade-off. I have spent 1000s of joyous kilometers in the car and have nothing but praise for it. The bold, angular Bertone looks, the superior ride quality, the throaty V6 roar, the plush interieur, the 4-speed automatic transmission that downshifts much more cleverly than any other automatic transmission I have had the pleasure to experience to this day, not to mention its surprising offroad capabilities… No, to my eyes this car has since been unmatched in character, versatility and style. (Unfortunately I seem to be unable to find out how to add photos to this comment…)

    2) That being said, it is hard to avoid the impression that (mainstream) motoring journalism is for the most part based on the fallacy that opinions about cars were in any way rational. Especially the German magazines I have learned to read with are hopelessly lost in their attempt to attribute point values to several dozen qualities of a car, invariably resulting in victory of German premium brands over their foreign, or lesser domestic competition (An Opel can beat a Mazda, but it won’t ever beat a BMW. Sorry.). Luckily though, car taste has very little to do with rational decision making – else all cars on the road were Skoda Octavias. How boring that would be…

    3) Which already hints to my third point: The national bias of different country’s motoring journalism is rather striking, I find. I used to leaf through car magazines on news stands in other European countries to discover what must have appeared like treason to my then naive eyes: in France the French cars would win any comparison, in the UK the British cars came out on top, and in Italy even a Fiat could win – unthinkable in my world of “Auto Motor und Sport”! Alas, objective motor journalism is probably neither possible nor desirable…

    1. Lucky you. I have a Series 1 XM, built as design intended. It is a hard choice between the original, pure styling versus the better refinement and reliability. I also have much praise for the car and the problems/demerits that bother me are not the ones the press discussed. Yes, the ride can be a bit pattery over small, sharp bumps. Generally it´s a smooth car to be in. The cabin noise was never a trouble; the gearchange is a minor irritant and often I don´t notice it.

      Journalism has two hazards. One is the time factor. They can´t easily soak up and meditate on a car. It is very much a here-and-now judgement. But they seem never to be aware of this. A second-thoughts review would always be welcome but with the rush of new and boring cars, they don´t have the time or money to spend on having a second look at a car one, two, three years into its run. I would expect though that if one has been in the game for a few years one might be more circumspect about judgements. The XM´s merits did not come across in the reviews: the superb seats, the practical load bay, the excellent fuel economy, generally comfy ride and the fact that the styling was distinctive. Journalist tend only to say “I hate/love it” and don´t nod towards a more relative perspective.

      I agree with SV that the XM is very 1980s while the CX remains out of time. It still looks spacey and strange while the XM has gained a look of fossilised modernity. I wonder what a 20 year-old person would think of them though. My view is likely to be coloured by having spent more years on Earth.

  9. Call me an anorak, but I remember the Road Test in question, because I recall being irritated by the conclusion … the ‘none of the above’ bit. Oddly, also, I would count as one of those people who would find these two cars competing for my cash – they would represent different solutions, but I’m intrigued and allured by both. More oddly, perhaps, I would not have considered the Jaguar, and I need to think about why.

    I think they are both wonderful objects, 100% evocative of the era. I still think the XM has incredible visual impact as it’s like nothing else on the road, looks so French, and sophisticated French at that. At the time, it aged the CX instantly, whereas the CX still looked sci-fi compared to most other cars in its class. Of course, today, it has arguably aged less well than the CX, because it is so of-its-era whereas the CX has a timeless quality to it.

    We’ve discussed the 164 before, at some length, and it too is a fine looking vehicle. Arguably, its design has also aged better than the XM for the same reasons. What they both demonstrate is how much more variety of design there seems to have been back then. This is counter-intuitive from an engineering perspective, particularly inside the car, given changes in technology. In particular, the ability to make components smaller, and for digital technology to be able to present information and manage controls more flexibly, should surely mean that the forms of a dashboard or instrument panel are less governed by the need to house such components. In this way, it seems to me that Tesla is on to something, but has not got to the end of its particular thread.

    Of course, as Citroën proved as a case study in itself, there is only a certain percentage of the buying public which can take so much change, and so it takes a brave company/ person to push things forward in such a way, but, heavens, it’s refreshing when they do have a go!

  10. Richard: Thank you for the insightful reply, very much agree with the observation. The additional point I am trying to make is that journalism has another, more fundamental hazard. I believe, particularly in Germany, the idea that one’s opinion is the result of careful, strictly objective consideration of the facts is very widespread. My claim is, that on the contrary most of the time, the opinion pre-dates the facts and instead we choose the arguments in such a way, that they make our opinion seem rational. 🙂

    I think the “fossilised modern” look of the Citroen XM (and also the SM) just begs the question why the future of the past looked so much better than the present. And that, I think, is a very good question indeed.

    1. Ah, yes, why did old Modernism look so much more modern than modernism now? There is an answer which needs more than the maximum limit allowed by these boxes.
      Post-justification is the word you might be in search of.
      I respect careful consideration of the facts. It also requires scepticism of the conclusion. How did I reach that conclusion? Wha is based on? How were incommensurable factors balanced (quantity versus quality).

    2. I love that last thought (‘why the future of the past … the present?).

      New Mazda 3 aside (which heralds at least a breakthrough in achieving futuristic-looking surfaces), it feels like we have been skirting this point regarding many recent designs, especially those of German extract, the other exception possibly being the new 911, which I would argue is a case of tidily refreshing an icon.

      Another interesting debating point in this regard is the newly announced Evoque 2 (as Car has described it). Once again, this is an update of an existing design theme, although arguably fused with elements of the Velar. I rather like it, but can’t help but think that it would have looked far more thought-provoking and other-wordly without the rising creased feature-line up the side profile. It’s like the design team originally imagined the car with beautifully fluid and uninterrupted surfaces, but then bottled it at the last minute.

  11. One other thing. The Citroen XM 3.0 was not a sports saloon. It was a car with high performance but it had no explicit mission to do anything but travel at high speed at a minimum of fuss. The Alfa Romeo 164 was definitely a sports saloon. The whole premise of the comparison was flawed. There, AutoCar, just 27 years later, banged to rights.

  12. The vision for the Citroën XM during its development was “To be ourselves and succeed”*. Did they?

    * Source: the excellent Martinez/Sauzey coffee table book on the XM.

  13. Richard,

    rest assured, at no point of my comment did I mean to call into question the quality of your journalistic work.

    And the Modernism-question would be a very interesting one to discuss indeed! If the limit of these boxes will be a constraint, maybe it deserves to be addressed (step by step) in a post(s) of its own? 😉

    “Post-justification” is a very good term for what I meant to say indeed! (Not referring to my attempt to justify my previous post… 😉 I think we’re all guilty of it a lot (not all…) of the time. But through intelligent and thorough discussion, and a conscious effort to keep the mind open, it shall not be in the way of fruitful discussion and a gradual change (or dare I say improvement?) of our views…

    Btw, some of my XM photography can be found here: http://lupho.de/xm/index.html

  14. SV,

    very interesting idea to link it back to these recent German designs! What is it that makes them such a poor version of modernity (in our eyes)?

    One attempt at an answer: I think we might be in the midst of baroque-up-cycle.

    This is another theory that hasn’t stood the test of a true expert discussion, but I think there is a case to be made for baroque and “clean” designs shoring on to our roads and ebbing off them again in cycles. (Take Mercedes for example: very clean under Paul Braq in the 60s, chrome-laden and quite baroque in the 70s, Sacco returned to a very clean aesthetics, which was replaced with rather baroque looks again in the late 90s and when we’re due a clean look, we got Sensual Purity ® instead. Well, no theory is perfect…)

    Anyhow, accepting this for a moment as a law of physics of automotive design, and then looking at the front bumpers of the new BMW Z4 and the Audi R8, one might be tempted to declare that we are probably at the height of a decade we might one day refer to as the “angular-baroque”… 🙂 I think it will go away with the next model cycle…. 🙂

    1. Regarding why recent German designs represent such poor examples of modernity … sounds like a topic for a thesis … I think it’s quite simple. We have seen designs of existing models – say the 5 series and the A6 in particular – evolve almost entirely in terms of altering/ extending details (say, larger, more vulgar grilles) and adding more details or feature-lines, rather than wiping surfaces and forms clean and starting again. So words like busy, cluttered, overwrought come to mind … and those aren’t words that I’d expect to see in a dictionary of modernism. DOes that make any sense?

  15. Yes, S.V., that does make a lot of sense!

    The inability of management to kill something, that was considered a sales success…

    In other words: A lack of vision and / or a lack of courage to try something new – without truly feeling the heat. Executive incentive schemes with a heavy focus on the short term have played their part in this, no doubt…

    Allow me to fit this into my baroque-cylce-theory:

    As you say, when a company is being successful with their current aesthetics, they don’t dare to come up with something different and rather resort to augmenting the original with details it never needed. (“Drawing feet to a snake”, as the Chinese proverb goes…) Details that weren’t needed, isn’t that the definition of “baroque”? (For sure also not the dictionary definition of modernism…)

    Then, only once the market punishes this persistent lack of innovation, does the management board become more courageous and dares to try something new.

    Despite all the criticism Sensual Purity ® has received, I think it still deserves some credit for being the result of such a courageous decision for a stylistic restart that is in itself consistent and was hugely rewarded by “the market”.

    So far so good, I suppose. But what about Audi and BMW? Might it just be a coincidence that just around the same time both of the Bavarians suffer from such ill-conceived design decisions? (I agree, ever since the B4 to B5 A4 model change, there has been no visionary design thought finding its way into the Ingolstadt metal pressings and ever since Chris Bangle, the other Bavarians have been traumatized at the mere thought of doing something revolutionary.)

    I remain an optimist. In their long history, the German “premium” manufactures ultimately always got their acts together. And being confused with Lexi (the plural of Lexus?) and Hyundais in the parking lot just won’t do to keep up the margins in the long run… Some pointy criticism from the DTW universe might help to bring them back on track…

  16. IIRC, the XM, in each of its drivetrain versions, had a different calibration of its steering assistance – depending on drivetrain weight – and, in some iterations, a bit different geometry (caster) settings, as well.

    The 2.1 TD Y4 I used to own, actually felt a bit over-assisted & dull at the helm, especially at lower speeds, where the primary steering feel (assistance/friction-induced) prevails. Meanwhile, its secondary steering feel (steering geometry-/tyrewall- induced) was rather satisfactory, if not downright a tactile pleasantry of the type the DIRAVI CXs and most of the BXs usually were (especially the heavily aero-appended 16 Soupapes Mk2, which offered a single-seater-worthy steering positivity at high speeds… worlds away from most anything ‘civilised’ out there… but that’s another story)

    Back to the XM: from memory, the lesser-engined (2.0 Petrol) versions, especially the Y3 ones, had the most homogenous and most ‘meaty’ steering feel, probably due to least noticable assistance calibration. V6 versions were usually overly assisted, but I’ve seen differences there too, perhaps due to the condition of the entire hydraulic circuits/valves.

    What bothered me most on almost any XM, especially the Y4, was its tendency to feel underdamped on sharp undulations/ridges, as if the Hydractive system was always somewhat hesitant, so to speak. It took a serious amount of shine off their (otherwise otherworldly sophisticated) suspension, which offered a unique, never replicated, simultaneous sense of gliding with an exemplary body control (the dynamic equivalent of having your cake *and* eating it).

    This particular characteristic, coupled with the traditionally potent high-speed braking, made the XM stand out with a surprisingly high levels of useful active safety (at sustained very high speed, cross-continental runs) – all the while cossetting its occupants in a ‘capsule’ that felt truly safe also in passive safety terms. Such a superior high-speed composure couldn’t have been possible without the torsional rigidity which, back then, for the standards
    of the era, was exceptional (innovative methods for bonding body components, stress-bearing glass etc).

    It’s a pity, then, this rigidity wasn’t used perfectly in the ‘primary ride’ side of its dynamic envelope. On perfect, buttery smooth roads, the XM is probably still the “exec cruise spaceship” with the superior ride & handling ‘scope of character’, probably hard to surpass even today. It’s the small road imperfections that bring to light certain flaws in the Hydractive system.

    And, of course, it would be unfair to write about the XMs dynamic envelope without mentioning its most hidden ‘asset’ : its ability to dynamically ‘shrink’ immediately when faced with canyons/curvy B-roads, when the Hydr.system sensed the driver inputs as ‘GTI-worthy’. It just obediently transformed into almost ‘hot-hatch’ levels of body control and immediacy, and a rear axle that you could properly lean on to (I say ‘almost’ because, apart from the slightly less sharp steering, the XM Y4 could do 95% of what a good hot-hatch does – in the right hands, that is, and with a proper driver disregard for passenger tranquility… it was, IMHO, its most defining ‘surprise feature’, and I doubt that many XM drivers actually ever sampled it – you really wouldn’t know that it’s “in there”, unless you really provoked it in the interaction with the Hydractive sensors.).

    That feature alone (being able to deliver a ‘306XSi-in-disguise’ on demand…) is enough to make the XM stand out so much above many other competent high-speed, high-safety, high-comfort cruisers out there.

    There will never be, quite simply, anything else with such a truly eye-opening scope of dynamic character.

    Its styling is another (very long) story altogether…

    1. Another good essay. I was not aware Citroen did so much work on the steering, to the extent of varying it for each drivetrain. I read a massive amount of review material on this – the English wikipedia entry is full of my Critical Appraisal work. None of what I read mentioned this. What stands out it is that point about small pavement irrgularities being a problem (and I think France has better fine grain surfaces but more long wavelength undulations).
      My feeling about the car is the same as yours: nimble, agile, alert. And so where does this “aloof” rubbish come from? I think car journos are in some way possessed by zombie ideas that sound plausible but are rubbish. Another is to always call brightwork “brash” when they don´t even know what brash means. When I drive other cars, apart from the extended-family 406 I feel like I am in a fat suit compared to the XM. The 406 probably bests it in all regards except the appearance which is tediously plain, inside and out but oh, so comfortable.

  17. Couldn’t agree more – the XM definitely cannot be described as ‘aloof’.
    Perhaps the answer lies in the rather shocking demeanour of the car back in 1991 when the above review dates from: you see, it took us almost 30 yrs
    to really grasp what the XM is all about, so one could not blame the journos
    back then for not really being able to appreciate the entire wide spectrum
    of what the XM actually could offer.

    As always – the more faceted and multi-talented a car is, the more time it takes (with varied motoring tasks, varied routes, distances, conditions etc.) to truly grasp what a certain car is capable of and what are its true values. And that, with a view to the general hectic nature of the automotive journalism day-at-the-office, is the exact opposite of what that profession actually delivers.

    Which leads to an inevitable, sad conclusion that automotive journalism is counterproductive to its own ends. Your review of many reviews that were once taken for granted, just goes to show this phenomenon, and often executes
    it in a surgically precise fashion.

    As for the 406, to me it’s a really sophisticated chassis, but, in spite of presenting many of the 605 qualities dilluted to a more mundane level, it’s definitely a full class or two beneath the 605, which I personally admire
    as the king of them all, dynamically speaking.

    I’d strongly disagree that the 406 bests the XM, except in the primary ride department (again a somewhat moot point, as the 605’s ride & handling equation, compared to the 406, and even compared to the XM,
    is like a High-Definition TV compared to an 80’s Philips TV…).

    On the other hand, for sustained ultra-high-speed ‘ambitious chases’, neither the 406, nor the 605, couldn’t hold a candle to any XM. Up to ~100 Mph, the Peugeots have a much more opulent, luxurious and natural, ‘analogue’ ride,
    but for real speed, the XM (and several other oleopneumatic Citroens..) are
    in a league of their own, both as ‘gliding-safely’ feeling, and as objective, stunt-driving-worthy levels of very-high-speed active safety.

    1. Forgot to add: with regard to your sentence “I was not aware Citroen did so much work on the steering, to the extent of varying it for each drivetrain”,
      it might be a case of me not being clear enough of what I meant. My point was that I have reasons to be absolutely certain that they fettled with the calibration of the hydraulic assistance, and not actually “varying the system for each drivetrain” – this would be overdoing it.

      Maybe they didn’t do it for every single drivetrain spec., but I’m very certain that there are differences in the ‘quantity’ of assistance supplied to the rack
      (simple calibration exercise) depending on the weight category of the engines (eg. A) 4-cyl alloy block, B) 4-cyl diesels and C) the ‘mammoth’ V6s).

      There was definitely a palpable difference in the way the steering felt
      in various drivetrains.

      Hope this makes a clearer picture of my initial reply-post.

    2. Are you suggesting the 605 was that good? It´s not that I don´t believe you. You seem to have more direct driving experience of the cars than I do. I think the 406 is astonishingly good. If you think the 605 is better than that is remarkable and I am sorry I never got to drive one. And I am sorry the press reviews are so wide of the mark.
      There are 12 for sale on mobile.com at the moment. Just 12.

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