The Definition of Obsession? 10 Years With A Citroën C6. (Part 3)

In this episode, a catalogue of parts failures almost culminates in the final curtain for the our correspondent’s C6… that was now over five years ago.

Distinctive? Yes. Beautiful? Not really. (Source – Author’s photo).

The suspension has been the main area of issues with the C6. Drop-links at the rear, bearings at the front, lower wishbones at the front, stub-axles as well as the two struts have all been replaced. In addition, the car has had a total of four new ABS sensors over time, which, when they go on the blink, cause havoc with the electronic handbrake and the SatNav as well as the ABS system itself.

Another sensor which controlled the fore-aft levelling of the car also ceased to function, meaning that, when I returned to the parked car, the front was jacked up, the rear on its bump-stops – the nose pointing skywards at about 40°. Finally, an emergency replacement of a tyre led to a split hydraulic fluid tank as the technician did not set the suspension to the full-height before lifting the car up to replace the tyre.

The hydraulic power steering pipe also perished and needed replacement; the way this item is packaged around the engine in the engine bay means it is an absolute sod to replace, involving (from memory) 6 hours of labour. In fact, a number of the jobs on the car require many hours work; for example, those ABS sensors are at the rear of the car above the fuel tank, necessitating the latter to be dropped in order to get the failed unit out and the new one in.

Brake-pad wear is better than I feared from a such a heavy car, although, like the tyres, they are not cheap items. Writing of tyres, I have found myself experiencing Michelin Pilot 3s which wear very quickly, Yokohamas which are pretty good, but the best have been Avons which were quiet, excellent in the wet and dry, and lasted the best part of 30,000 miles, as well being much cheaper than the Michelins.

Hydroactive III suspension system – the theory (Source: Top Speed)

On the advice of Adam who, if you have followed this tale from the outset, you recall was the guy who sold me the car, I have always put the C6 on winter tyres, and again, can highly recommend them in general, but especially those from Avon, which are also great value. The first winter I experienced driving to Banbury and back was a very cold, icy and snowy one, and the C6 was made fantastically sure-footed on the winters and by making use of the snow function on the automatic gearbox. I saw many RWD BMWs, Mercedes and Jaguars stranded on the Welsh Lane in particular, whilst the Citroën marched imperiously by.

Engine-wise, the turbos have gone AWOL briefly on two further occasions, both when the engine was still cold, but when I asked the guys at BL Autos why it did that, they kind of shrugged and suggested that the very occasional fault be lived with. Otherwise, EGR valves have been replaced twice, the cam-belt and fuel pump replaced at 110,000 miles, and Particulate Filters replaced at least three times now (and some kind of particulate container replaced once).

Most of this has been in line with servicing expectations, so I’d give a steady thumbs up to the Ford/ PSA developed unit. The Aisin-Warner gearbox is advertised as sealed for life, but the boys at BL Autos have no truck with such rubbish and triple flush it with new oil for me every couple of years, with pleasing results.

The best designed and engineered aspect of the car? Quite possibly. (c) : Auto-Didakt

At this point I will stress the excellence of the team at BL Autos. Robert is the recognised C6 expert and he must have dealt with more than anyone in the country, but they can all handle the ‘6’ very adeptly. There is no doubt that I would have given up on C6 ownership if they had not been there. When the COVID lock-down first hit, I called them to ask if they were managing OK, partly to be nice and also partly out of self-interest because they are that vital to my ongoing stewardship of the car. Going there is a real treat too. The chaps are very friendly and always happy to stop for a chinwag about my car, their cars, anyone else’s cars.

Barry (the founder and Dad of the team) still puts his hand in, and is the owner of a gorgeous SM, and there are always examples of DS, SM, XM, CX, Ami, Xantia, BX, etc. to take-in. On one occasion, I noticed there were something like 5 or 6 beautiful looking SMs in the workshop, and it was explained to me that someone well known in the SM community had unfortunately passed-on, and the owners of the vehicles wanted to have their cars in full working order to attend his funeral; it brought a tear to my eye.

Ironically, I first went to BL Autos when the C6 had been excused from its daily commuter journeys. Evans Halshaw was very convenient for me in the way it was a 10 minute walk from the office, hence why I always used them (drop off in the morning, collect in the evening), even though the cost and quality of some of the fixes proved unsavoury on more than one occasion.

Now that the C6 had taken up more of a hobby-car status, I could afford it the luxury of specific journeys to Welwyn Garden City so that BL could look after it. This was late Spring 2015. Having topped 90,000 miles by then, and with the C6 becoming increasingly fault-prone (I think the last straw was when the IP and Infotainment screen just went black on one journey home), I decided that I needed something more reliable and cheaper to run. This was where the Mazda3 Fastback came in (about which I wrote a number of Long Term Test items here a few years ago).

The plan was to part-ex the Citroën for the Mazda. This became another of those memorable landmarks in my history with the C6. I took my family with me to test-drive the Mazda, and whilst I loved the 3 to drive and loved the exterior looks, the rest of the family were not impressed. My son thought it was like one of the ordinary hire cars we experienced every year on our Easter vacations to France, and my daughter hated the high window line and gloomy rear accommodation.

Although I was very keen, there was a discernible sense of rebellion growing in the ranks. Most moving of all, when we all sat around the salesman’s desk, discussing part-ex terms, I realised my 12 year-old daughter had quietly gone all teary. We promptly left to think about it after they had offered me… £2,500 for the C6. Having driven home, I was subsequently ambushed by them all and strongly recommended to buy the Mazda AND keep the Citroën. I don’t think I have done anything so knowingly financially reckless in my life, but that’s exactly how things ended up.

The car that saved the C6 – Mazda3 Fastback SportNav 2.2L Diesel: a family car which was never popular with my family (Source: Author’s photo)

So, with the Mazda taking the strain, the C6 was sent off to its equivalent of a spa-day (actually, three days) at BL Autos where it racked up a £1,600+ bill to put right a number of wrongs. It has to be said, as one might hope or expect, it came back running like a different car: quieter, smoother and, as such, more confidence inspiring. Good job too, because not long afterwards I ruptured my Achilles tendon and could only (just) drive an automatic car, which put the Mazda on the drive and the C6 back ploughing the route back up and down to Banbury again for a good six weeks or so.

Continue reading HERE

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

25 thoughts on “The Definition of Obsession? 10 Years With A Citroën C6. (Part 3)”

  1. Hi S.V., if I had to buy a car now I would go without anydoubt for a mazda 3 like yours. I loved it for the first time, whereas I do not like the current one.

    1. Hi Marco, yes, I had a real thing for the Mazda3 Fastback when it came out and was lucky enough to be able to afford to buy one as a means of getting me to work and back. I loved the looks, although it is spec-sensitive and only really works for me in SportNav trim with the larger wheels and small lip spoiler at the back. Mine was in Titanium Flash Mica, which promised much but ended up being less deep, complex and multidimensional that I had hoped for. It was a great car to drive, with a strong and smooth 2.2L diesel, great chassis and ace gearchange. It was less good as a family car, for the reasons I laid out above. I wrote 5 articles on it for DTW – 4 in the form of a series of Long Term Tests, and the final one a reflections piece with the benefit of having a kind of rival to use for purposes of relativity and context. You can find them by using the search feature on this sight if you are interested.

      I do prefer the design of the new look Mazda3, even if the hatch’s rear pillar makes for an even more gloomy rear cabin. The saloon must rate as one of the nicest looking of its type on the market – I find myself mesmerised by the panel shaping along the flanks and the very simple and clean front fascia. Looking at ‘my’ version, the now previous generation, I see that it has not aged brilliantly, and the more you look at the details and the panel forms along the flanks, the more you see things that don’t quite work – but it’s still a handsome thing, and I think the current Focus, which Richard likes so much, owes a lot to that Mazda3.

    2. Hi S.V. in my opinion your mazda 3 is better from a mechanical point of view than the current one because of the multilink suspension, I am sorry for the new one that the front is not available in chrome but only with a black frame.
      I have been inside both and I find the new one very dark even for the driver.
      The new focus, I agree with you, has a very nice design, money aside I would buy the Golf almost any time I had to choose in the compact sector.

    3. You are, of course 100% right about the rear suspension. The black finish to the grille surround is specific to the hatch – the saloon (not sure if they still call it a Fastback like ‘my’ version) has a more distinct look to the hatch then previously and with it comes a more traditional chrome grille surround. I agree that the black finish does the hatch few favours. Neither of us has mentioned the fact that Mazda produces what I count to be one of the nicest paint colours around, the gorgeous ‘soul red crystal’ metallic – there’s a new shape saloon on the forecourt of my local dealer in that hue and it looks stunning.

    4. What does the Golf do that the Focus can´t? The Focus is definitely a more carefully styled car and is known for its driver appeal. There was a time when the Golf stomped on Ford´s offering in the segment but that was a long time ago. VAG have turned out some excellent bits of work but at the present, they are all ho-hum in the design department other than the alarmingly attractive Seat Leon (the one with the full-width tail lamps). Now that one gives the Focus a design challenge.
      Top Clarkson give the Focus 9/10 and the Golf 8/10. I don´t think I´ve seen the new Golf yet.

    5. Hi Richard, this is just my personal taste and I think, maybe wrongly, that a VW is more reliable than a Ford and with better plastic inside. the VW 4 was better designed than the 5 ( the worst designed Golf ever) and the VII was nicer than the current 8. I agree with you, VW has done more interesting cars in the past with a clearer design.
      @SV if you order a Mazda brand new it should be red. Almost like a Ferrari unless you already own one.

      I was talking to a friend, if I had to buy a car because it is nice I would not have many option. Fiat 500, Suzuki Jimny, WV Passat, Mercedes C and E. Not many cars come in to my mind now.

    6. Marco, a diversity of view, genuinely given, is a hallmark of this site, I have found. I look forward to reading further of your observations, like and dislikes regarding future articles.

  2. Good morning S.V. Once again, I am in awe of your patience and forbearance. It would have been an absolute tragedy to have let the C6 go as a trade-in against the Mazda. It would have been passed on ‘to the trade’ and most likely bought cheaply by someone who took a fancy to it, but quickly tired of its demands and idiosyncrasies. Then what?

    The only way properly to run a car such as the C6 is how you now do, as a second car that is looked after by a specialist. I cannot imagine that most Citroën dealers would relish the prospect of doing so, or even have the necessary expertise (if they ever had).

    I can fully understand why your family appreciate the C6. It must be a delight for passengers, and properly ‘special’ to travel in. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before you and yours have the opportunity to enjoy outings in it again.

    1. Thank you Daniel for the positive and kind sentiments – you are absolutely right, of course.

      That said, a car like the C6 should not have had so many problems, and, for me, they point to two things: a) components shared with lighter, smaller cars in the PSA range which were not up to the task of supporting the C6; and, b) compromises in the engineering design relating to packaging which put some key components in vulnerable places in the engine bay or elsewhere under the car. I think there are parallels with Chris’s XF where the key control unit was positioned in a vulnerable place which invited water ingress.

      There was a point where the car became something of a joke around the office because it was so often either not there because it was being fixed, or it was evidently stricken in some way (e.g. arse down-nose pointing 45 degrees upwards into the air). Then there were the arguments about its colour (everyone insisted it was black!) . A lot of colleagues never got it in the first place, which did not bother me at all (in fact, it rather pleased me at times), but the reliability issues just served to confirm in their minds that their German or Japanese (Lexus) purchases were the right ones, whilst ‘car-nut’ ‘Robinson had saddled himself with an off-a-cliff depreciating money pit! Of course, they were right, but I am glad that I was offered a way (and had the means) to keep the C6 on.

  3. You surely know that you are a blessed husband and father with a rebellious family and a 12-year-old daughter who cries when a C6 is to be sold. You can ask many people for a long time if this privilege has happened to them.
    (This passage of your report made even my eyes wet).

    1. I absolutely know that, Fred; I am a very lucky man. Thanks for reminding me, though.

  4. What I’d like to know is is Hydroactive III suspension any good (when it works)?

    1. There is not a short answer to that, I am afraid. I would compare it to learning to appreciate wine, beer, cheese, etc., because it’s just so different to the feel of other, spring-based suspensions.

      Overall, I would say, yes, it’s very good, at least from the standpoint of giving a very pliant ride – one that, most of the time, really isolates occupants from the road in a way that can be unnerving (my wife hates the sensation and it tends to make her car-sick). Put another way, the car does not react to the road in the way that other experiences tell you it should, that’s part of the problem she (and some others) has with it. There are times on motorways when the car literally does not feel connected to the road – my son (not really interested in cars) commented on it before Christmas when we were driving back from Birmingham.

      On a smooth surfaced but very uneven road (like some country lanes in the UK), the suspension can get out of sync with the body too – in these rather extreme and unusual situations, it can a lot of side to side ‘head-rocking’ . This can be sorted by pressing the ‘sport’ (pah!) mode which takes two of the spheres out of the picture and so tightens the body control whilst still delivering a very decent ride. I know some owners who press the ‘sport’ suspension button immediately on starting their cars – I prefer to leave it in ‘normal’, except for when my wife is with me (in reality – ‘sport’ should read ‘normal’ and the default should be called ‘soft’).

      On regular cobbled surfaces, the suspension is hilariously brilliant, albeit, again, there can be some ‘wallow’ if one takes things too quickly as the body gets a bit out of sync with the suspension.

      There are some road imperfections (larger pot-holes, sharp ridges – like some of those less generously proportioned speed bumps) that really catch the suspension out – and you hear it more than feel it in reality, but it can be quite loud and alarming. I think this is more down to the size and weight of the wheels and tyres – although the 18″ Roccastradas look great in my view, I suspect the 17″ shod cars will ride better.

      That’s a very ‘warts and all’ reflection – Simon S might have a different view/ perspective, which I invite him to provide.

    2. Hi S.V. Thanks for that very detailed answer! I remember as a teenager the first time I rode in my Dad’s new Citroën BX I was quite underwhelmed by the ride quality. Not sure what I was expecting really.

    3. I’ve driven an early C6 with the softer suspension setup and I’d agree that overall the suspension is very good, but it has it’s drawbacks as S.V. Robinson already has described. Once you get used to it, you might get hooked.

      My main gripe were the short sharp ridges you get near traffic lights. The suspension felt in a way absent drove over those. I have to say I don’t come across those that often anymore.

  5. Whenever I see a C6 or photo of it, especially the rear end of the car, I wonder if the rear lights have a larger area from the rear or from the side. Distinctive look indeed.

    The only thing that surprises me is how short tyres last on a C6. I easily get 100,000 kilometers out of a set of Michelins on my 325i. Nearly all of my driving is on smooth highways, so that might explain it. I do like winter tyres in snowy conditions, no matter if a car is front- rear or four wheel drive. The difference is huge. The only trouble I might run into is when there’s more snow than the ground clearance of the car can handle, which hasn’t happened yet. In case that happens the suspension of the C6 would definitely come in handy.

    1. Hi Freerk – the rear lamps are very three dimensional, and carry the ridge from the flying-buttress-like rear pillars along, round and then down to the outer ridge of the rear bumpers. The top leading edge abuts the rearmost angle of the chrome window surround, and, overall they give the impression of being structural, nor adornments. They are, as we say in the UK, rather ‘marmite’ items (so, you either love or hate them), and many I know really don’t like them at all, nor the overall rear treatment. I like them. I think the rear is unique; interesting, and complex, even if the rear bumper is huge, a bit lumpen and does not integrate that well into the side panel above the rear wheels – there is an almost Dali-esque, misshapen quality to the forms, with the lamps melting over the rear end.

      As to tyre wear – I think some of it is down to the weight of the car and the rest is UK road surfaces. I’ve owned cars for 33 years now and never managed 100,000 km on one. My Mazda’s would last about 60,000 km (on the fronts) and that’s the best I’ve seen. Michelins seem to particularly prone to wear in my experiences.

  6. I can add my endorsement to yours ref BL Autos. I’m on my second C6 and they are really the only port of call for C6. So many issues with #1 would have been avoided had I brought it to Welwyn GC.

    The points about the suspension are well made. It really takes practice to get it to “flow” around roundabouts (I automatically apply the sport button when I know one is coming up). Otherwise, half way around a fast roundabout, the suspension is already hardening on one side and when you are exiting, you need it to be harder on the other side.

    I hope I’ve not made it sound like a tour de force! But it does need practice.

    I like to weigh up what Citroen I would exchange for my C6. It could be a DS23/SM. However, even more absorbent suspension is well beaten by abs, traction control, modern heating, well-sealing windows, sound levels.

    A great French word that I think I can date to c.2010 is a “jemenfoutisme”. C6 is a genuine jemenfoutisme, a two-fingers to the default choice in the executive class and a bloody minded preference to damn the opex and just enjoy the experience.

  7. That’s a lovely, heart-warming story – your family sounds wonderful. The line “…the C6 was sent off to its equivalent of a spa-day (actually, three days) at BL Autos where it racked up a £1,600+ bill…” actually made me laugh out loud. Alan Clark, the colourful English politician who loved cars (among many other things) said that vehicles “always know when you love them”. I think that’s true.

  8. many many thanks SV for your warmly generous thinking
    and writing here. looking at the photo of the C6’s rump
    I’ve decided it really is beautiful. those tail lights do have
    a very pleasing architectural integrity.

  9. Quoting, “There are some road imperfections (larger pot-holes, sharp ridges – like some of those less generously proportioned speed bumps) that really catch the suspension out – and you hear it more than feel it in reality, but it can be quite loud and alarming.”

    This is the well known drawback with pneumatic springs. What you are experiencing is an adiabatic compression of the gas which results in transmissibility increasing suddenly. It is possible to design around it and compensate some but Citroen do not appear to have done that.

    1. Hi JT. I was aware that such behaviour was a drawback with pneumatic springs, but did not know of the term, nor that it can be mitigated through design. Apart from the addition of what were termed ‘AMVAR’ dampers, I don’t think that Hydractive III was much if any of an advance over previous systems, and was a step back from that fitted into the Xantia Activa. It seems to me that Citroen was no-longer really developing its oleopneumatic suspension system on cost grounds post the Xantia, and the versions fitted to the C6 and C5 II reflect what had become a legacy solution at PSA.

      Early production C6s came with a softer default suspension setting – and I’ve driven one of them (a courtesy car, owned by Robert at BL Autos) which rode more like a CX – but initial press feedback apparently resulted in a quick change in settings as the car was deemed too soft for modern tastes . Even that car suffered from the same kind of reaction to what I think of as high frequency shocks.

    2. Thank you, JT, for the scentific explanation of this behaviour! I’m not sure that I’ve ever been in a pneumatic-suspended Citroen (will I be banned from DTW after so shameful an admission!?) but I have a great many passenger miles and hours commuting on airbag suspended Scania coaches, and I always did wonder what it was about this type of suspension that meant there had to be those sudden flat clangs every so often in the midst of the soft swaying motion I so enjoyed…

    3. Michael: another DTW barring order on the way. Due to Covid Simon A. Kearne is delivering them by carrier pigeon. It might not arrive until March.
      I think air suspsension is something else entirely and I am not clear on the difference other than it involves air. Wikipedia lumps Citroen´s system in with the others which I suspect is a category mistake.

  10. S.V.R., your description of the H-III behaviour as completely isolating the passengers from the road, leads to certain parallels with the C5, as both
    the C5 and C6 use the newer type of spheres which eliminate diaphragm stiction.

    It seems to me that the BX, Xantia and XM (not including the non-McPherson suspended older generation oleopn.Citroens, which are completely another story) actually do benefit, in a certain sense, from that ‘parasitic stiction’ in the old type of spheres, as it seems to induce that elusive, intermediary layer of ‘road feel’ that those three models are so famous for. It gives them a certain Peugeot-ness in the way the road surface is translated to the driver’s and passengers’ derriere-sensors (especially the BX, as, being so lightweight,
    this feeling is exacerbated). Whereas, the C5 and C6 apparently deliver
    a 100% isolation experience, which might be extreme for some tastes.

    This leads to a possible conclusion that, in terms of ‘primary ride resolution’,
    the C6/C5 are, absurdly, the complete opposite of the ’80s/’90s Peugeot ‘magically damped’ cars: the Peugeot dampers translate most any surface texture and/or irregularity, into a pleasant, ‘syrupy’ road feel. This is,
    as a thinking, a 180 degree turnaround from the (oleopneumatic) tendency
    to ignore the road surface entirely, which only fully materialized in the
    H-III iteration with the Mushroom-shaped spheres – creating the
    ultimate ‘disconnected wafting experience’.

    Both concepts are somewhat hellbent as thinking, but scientifically speaking they are diametrically opposed : one is an art of convincingly translating any surface hindrance into a ‘sweet tactile sensation’ (addictive),the other is taking the ‘no subject = no problem’ approach (also addictive, in a way, judging by your family members’ reported mixed, but ultimately favourable emotions).

    Both are a fascinating and addictive way to travel.

    This gives a new context to the automatically imposed comparison between
    the 406 and C5, as recently discussed in another DTW comment thread.

    (We should not neglect to mention that the Peugeot approach was actually best executed on the 605, which did not reach a wider audience and was hence almost forgotten, and on the higher-specced 306, which are also a treat).

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