First Drive : Citroën C6 V6 HDI Exclusive

AFTER a hiatus of seven years, Citroën is back in the big time, offering a prestige car for the executive set. The C6 boasts concept car styling and – arguably – the world’s best diesel engine. How can it fail?

‪KEITH ADAMS take the wheel of the company’s latest offering and wonders whether if things had been different in the ’60s, we’d have been driving Austins that look like this today…‬

Towering achievement?

Okay it's not Paris, and Blackpool in May can be pretty grim, but the Citroën C6 can add glamour to the greyest of car parks...

ASK anyone with half an eye on the car market what their perceptions of Citroën are, and they’ll talk about cheap hatchbacks, Happy Deals, and cashback cheques. The older people among us might recall the days of troublesome hydropneumatic suspension, or vegetarian school lecturers driving rusting Deux Chevaux. Few, though, will associate the great marque with great big cars, despite a heritage littered with exactly that.

‪There are few motoring enthusiasts who don’t go dewey-eyed at the sight of a DS – a car launched in 1955, and brought a taste of Buck Rogers to a generation of French bankers and Civil Servants. One or two of us feel the same about the Seventies’ CX and SM, as well as the Nineties XM. However, the nearer we fast forward to the present day, the fewer adherents there are for the big Citroëns.‬

‪That’s a shame, though, but seems to sum up the plight of the French car manufacturers – they can make cracking small-to-medium cars – but who the hell buys the big ones? Well, in the era of the DS (and to a lesser extent the CX), quite a few did. Mainly because the big Citroëns seduced anyone with a taste for the esoteric – and although contemporary buyers mainly didn’t enjoy a run round the block in a car with tip-of-the-toe brakes, ultra-soft suspension, and ultra-high geared steering, that added to the appeal of Citroën to the ‘chosen few’.‬

‪Sadly, the XM didn’t do well in the UK after its first couple of honeymoon seasons, and because the first few off the line were unreliable, it sooned earned a dog-in-the-manger reputation…‬

‪Also, during the past ten or fifteen years, all those systems pioneered by Citroën were bested by the competition. Yes, no-one followed the Hydropneumatic suspension lead (although air suspension is now taking off), but advances in spring and damping technology largely made the fluid system redundant. The same goes for the powered brakes – one by one, other manufacturers produced systems equally as effective without the perceived complications.‬

‪And that summed up the XM – needlessly complex and no real advantage.‬

‪With the XM dead in the water, Citroën’s presence in the upper-medium class receded (along with Rover’s, Vauxhall’s, Ford’s) as the German annexation continued full steam ahead. As the Nineties continued, Citroën was pushed into the role of ‘Peugeot-Junior’, selling a line-up comprised of slightly inferior Peugeots at a bargain basement price, and heavily marketed this way…‬

‪The C6 was launched earlier this year, and although Citroën plays heavily on the heritage of the DS, CX and SM (but not the XM, sadly), it knows it has a battle on its hands selling the new car in the UK. Already the dreaded ‘D’ word (depreciation) has been bandied around, and Citroën will be tightly controlling supply of the car in order to prop up resale values in future years – but is that enough to persuade buyers out of their German executive cars?‬

‪Citroën certainly hopes so…‬

‪Performance and economy‬

‪THE V6 HDI engine found in the C6 is the same as that used in the Jaguar S-TYPE and XJ, as well as the impressive new Peugeot 407 Coupe, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this is a fantastic power unit. Yes, it’s a diesel, and you’re under no illusion when it’s at idle – especially when cold – but what sets this engine apart from the former class leading units offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz is that once you dial-in a smidgen of revs, there’s very little aural clues to its DERV status.‬

‪A blip of the throttle sees the engine revs rise and fall in a keen and most un-diesel way, and your expectations are instantly raised.‬

‪Once underway, it soon becomes apparent that there’s power and torque, and most importantly refinement, aplenty, and you begin to question the relevance of the V6 petrol version. The automatic gearbox is soft and smooth-shifting, and is ideally matched to the C6’s raison d’etre of comfort-at-all-costs, but the Tiptronic arrangement was rather slow-witted and the up/down shift pattern seemed the wrong way round to us (i.e., push forward to change up, pull back to change down)…‬

‪However, although there’s plenty of power delivered by the twin-turbo lump, it has to overcome the C6’s not inconsiderable kerb weight (nearly 1900kg), and as a result, it’s never balls-out quick. In fact, you’ll marvel at the way it gains momentum in a deceptively relaxed way, but for a car costing the thick end of £38,000, it’s certainly more relaxed than it should be.‬

‪Checking it against the stopwatch, we only just managed to beat 9 seconds to 60mph, and 100mph took well over 20 seconds to come up. Compare that with the performance of the Mercedes-Benz E320CDi and BMW 535D, and you’ll see what we mean. Of course, the C6 isn’t about ragging it from the lights, and engaging the Germans in the fast lane, but we suspect that many owners will be disappointed by its outright performance – especially considering the pace of the Jaguar XJ.‬

‪Fuel consumption was nothing to write home about, either – we averaged 22.5mpg – in mixed, give and take driving. Again, we suspect that will not be of primary importance to its intended buyers, but a range of under 500 miles between fill-ups probably will be.‬

‪In summary, we love refinement of the bar-raising engine, but wonder whether the excess wight of the C6 is taking its toll…‬

‪Handling and ride‬

‪CitroënS have always been about avoiding playing the percentage game; excelling in some areas, and falling short in others – with enthusiastic buyers accepting small foibles as a pay-off for excellence in other areas.‬

‪We reckon the C6 remains true to form. Yes, the ride quality is very good indeed – and you’ll have to spend much more money (or buy a classic) to match its poise and comfort on your typical mix of British out-of-town roads. Most of the time, passengers will be so comfortable, they’ll be blissfully unaware of the speed you’re travelling.‬

‪There is a pay-off though – and one that seems to be a Hydropneumatic family trait. At low speeds, the suspension is cannot mask the effect of broken surfaces from entering the cabin – and sharp irregularities can jar the driver rather noisily. It’s a pay-off for sure, but there are times – especially in urban driving where you’ll find the C6 deeply underwhelming.‬

‪As speeds ride, though, the C6 displays masterful body control – and you’ll soon be marvelling at how it all comes together so beautifully. There’s a bit more roll than you’d expect in a car sold by the company that brought you roll-free ‘Activa’ suspension, but it feels composed and grippy all the same. As speeds rise further, steering and suspension firm-up more, and that waftiness ebbs away, but it’s still near the top of the class despite plenty of roll-rocking and a slightly fidgety ride.‬

‪The variable assistance steering works seemlessly, although there’s a lack of feel to contend with at lower speeds – but it’s easily acclimatised to.‬

‪The C6 is not the suspension tour-de-force we were expecting, but it’s a fine effort nevertheless, and a welcome return of the car that majors on ride quality to the British market…‬

‪At the wheel‬

‪All the elegance of a Range Rover with the quality of a German car – the C6 is a long way from the XM…‬

‪THE C6 is a fantastic luxo-barge, and boasts all the equipment a discerning executive car buyer would ever need in his day to day business. The test car boasted TGV style rear seats, which proved a source of entertainment for rear seat passengers – the rear bench reclines, and indvidually adjusts – and even boasts an override for the front seat, all in aid of maximising rear seat space…‬

‪In terms of equipment, there’s very little lacking, although the excellent parking radar and superb sounding in car enterntainment system are noteworthy. It has to be remembered that this is a £38,000 car, and so it should be lavishly equipped. Oh, and those doorbins – you’ll be playing with them for hours…‬

‪The instruments are all digital and are supplemented by a natty head-up display, which plonks your road speed and Sat/Nav commands centrally in your line of sight – in the middle of the windscreen. We wonder if digital instruments will do any better second time around…‬

‪Interior quality is well above the French norm, with tough soft-feel plastics, and switches that abound with high precision feel. The Sat/Nav interface seemed on the slow side to us, but that may have been a quirk of the test car.‬

‪Seating is generous, and although the driver’s armchair lacks lateral support in hard cornering, its offers every adjustment you’ll ever need, and a commanding driving position. All it’s missing is back support – but that seems to be a traditional family trait, even if the initial firmness is at odds with Citroëns past…‬


Citroen C6
Remind you of anything? See below...‬

‪‬THERE’S no doubt about it – this is a show of bravery from Citroën. But it’s one we welcome. There’s far too much engineering conformity in contemporary vehicle design, and the C6 has eschewed the basic principles of the sector’s best sellers to produce a car very true to its heritage.‬

‪It will be interesting to see whether buyers will plump for the new car given the reputation the XM picked up (undeservedly) during its life. There’s also the huge question mark over its potential resale values, and although Citroën believes it can control market values through controlling supplies, we’ll be extremely keen to see whether the effort is successful or not.‬

‪What about the car itself – well, it’s a marvellous statement of design, for sure, but it’s also rather patchy in what it can offer – it’s very comfortable for some of the time, it’s not as fast as it should be, nor is it that economical.‬

‪But despite all that – we love it. And the reason for that is simple – it looks amazing, and the world would be a much poorer place without it. However, we’d not blame any potential buyer for bottling out, and playing safe – especially at £38,000…‬

Pininfarina 1800
We reckon that if BMC had the courage to build this car, it's direct descendant would look something like this...‬
Keith Adams


    • Bought one two weeks ago with only 70k miles, it runs amazing, everyone comments on it and I only paid 8K….
      Best ever investment, the experience driving this car is unique, I love it!!!

  1. As the previous owner of 3 x XM estates, between 1994 and 2002 (brilliant cars) and a C5 estate, between 2002 and 2003 (unmitigated disaster), this is all very interesting.

    They certainly “controlled the supply”, as they sold around 10% as many C6’s as XM’s, the XM already having been a sales disaster.

    The C6 is a wonderful looking thing outside, but the inside was far to obviously related to the C5 (in terms of space, legroom, driving position and lack of stadium seating) to be a serious XM replacement. The lack of a manual or, until near the end, a low emission Diesel engine, rendered it a non starter for a company car too.

    Got to love the style though!

    PS: It seems that Citroen had a tradition of ignoring the previous executive cars. It was as if they’d never heard of the CX when the XM was launched, how ironic that the XM should, in turn, be ignored.

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