I'm coming down the dual carriageway, approaching a three lane roundabout, l come this way every week and I'm in autopilot mode. Snick into third, flick the wheel quarter of a turn, jump into the second lane, nail the loud pedal and accelerate straight for 40 yards before turning hard left again, throttle still hard down to get me up to speed for the motorway traffic 100yds away uphill.
Not today. Instead, the car barely turns in time to stay in the third lane. I wind on extra lock, miss out on the throttle and tip toe gently onto the slip road, by the time I've collected my thoughts it's too late. I've lost momentum and have to spot the gap and gun it rather than slide in to the traffic stream. (make mental note: 30 ft long car does not turn as quick as a Mini ).
And with my brain otherwise engaged that was the first and last moment I had.
It's really just a case of acclimatising yourself to the sheer size of this leviathan of a car. So large that you have to have a second look just to make sure your eyes are not deceiving you, this is a car so long the weather is probably different at either end.
This must be the biggest estate sensible money can buy. Second hand XM's go for silly money, as they are one of the biggest depreciators on the market.
So the question is:
Is it cheap because it's a pile of Dodgy Gallic Weirdness?
Is it a secret bargain denied to most of us because of the inherent conservative tendencies of the majority of new car buyers?
The XM follows in the line of other famous Citroens of the past - the DS, CX, and SM - and as such is technologically innovative in comparison to other mainstream motors. One of the highlights is the hydropneumatic suspension. This gives it a magic carpet feel to the ride. But it's also its Achilles' heel and one of the main reasons for the massive depreciation.Fear is the key factor here. Fear of complicated and possibly expensive future repairs. It is a strange attitude indeed when you consider that the constituent parts are surprisingly cheap, the system has been in production for forty years and is highly refined and developed and when you consider how we happily accept highly advanced engines, with such techno marvels as Turbos, 16 valves , 20 valves, VTEC, VVC, Vanos, Twinspark, multipoint injection, etc etc it's an attitude that begins to look ever more anachronistic. Maybe it's the lack of race track inspired breeding and kudos for this type of suspension that causes our rather blinkered vision - "Ferrari don't use it so it can't be much cop can it?" But, we are talking about the real world here - a world of potholed city streets.
Most race tracks don't feature pot holes, diesel spills, broken glass, cats eyes, overbanding, and a million other real life hazards.
Do you happen to drive a mid-engined, rear wheel drive car with fully independent wishbone suspension at all four corners, razor sharp quick rack steering and a quad cam multi-valve, multi-cylinder engine, driving a six speed, sequential change straight cut gear box ??? Then fine, you can look down on this system as a second rate compromise which takes away from the finer points of a cars' handling and balance, adding weight and complexity. If you don't, then you're already driving a heavily compromised machine and have little or no room for complaint.
The trade-off for superlative ride comfort is that the suspension does allow the car to roll somewhat as a consequence of its soft settings but this version has an extra trick up its sleeve. Push the button next to the gearshift and the suspension shifts into "sports mode". This firms up the ride making it jiggle slightly over pockmarks that "normal mode" floats over. The handling sharpens up nicely in "sports mode", cornering is almost flat and the steering feels tighter and more responsive. Shame then, that the trickery can't knock three feet out of the wheelbase.
Obviously this is not the kind of car you buy for throwing round the twisties - that's not the reason for its existence - but for such a big car it really does respond remarkably well. Stability is excellent, making long motorway cruises relaxed and unstressed. It grips well and has a solid reassuring feel. Just as long as you remember that it is twice as long as a Double Decker bus and can take as long to respond to the helm as a small oil tanker
Considering that this is the bottom of the range model it's pretty well equipped;
The list is endless and should provide
enough toys for most of us.
Practicality is the strong point of this car - roof rails, split rear seat and a tidy rear load cover, embellish an interior larger than the average front room, combined with a greenhouse worth of glass for panoramic views of the outside world. When playing the role of the workhorse that an estate is supposed to be (as opposed to a thinly disguised lifestyle statement ), the XM is truly at its best with a humungous flat rear load area and built-in self-leveling which means prodigious carrying capacity.
The foot operated parking brake is very Americana/Benz (and initially slightly worrying) but simple and sensible in use. For some reason whether by design or coincidence the car doesn't even appear to roll backwards on normal inclines so you don't even need to bother with it that often. It works the front discs and can be used if you suffer total hydropneumatic failure (as if, after 40 years of trials and tweaking!) and the lack of a handle promotes more space on the transmission tunnel. The only thing it can't do is a hand brake turn. (Minus 10 points for that then if your one of those remarkably fussy motor mag staff writers, a stunt driver or a complete headcase)
The driving position in this Citroen is an improvement over the usual effort with better shaped, more supportive seats and pedals which can be used by people with normal sized feet! It could be better though, as you do tend to feel rather perched, sitting 'on' rather than 'in' the car.
The interior is tastefully restrained with some real classy touches, like the black Perspex warning light strip which you can totally ignore till something goes wrong, and the damped glovebox lid which rises open slowly and gracefully.
The engine does have a decent amount of top end thrust
with a claimed top end of over 120mph. I would gladly swap 10 -15 mph of
that for more low and mid-range grunt and I suspect most of the buyers this
car would find that far more useful than its entirely academic top end fleet-footedness.
On a short-term test like this, the power curve may have been more palatable if it was the least bit accessible via the gear shift. Unfortunately, this one was slow, stiff, notchy and cumbersome. In short, it was rather nasty, making decent smooth progress was more a case of luck than judgement. I'm fairly sure a diesel version would be much more pleasant to drive. As a rule I'm not a big fan of large, lazy motors and auto boxes. But I'd be prepared to change my mind in this case, as in such a large stately car, which is so overtly un-sporting, it does seem rather unseemly to have to bother stirring the gear stick. (Doubly so when you have to do it so often!)
Those of us old enough to remember the
TV sci-fi UFO will probably recall Ed Straker's rather startling car. Every
time I see a saloon XM I get flash backs of buzzing, spinning alien machines
heading towards the atmosphere, tracked by green interceptors, fronted by
large single white torpedoes, guided along by sun tanned
skinny women in gold glitter wigs and catsuits. Citroen's designers must have
been avid viewers too, you can see the echoes of Ed's car from every angle.
Retro it's not though. Space age and beyond is nearer the mark. One day all cars will look like this. (If manufactures are bold enough to build them.)
Rakish good looks are of little use, if the old tin worm eats away at your features and the chassis disintegrates around you. A fully galvanised body makes sure that the chassis at least should rival anything on the road for longevity.
If you can hold out for one with a different power unit then do so. This one really spoils the experience. Other than that the only problem you will have is finding one.
Free thinkers queue here for a car that will keep you happy forever.
Sheep look elsewhere.
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