The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (Part 4).

In this final part, I take stock of the experience of living with the C6 over the last decade.

Striking, and distinctive, if not lovely (source: author’s photo)

There is no getting away from the fact that the C6 has been less reliable and more expensive to maintain than it ought to have been. Most of the problems occurred between 60,000 and 100,000 miles, irritatingly after the warranty had expired. Whether it was the car’s weight overwhelming in particular the various suspension components is a matter of speculation, and one which was often vigorously contested on C6 Owner’s fora.[1]

On average, I estimate I have spent around £1,200 a year keeping the C6 in decent fettle, including a couple of visits to a bodyshop to sort out some corrosion spots, a bit of paint blooming on a wing (caused by a poor respray whilst the car’s paintwork was still under warranty), and the time when some scallywag (if that is the correct term) dropped a brick on the bonnet whilst it was parked in a street, leaving it there so that it – and the damage it had caused – could not be missed.

Give the car a nice wash and polish and it looks quite superb – Robert himself wondered if I’d paid for a recent full respray last time it was there; he has owned a number of C6s over the years and so has quite the discerning eye for them.

The interior has worn quite well and has developed aspects of patina.  The buttons on the steering wheel which work the cruise control have shed their outer skin to a lesser or greater extent. The lid of the ashtray in the front passenger door broke and, again, some of the outer plastic coating has stripped off.[2]

The previous owner managed to chafe the leather on the outside hip-bolster on the driver’s seat, but regular care with Autoglym leather balm has stopped it from degrading. The seat itself has become more comfortable with age, with the cushion softening a little; the seats have always flattered to deceive somewhat, looking plush and plump but proving oddly firm and ungiving. The door-stays and boot-lid struts need replacing, and the nearside wing mirror has discoloured … but, otherwise, at the moment, it works.

So, given that it’s been an expensive 10 years (did I mention it sits in the top tax bracket?), full of a lot of part failures and so has never been the most confidence inspiring of companions, why am I still the proud owner of what must be one of Citroën’s biggest commercial failures? Why did I sell a perfectly good, reliable and excellent, fun to drive Subaru to end up in a quixotic, temperamental, brown barge?

This photo gives a real sense of the styling statement that are the headlamps (source: author’s photo)

Well, I could quote George Bishop and say “Because I am a bloody idiot, that’s why”, and my wife might well agree with his words. Especially when one hears from Executive Car Hire business owners who told me that they only ever buy Mercedes because they are the only manufacturer which 100% honours their 3 year, 300,000 mile warranty, with bearings failures and suspension arm replacements all being paid for on cars running in excess of 280,000 miles.

But, the real answer is that it has become a mild and benign (for my circumstances) form of obsession. Call me soft, but I feel some misplaced sense of protectiveness towards the C6, like I am somehow honour-bound to be its keeper. And, I do love it, although I am always very honest about my experiences if anyone seems to be seeking a recommendation to buy from me.

Since becoming my hobby rather than sole means of transport, I have been able to appreciate what I like about the car even more. On the right road under the right circumstances (i.e. no rush), it is just a sublimely unctuous experience, to be the driver of this car. One of the things that the C6 does best (most of the time – when the suspension is not being caught out by the odd ridge or pot-hole), is to isolate its occupants from the noise, strains and sensations of the outside world.

I believe it’s also one of the things that repels some people from the C6.  That sense of isolation can be discombobulating; my wife finds it quite unnerving and so insists that I put the suspension into Sport mode to help recreate the sensations one more expects and gets from the way a normal car goes down a road.

Recently, I drove from the office[3] to collect my son from university in Birmingham. It was lashing with rain and what light there was faded rather quickly. The Citroën was quite majestic, very composed along the A14 and M6, quiet and cocooning, with the torquey engine effortlessly pulling the great mass of the thing along. From inside the car, that engine can sound quite cultured when extended a bit, and can be quite fun too as the car picks up its skirts for a moment and surges forwards. Such it was on that journey. It managed 42 MPG over the full 210 miles of that particular round-trip back home again.

I stopped at the services just shy of Junction 4 on the M6 and sat at the window of the drivethru coffee shop, looking out at my rain-lashed Citroën. It really is a strikingly styled car, with a beautifully extended arcing roofline, well proportioned DLO framed by lovely chromed trim, and distinctive (but not really prestigious looking) Roccastrada 18″ wheels.  There really is nothing like it, and it looks so lengthy – even more so than it actually is.

There are elements that are wrong (headlamps, rear bumper, auxiliary lamps either side of the rear number plate surround), and it is a bit of an enlarged, inferior pastiche of the CX, but it draws my eye every time I see it. And, I like the Ganache, even if everyone else just thinks it is black.[4]

I know I am a lucky boy to have enough disposable to keep it running and in a condition to which I like it. But our other cars are hardly extravagant (a 54-month old FIAT 500 and a 40 month-old Octavia Estate – which has just suffered a failed alternator (something that – touch wood – has not (yet) failed on the C6), and I don’t smoke, drink much, or go on expensive holidays, so I find ways to excuse it as the one luxury item in my life.[5]

This won’t be replacing even my less than reliable C6, and not only because it is only for sale in China. (c) carsalesbase

I guess the final question is whether I will still be its keeper in another 10 years from now?  I suspect that the odds are against it: by then there will have been another round of part failures or an accident-induced write-off, and moreover, driving a big, dirty, only-Euro 4-compliant diesel car might be banned in many places by then. Is that a sad thought? Yes it is – partly because I have come to feel that there is no other car (bar an SM or DS) that I can think I would want to replace it.

It is a special car, not for everyone, definitely not ordinary [6], but I can’t bear the thought of seeing my daughter cry again at the idea of losing it – so I do anticipate it to be around for a few years yet.

[1]Which I found useful up to the point I found a proper garage to look after the car, after which I actually found it just biased and a bit deluded.

[2]Repaired using Araldite, the only glue I know which actually works.

[3]New job, now based in Wellingborough – when actually in the office, which I can get to by train when I feel like it.

[4]You would not believe how many people try to tell me I am wrong about its colour – do they think I am completely stupid?

[5] Two, if you include our Border Terrier.

[6] People with whom I acquainted where I live can’t begin to understand why I bought it and assumed for a long time that I must work for Citroën UK.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

20 thoughts on “The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (Part 4).”

  1. A nice conclusion to the story (so far). Thanks for sharing, S.V. Do you get random strangers walking up to talk to you about the C6 when you are out and about in it? I certainly couldn’t resist doing so. You can meet some very interesting people when you get into conversation in this way.

    Totally agree about Araldite*. It’s completely reliable, as long as you are patient and allow it 24 hours to achieve full strength. This is unlike ‘superglue’ type adhesives, that seem to work reliably only in glueing your fingers together!

    * DTW’s editorial policy obliges me to say that other epoxy resin adhesives are available (but they’re not as good!)

    1. To be fair to superglue: It really is very, very good at glueing fingers together.

  2. An excellent series SV so thank you for posting. I certainly admire you for sticking with the C6 and have looked at them more than once. Unfortunately my Citroen experience with a Xantia as a Company car some years ago has influenced my thinking I’m afraid.

    1. I wouldn’t be ‘afraid’, Mike – it sounds like you have 100% done the sensible thing. It may be that I have been a bit unlucky (?) with mine, but, as I have said before, I am always very cautious about recommending one to people; you’ve got to be committed (and hence, REALLY want to own one) before taking the plunge.

  3. Would it be true that owning an more recent older car is more trouble than, say one from the 1980s? While my XM has not been a paragon of reliability, it has been good and the costs mostly moderate. When it was about 14-15 it was an easy car to look after and the bills were mostly moderate. I got caught out by a fixer in Cologne one time (a former Citroen dealer) but my usual mechanic was affordable. The kinds of things SV describes sound a lot more costly and complex than what I faced when the XM was a similar age. I´d find that quite off putting and probably applies to cars of a similar vintage such as the Thesis. I´d suggest the year 2000 as the turning point when complexity became “life threatening” to older cars. I think my XM can run indefinitely; the C6? Not so sure.

    1. I 100% agree with this thought – I strongly suspect that caring for a CX and XM (for as long as part availability is not an issue) would be less costly than the C6. It really is a complex car, and packaging all the gubbins under it’s expansive but mainly shapely skin has definitely left a legacy of challenges in terms of accessibility even to replace basic components. As I wrote previously, the biggest threat is that the car has a minor shunt that causes damage to certain parts that are very costly to replace, meaning that it’s either a write-off or I pay a bill that’s greater than the value of the car itself …

    2. Yes, the turn of the millennium can be seen as a turning point. However, I would be more precise and put the time at the beginning to middle of the 90s with the introduction of the immobilisers.
      At the latest with the introduction of the second generation (initially only in the big and expensive cars) in the mid-90s, when the immobilisers became part of the engine management system, a considerable number of gremlins had moved in under the bonnet.
      And with every gimmick that was (and had to be) installed in the cars after that, the population of Gemlins increased exponentially.
      And as it is with monsters (whether under the bed or in the car) they don’t like to be woken up, and the more there are, one of them always wakes up when the car moves – which is the whole point of a car, very few people buy such a heap of metal just to put it in the driveway for decorative purposes.
      That’s why I advise anyone who wants to buy an old car to take one that was built before 1990 – unless someone wants to take part in the competition to turn a big fortune into a small one in a short time.

      That’s also why I take my hat off to anyone who is willing to keep a post-2000 car alive – it takes nerve and money.

    3. The problem weren’t immobilers as such but the move from electics to electronics with multiplex wiring first (the XM’s biggest problem), CAN and MOST buses later.
      In a CX you have a switch controlling electric current supply to a window winder, in a CAN car you have a switch sending a signal to a control unit switching the current for the window.
      I do error message redouts on my CAN/MOST bus equipped car on a regular basis, mostly because the car is showing strange behaviour every now and then in worringly short intervals. It is astonishing/frightening to see how many ‘temporary error’ messages all those control units collect which are impossible to reproduce.
      Example: one mornint the driver’s side door window will not go fully down after a short tap on the switch. Error message: temporary malfunction of window position sensor. Arrrgh.

  4. A very enjoyable, realistic, series of articles on a car I really like (though have so far only admired from the outside). The C6 is my favourite modern-ish Citroën, bar the Xantia Activa (an even less rational choice?).

    1. I would love an Activa! Robert at BL Autos has one with a V6 engine in it (I may have said this before …) which he races (!) and is awesome!! It’s one of three cars that (having had time to dwell on it since I wrote this final chapter) I can think of that I would consider to replace the C6: the Activa, a KIA Stinger (V6), or, a Polestar 2 (I can’t afford the latter two, so that leaves the Activa as a default … and they are very rare these days).

  5. A splendid series, thank you.

    Written in what is almost a confessional style, it created a rock-solid impression about being competently informed of a model that’s so obscure in terms of relatable ownership experience.

    What is interesting about most Citroen ownership experiences, though, is that they are, more often than not, of either the
    “never again”, or the “must be a Citroen again” variety.

    The curse of the former is that the bearer realises, only afterwards,
    that most nothing else can replace that car, and it comes as a wave
    of secondary, ‘afterburner frustration’, so to speak. The latter
    is usually a disappointment waiting to materialise.
    Elements of sinfulness & repent are not absent at all
    amidst the consequences of electing this path.

    Apart from some apparently under-engineered (for the weight) suspension components, it seems that the C6 was actually brilliant
    both in terms of the styling/panache growing on its owner after
    a while, and as a set of oleopneumatic expectations. Whereas,
    simply as a car, one might fall into the trap of asessing it as average, or at least recklessly built. But in the light of the dismal reliability/running costs of other cars from its era,
    it does not actually sound that compromised.

    P.S. An Octavia alternator bursting exactly 3-4 months after warranty expiration?! What is this called nowadays? ‘Nouvelle VAG’?

  6. I think part of the joy of driving an unusual car is actually learning to drive it properly and to get the best out of it, especially when it becomes second nature.

    Once you’ve done so, you are then enjoying a really unusually good experience, which few other people on the road have had, or have enough patience to master. I’ve only rarely had that sensation, but when when one does, it really bonds you to the vehicle.

    In other sphere, it’s like being one of the few people who get on with a difficult horse and can ride it properly – you become very defensive of, and attached to, the creature involved.

  7. Excellent read, S.V. The remark about the people in your area assuming you must work for Citroën UK, had me chuckle. It reminds me of the remarks I sometimes get when people visit my apartment for the first time and they’re asking if I just moved in or am about to move out or something similar. One of the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle.

    As far as the C6 is concerned. I have a huge soft spot for it. I look at C6’s for sale every now and then. Over here it would have to be a petrol powered one, because older Diesels aren’t allowed in certain zones and the road tax for heavy diesel cars is huge. Good low mileage examples without an oil burner are surprisingly expansive though, so it’s not very I’ll pull the trigger on this one.

  8. When I owned a rather rare car I regularly trawled ebay for any reasonably priced parts which might be hard to source if the car ever got dinged. I eventually had a full set of rear lights, one headlamp, one foglamp, etc. Most folk in rural Ireland would buy a complete car for spares, but I don’t have enough land….

    1. One time I wondered how much it would cost to buy and keep enough examples of one model to drive a “new” one for the rest of one´s life. The answer depends on the cost of the car, the cost of rent and the cost of conservation maintenance. You´d amaze people if you produced a “new” Citroen XM 2.0 SEi every five years for forty years. You could buy them without registering them so the cars would always have a newish reg. I suppose you could recoup some costs by selling the ones you´d finished with.

  9. Thank you for this fascinating insight into the C6 and the ownership experience. The “misplaced sense of protectiveness” that makes you “somehow honour-bound to be its keeper” sums up the dangerous affliction that can easily overtake any of us perfectly and doubtless explains why our roads remain populated with such an array of delightful vehicles.

  10. This is the best ownership review I have ever read – Both brutally honest & yet forgiving.
    Some cars require the owner to develop a relationship with them before you can feel that the car has given you control. Any relationship that takes time
    & effort to understand each other, becomes deep & intensely rewarding.
    I’ve owned various Citroens over the years & everyone has let me down in some way, but the marque still draws me back for more, because I understand their idiosyncrasies. No other manufacturer makes me feel that my choice to buy one of their products is a decision made from the heart & not the head. When driver & car connect-Voila!
    Perhaps it’s time for me to finally experience a “big” Citroen……………………

    1. Thanks for the kind comment. You are very right to describe the experience between myself and the C6 as a ‘relationship’ – because that’s how it feels. I like the car implicitly and am prepared to put up with a (fair) degree of grief to keep the relationship going. It means that people around me sometimes struggle to understand why I put up with it and what I see in it. Add the very counter-cultural driving experience and most others are completely baffled.

      I struggle to recommend the C6 to anyone, though, knowing what I know of the ownership experience. I would hate to convince someone to enter into it and for them to then be taken aback – or to the cleaners – in terms of spend on maintenance and upkeep.

      It’s a rare car, I haven’t seen another for months now, and there is a certain pleasure in that, as is knowing that it’s such a distinctive and attractive car, and many people do seem to appreciate that. The other day when I was filling up with diesel, a guy got down from his truck close to me and commented ‘beautiful car; do enjoy it’, which I took as a big compliment to the C6.

      So, not for the faint hearted, but it has its rewards.

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