Tin Machine, Tin Machine, Take Me Anywhere

It has been thirty years since the Citroen launched the XM, on this day in 1989. On sale for 11 years and out of production for nearly twice as long, that makes it a real antique, doesn’t it.

1990 Citroen XM V6

(There are now people around who may never have seen an XM in motion, anyone born after 1999, I suppose.)

It is something of a pleasant coincidence (for me) that the self-titled album by Tin Machine came out just one day before Citroen announced the CX´s replacement. If Tin Machine was David Bowie’s way of getting back to what he most wanted to do, the XM presented another step towards watering down Citroenisme.

In the long game of a professional musician at Bowie’s level, Tin Machine was a necessary experiment, a form of throwing paint around and casting off unwanted rules. It was a step toward something else. For Citroen, the XM was claimed to be a re-statement of Citroen values, but one to make them acceptable, as a Citroen executive said at the time. That made it very much not an analogue of Tin Machine and more like Bowie carrying on with mainstream pop, but with a little DB twist somewhere. And the XM was not a step towards something but an end in itself. Where did Citroen’s tin machine take us to? Let’s find out.

To celebrate this anniversary I had a test-drive of a 1990 XM, one from near the top-of-the-range. While this version lacked automatic transmission and a sunroof, it had the 3.0 V6 engine and the DIRAVI steering system denied to the four-cylinder models. Leather upholstery covered the seats. Though I have been XM owner for almost twenty years, I have always really wanted to try the left-hand drive three-litre version with its DIRAVI steering. And now my chance arrived, in the form of this rather tatty metallic grey model:

1990 Citroen XM V6

Key to this car’s identity, after the suspension, is the engine, the  3.0 V6 (PRV ZPJ S6A) which produced 165 hp or 123 kW.  This one had manual transmission – something of an oddity, I suspect.

The other important thing is the steering: DIRAVI. Only the LHD V6 models had this feature. It allows maximum power asssist at low speeds and less help at higher speeds. The steering is strongly self-centering. For me this was the principal reason to want to drive this model, so as to see how it felt and also to compare it to my experience of the CX (limited as that was).

I was surprised to see the steering wheel return to straight-ahead as I set off from a farmyard in the Danish countryside. During low-speed manoeuvres one notices how the steering pulls back to centre; this means that when one stops as in a car park to see the best way forward, the steering will have reverted to straight-ahead and the steering wheel will be revolving back to centre while you hesitate to go left or right.

On the open road the Citroen suspension did its trick, providing a pleasant floaty feeling. Together with the thin rimmed wheel and the somewhat upright seating position I spotted the same character present in the DS and CX. They don’t call big Citroens the thinking driver’s cars for nothing. You seem to conduct the car rather than merely drive it.

Not quite perfect but still charming

I was looking for something else in the steering quality: directness and did not find it in the way the CX has it. Blame that on the increased steering ratio. It’s not as if it’s vague or slow so much as neutral. You swivel the wheel and the car points its nose in the required direction as you’d expect. What it is not is “telepathic”, not nervous or quick-witted. It does the job nicely and that’s it.

1990 Citroen XM interior

This car had a modest reading on the odo, considering its age. So, why did the pick-up feel so ordinary? I’d step on the loud pedal and the car would move forward no faster than adequately. Old clichées of kicks to the kidneys and being pressed back into your seat did not apply.

It’s not that heavy a car, about the same as modern C-class vehicle so it seems somewhat disappointing that the extra displacement over the 2.0 litre version I know so well is not more apparent or even apparent at all. The one difference is the sound on start-up, a dry roar. And under way it’s a quiet motor, quieter and smoother than the dreary old four banger spoiling the lower-ranking XMs.

1990 Citroen XM interior front

We turn to stopping. The brake pedal has very short travel, but I am used to it. You stroke the pedal, press gently and the car slows effectively. It’s more of a switch than a lever. I could see how drivers used to longer travel might have been discomfitted, perhaps moreso by this than by the steering.

One of the best perches ever made for passengers.

The rest of the car is standard XM: some of the finest seats ever put in a motor car. The driver’s seat is snug and supportive. The rear seats are only superb, with mountains of leg room, a broad centre armrest and tidy headrestraints that tuck away when not needed. As I have said before, the view out from the back is excellent, fit for a diplomat or senior manager who wants to see where the chauffeur is heading.

There’s the essence of the XM’s personality. Even if the engine is only just fast enough, the car is agile as no large car usually is. And at the same time, the ride is delightful, offering a gentle flight over the turbulence at road level. It is true the suspension is not so good at dealing with sharp irregularities yet far from awful. This does not detract from the overall sense of smoothness the unique oleo-pneumatic system provides.

1990 Citroen XM V6

So, if you want to drive the car yourself, it’s an intellectual pleasure, one provided by the controls which are intelligently thought-through. If you are a passenger, the roominess, airiness and seating make for a comfortable experience.

Much like misunderstood Tin Machine, the XM is misundertood too. It was different and different in a good way for the most part. Like Tin Machine, the XM has to be understood for what it was intended to do, not to “make Citroen values acceptable” but to quantitavely improve on the CX while keeping the good bits: ride, handling and distinctive style.

What was wrong is the rest of the range, the cars stripped of their DIRAVI steering and single-spoke steering wheel.  This is now something typical of Citroen, which is that their unique features go extinct by gradual withdrawal up the range before deletion on the next model cycle. All CXs had DIRAVI, only V6 XMs had it and it was not present on the C5 or C6.

Thirty years later, the XM still proves to be a good drive, though overtaken as it is by medium-sized cars and by standard technical solutions pushed to new heights.

That said, no medium sized car feels like an XM, not in the relation of the driver to the car’s structure nor the lightness of feel in conducting it. Large cars are now way too large, and cars of the same size now as the XM are more banal even if safer and more efficient. The XM had space without bulk and agility without compromising roominess.

While Tin Machine didn’t provide any hits for Bowie, it turned into a springboard for the rest of the 90s.  The XM wasn’t much of a hit either, in part because the market was moving away from large, mainstream cars but also because Citroen had not got it in itself to make the XM superlative in all areas.

Near all tests showed it outranked by the rest of the field; it was neither convincingly better than the Thema, Scorpio or Omega nor more desirable than the 5 series or E-class. Being better but not nicer than the CX was not enough.

References:

Steve’s “Big Book of the XM”

Author: richard herriott

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

57 thoughts on “Tin Machine, Tin Machine, Take Me Anywhere”

  1. A warm nature’s, yet honest test and reflection on an enigmatic and intelligent car – a lovely way to mark its anniversary, thank you. It arrived in what was, on reflection, a terrific era for ‘executive’ cars. Looking back, there were so many of them that I would like now, with variations of character and taste.

    The XM still looks like no other car, and was, in my mind, the last of the true big Citroens. I love my C6, but the XM still sought to progress the Citroen theme (design and suspension-wise), whereas the C6 is more like one of those ‘best of’ albums where the artist feels the need to re-imagine the songs, with hit and miss results.

  2. A great piece with equally interesting photos; those wheel covers are something else. The overall look of the car lends itself to a seasoned campaigner. Been round the block, took a few knocks but still has the looks.
    And finally Citroen seem to be blowing a fanfare to their history. Check out the Citroen Originals website to indulge ones double chevroned fantasies. You can “start” the motor, “open” windows and sound the horn, amongst other things. Geeky, naturally but far better than watching Location, Location, Location.

  3. It is a source of great regret that cars like the XM no longer exist. They enlivened the automotive landscape by offering something genuinely different from the conventional norm. Even after 30 years, the XM still looks striking and futuristic. No disrespect to the honest and well worn example above, but I thought the anniversary deserved a photo of the XM looking its best:

    1. Yep, disgusting wheels that absolutely do not go with the spirit of the car. Talk about a gift for its anniversary Daniel.

    2. Good morning, John. They’re BBS alloys, I think. I had them on my E30 325i convertible. They’re an absolute bigger to keep clean. Yes, I agree that they are all wrong for the XM, which should have something much smoother, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find a decent photo of the XM on appropriate wheels.

      I prefer the pre-facelift XM. The facelifted car had colour-keyed door mirrors and scuttle panel, which disrupted the symmetry if the two “upticks” (at the base of the A-pillar and the rear door quarter-light). Here’s one:

      At least it’s on the right wheels for an XM.

  4. Blimey, everyone’s a critic this morning! Right, here you go, a pre-facelift XM on the right wheels:

    1. Like Daniel I also prefer the series 1 XM. The central double chevrons at the front never did it for me, nor the revised interior. I remember the XM launch quite clearly. Everyone thought it was going to be named DX. The CAR Magazine review opened with a statistic about the point in the chassis at which the XM deviated from its Peugeot 605 sibling. Gavin Green liked the car but not the angular styling.

      Talking of wheels, I’m struggling to think of a car that had a nicer set of wheel designs than the original XM.

    2. That last one looks incredible. It is true the XM is still an eye-catching design. I have not tired of looking at it in the 19 years I have driven one (actually two). Daniel is right, the colour-coded A-pillar trim ruins the look. It should not have been done. There was a clear relation of material and overall form which the coating disrupted. The upkicks have a semantic meaning which the coating erases for no gain other than to address snob worries about plastic.

    3. Gavin Green called the window line upkick “awkward”. I wonder does he stand by that judgement today? The Italia alloys were lovely – I have those on my car and they do look fetchingly technical.
      I notice nobody seems that excercised about the disappointing DIRAVI steering which is the real point of interest of today´s car. As implemented, it was not a feature worth hanging onto. The CX did it much better.

  5. An ad for the XM. I’am only posting this for the bootlid spoiler porn for all the other deviants out there.

    via GIPHY

    ……And if that isn’t a conscious or unconscious phallic reference:

    via GIPHY

    1. No, I was always able to post gifs without your help. It’s just they posted first as links this time.
      Btw, the cheek of you scolding me for suggesting to you a bootlid spoiler from Ebay when you’ve been driving around with those wheels……

    2. It was acceptable in the 90’s (as Calvin Harris didn’t quite sing):

      (Not mine, but identical)

    3. Yeah that’s the thing, the original look far better than the BBS in my opinion. Something about the pattern and the diameter of the BBS doesn’t work for me I think.

    4. In all honesty, I wasn’t that big a fan of the BBS alloys, but I had no choice in the matter. My 325i convertible was a cancelled order, which the dealer kindly stored for a few months awaiting the end of my current company car lease, a 320i convertible. It was finally registered on 1st August 1993, possibly the last E30 convertible registered in the UK and the only one in an ‘L’ prefix plate.

  6. The Estate version is often forgotten but it was still very Citroën-esque and was as sinister looking as the CX estate could be I think.

    1. I know it is sensible as far as carrying capacity goes, but I can’t quite take to the raised roof and, inbparticular, the slightly homespun looking extensions to the door window frames. The CX Safari treatment was a cleaner resolution, IMHO:

      Hunting for good photos, I came across some interesting coachbuilt variations on the XM, for example, this three-box proposal:

      (I said interesting, not pretty!)

    2. The tailgate shutline should have been in-board and not visible from the side. I know it´s practical but it chops the area of the rear fender. These beasts must be getting rare now.
      Laurent: eight thousand pouds. Incredible. Mine must be worth at least three then.

    3. Daniel, thank you for the picture of the 3-volume XM. I knew the prototype but not sure if I knew this particular picture.

    4. You’re welcome, NRJ. Here’s another challenging variation on the XM, a three-box limousine version by Heuliez:

      A simple LWB stretch works better I think:

    5. The Jensen 1 certainly is weird. It would look more at home on water, possibly in a 1980’s Bond movie:

      Definitely one for the “what were they thinking” category.

    6. And to finish off here’s a great gif of the XM and its rivals from this UK “movie” from 1989 (basically a long advert) :

    7. Daniel- Yes, there were quite a few different variations done on the XM. I think the red one you posted was a prototype for a U.S version. And yes the Jensen looks amphibian.

    8. Luck would have it that the poor Rover 800 got its appearance in the gif cut short because there’s a cap at 15 seconds for the gifs.

  7. Richard, I read the Wikipedia article on DIRAVI earlier and it stated a disadvantage of the system was that you “cannot allow both hands to leave steering wheel when navigating curves – because of rapid self centring”. Which raises the obvious question of who takes both hands off the wheel when navigating a curve?!

    1. That Wikipedia entry is not so clear. I think it means more that one can´t rely on castor action to keep the car turned a certain way for even a moment; under certain conditions and only for a moment people occasionally have both hands of the wheel (and only for a moment, usually silly ones like messing with a CD case or fidding with ciggies and Ginster´s sausage roll wrappers etc)

  8. Did not know they made six cylinder Y3 (Mk1) XMs with leather seats but without push button operated air condition and without aluminium wheels

    I never liked the Y3 because of its black plastic strip between the base of the windscreen and bonnet and above all because of its wing spoiler that in addition to looking like an aftermarkte accessory had no aerodynamic effect. These details were much better in the Y4 which only had to keep its vestigial spoiler because it was part of the EU type approval. When the car was presented at Citroen dealers it was a shock to see the approved accesory program. Our dealer had an XM with a full front, rear and lateral spoiler set, sports exhaust with four end pipes and ox cart aluminium wheels – the very opposite of what Citroen stood for at that time.

    The XM very nearly was a real CItroen. It came to market half ready it had all kinds of realiability problems and the dealers weren’t up to the task. It was the opposite of what customers wanted: a CX without the corrosion and with reliable electrics. What they got was a Peugeot with Citroen reliablity. The 605 suffered from much the same problems and Peugeot invested enormous sums to corrent them in one of the biggest recalls the European car industry had seen. Citroen did the same but many dealers simply ignored the action so one has to be very cautious with early XMs.

    1. I ran a 1989 XM. A dealer mechanic fixed the electrical problems for very little money and I never had any problems with the car over and above normal old car problems. My 1989 SE was a really useful and reliable machine, all told. I can´t agree about the plastic at the windscreen. It looks visually correct
      You might be interested to know that the Mk1 spoiler appears nowhere in the design programme or the US hot weather testing photos. It appeared between the time the road testing was finished and the official launch. The vestigial spoiler is truer to the the studio design; best of all is no spoiler at all.

    2. What’s the purpose of this strip of black pastic beyond simply being there? For me, it’s meant to fool the eye into seeing a windscreen base much further forward than it really is. If they want me to see a Saab 900/DS like screen, they should fit one. It’s the same with the ‘floating roof’. They want you to see a detached roof yet make it rest on the biggest number of window posts in any car (in Germany the XM isn’t dubbed ‘window salad on a crease’ for nothing). If they don’t want me to see the unnecessary front and rear quarterlights they simply shouldn’t be there instead of having separators painted black. The way they were, too many solutions of the XM look half baked and cheap – and that’s before you look at the horrible break which looks like a weekend job of a medium talented hobby worker.

    1. Wow! That is really lovely, Laurent. The interior and bumpers look unmarked. Those seats look like new, and very comfortable. A concours XM for the price of a poverty spec Dacia Sandero…what’s not to like?

    2. Yes I’d love something like this as a weekend car. This one ticks all the boxes for me – manual, cloth-covered seats and the best looking wheels. What’s not to like indeed…

  9. The Mk2 Superb and F07 5 Series GT both had complex and heavy tailgates incorporating a bootlid, but neither had a secondary inner rear screen like the XM. I suppose it wasn’t necessary as you had the option to open only the boot lid if you didn’t want to expose passengers to the elements, which was the point of the XM’s arrangement.

    Here’s the Skoda:

    Here’s the 5GT:

    The Mk3 Superb and 6 Series GT (which replaced the 5GT ) dropped this feature, which was considered not to be worth the extra cost, weight and complexity.

    1. Mad indeed. I guess it had to have a split tailgate, so the lower half could remain in place when the roof, roof rails etc. were removed. What a faff! No wonder the Pluriel was about as watertight as a paper bag:

      She’s smiling now, but wait until she tries to put it all back together in a thunderstorm. Hats off to Citroën for trying something different, I suppose.

    2. I guess that was the reason behind the tail gate. And it allowed Citroën to claim that the Pluriel was also a mini pick-up.

  10. I wonder why the boot lid spoiler was added late in the day if it served no aerodynamic purpose? Did someone senior consider that the rear looked unfinished?

    1. At that time PSA was particularly good at doing things that had been fashionable a number of years before but had gone unnoticed by them.
      Just as Eighties spoiler mania thankfully was over some big wig at PSA thought that the coming big Citroen should have one and of the worst rowdy variety (on stilts and not just a rubber lip) at that.
      Thankfully the naturally aspirated diesel XM was sold without a spoiler in Belgium and the Netherlands so one could see that it looked infinitely better:

      I only once saw one of these as a taxi in Amsterdam and since then wondered what they were thinking when they fitted the spoiler.
      It’s a question anyway what PSA were thinking at that time. Larger dealers were supposed to have a XM with full accessory kit available when the car was presented to their customers. How did they come to the conclusion that these garish addenda were the right thing for a big Citroen and what did they expect as customer reaction?

  11. Here’s one with the full set of works approved accessories:

    Surely exactly the thing typical Citroen customers were looking for…

  12. Great thread this! Lovely to see the Pluriel make an appearance in it. I know it’s production engineering solution was a nonsense, but we all need a bit of (nice) nonsense in our worlds.

  13. Of course everybody thought it was going to be called the DX.

    After Ax, Bx, Cx, comes… Xm? Or rather, after Cx, Bx, and Ax. But what was the rationale for the Xm moniker anyway? And why did they ditch the logic for incongruence?

    1. Something unexpected. And a reference back to the SM (as was the upwards kink in the DLO towards the rear).

  14. Not forgetting ZX, of course. Possibly Citroen realised too late why BMW left gaps in its numbering series for so long. There’s an XM on Autotrader at present – £9000 for a 26000mile, white automatic diesel estate.

    Reviews of the Superb mentioned that changing from saloon-style bootlid to full hatchback involved various mechanisms to shift, creating a delay when opening. The Citroen system looks both cheaper and more effective. For a different take on the same theme, Renault’s Modus had the optional Bootchute:

  15. There was a Slovenian company, that from 1990 to 1992 offered convertible conversions of the XM.

    These must be the rarest iterations of the XM ever:

    https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&source=hp&ei=3nTpXN7CLtCUk74PxoqY0A4&q=predelan+XM+kabrio&oq=predelan+XM+kabrio&gs_l=mobile-gws-wiz-img.3…2037.11875..12598…5.0..0.256.4231.0j21j3……0….1…….5..35i39j0j0i10i30j0i30j0i24j30i10.TmL2Z5YF3bU#imgrc=wmpHWy5oME-aFM

    Back then, I did see one in the flesh, and it is with
    all of my integrity
    that I claim its
    perceived Maseratiness
    was literally jawdropping. It struck me hard, and made me think that an XM-based, Maserati/Ferrari-engined exotic Coupe/Convertible was a sorely missed opportunity to reinvent the SM.

    Besides, the peculiarity of the M in its name (XM / SM?) was like a gap
    that someone left
    agape, to be interpreted…

    And whenever a racing driver sees a gap (you know how they say)…

  16. Owned CX, CX Safari and an XM estate back in the day.

    The first CX was a pre-facelift white saloon with the later 2.0 Renault petrol engine – I remember getting a thrill every time I walked away and looked back at it – to my eyes a beautiful machine and a pretty good drive within the limitations of the only moderately refined engine.

    The Safari followed later, again pre-facelift, a dark metallic green 2.5 turbo diesel, I used to take a lot of pleasure loading it up with the paraphernalia of our young family for camping weekends. That car could take some luggage. Purists would not appreciate the disruption to the lines from the roof rack needed to tote various canoes and kayaks. Costly engine issues saw us selling that car on – with regret as Lord Sugar would say.

    The XM was dark green again, 2.0 petrol and was not a terrible car, but was not a CX replacement – as others have said a significant dilution of the Citroen DNA. Lack of DIRAVI was a significant and slightly inexplicable omission – was it really so much more costly than the standard set up?

    Geek fact – well maybe factual – if I remember correctly DIRAVI was not fitted to the most basic CX models at launch, not sure if others recall the same?

  17. There were early, entry-level CXs that were fitted with manual steering. They were a total disaster as the manual setup required something like 5 turns lock-to-lock in order to reduce the steering effort to something normal people could manage — in other words, the complete opposite of what DIRAVI offered: quick, intuitive steering that was finger-light at parking and appropriately weighted at speed, with powered self-centering to reduce driver effort. I have read that the manual steering CXs damaged the car’s early reputation, but wouldn’t know for sure as I am a Citroeniste in the US.

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