Motoring: The dream car that's a nightmare to own

Citroen has gained a reputation for its maverick approach: mechanically advanced vehicles, individualistic in style - but often flawed. John Simister asks: does a change of bosses at the French car-maker mean a change in its approach?

I have just been driving a Citroen XM. The car is a rare sight on our roads, so perhaps I should remind you what it is. It's large, wedge-shaped and entirely unlike any other car known to the modern world. And it may surprise you to know that it is still in production.

However, last year's XM sales in the UK failed to reach a three-figure number. It's a vicious circle: the car is both outlandish and intriguing, so you have to be an individualist to want one. Then, when you come to sell, you need to find another individualist to take it off your hands. There aren't many who are prepared to sink large sums of money into the uncertain marshlands of automotive outspokenness, so a second-hand XM is worth little. Knowing this, people don't buy new ones.

It gets worse. XMs are complex cars, with computer-controlled hydropneumatic suspension and lots of electronickery. And there are times, quite a lot of times if the XM is oldish, and has a V6 engine and an automatic gearbox, when full function is by no means guaranteed. "Told you so," people will say to the owner of an early XM (they came out in 1989) so afflicted. Repairs cost more than the car's already depressed value, and that's that.

There's a breaker's yard near me which contains many XMs. Some look to be in good order, but they don't work any more and it's not worth anyone's while to mend them. They're not rusty, not decayed, not even old in normal car-life terms. But they are dead. Casualties of technology versus economics, and the economics have won. It's a shocking waste.

Citroen knows all this, of course. Wilfully wacky cars do not generate solid mass-market sales, which is why recent Citroens are much more mainstream. Take the Saxo and the Xsara. To look at, they could have been made by almost anyone. To drive, they feel like Peugeots (not that there is anything wrong with that). This is because Peugeot owns Citroen and Peugeots, fundamentally, are what they are. In the UK, the Saxo is the fastest-selling Citroen ever.

In the short term, this is all very well. But when a car company has a history of innovation as illustrious as Citroen's, it seems a bad long- term image strategy to throw it all away. Far better, surely, to manage it properly, emphasise the good points, make the cars objects of desire in their own right. And, finally, something is to be done.

It is happening because Jacques Calvet, the charismatic, autocratic, outspoken president of the Peugeot-Citroen group, retired last year and his replacement, Jean-Martin Folz, is rearranging the furniture. Peugeot and Citroen each have a new boss, and from now on the watchwords are to be innovation, growth and profitability. The last two are obvious business goals. But to put innovation at the top of the list is tantamount to a new dawn for Citroen.

So, what can we expect in the future? For Peugeot, it will probably be business as usual. The cars are attractive and well-regarded, and there wasn't much wrong with the product plan anyway, as the next arrival, a small car to be called either 206 or 207, will show later in the year. For Citroen there won't be a wholesale return to admirable oddities like the GS and CX, but we should see a more daring, leading-edge approach of the sort that has served Audi so well.

One rumour suggests a "new 2CV". This wouldn't be a retro-look plaything along the lines of the new Beetle and the new Mini, but a car to recreate the original 2CV's functionality. It wouldn't look like a 2CV, nor would that be its name, but it would fulfil a similar role using modern technology and, probably, a Saxo-based understructure.

For now, though, it's the Xantia that comes closest to how a future mainstream Citroen should be. That means visually recognisable as a Citroen, handsome, technologically upbeat with a modern version of the hydropneumatic suspension pioneered by the DS more than four decades ago, yet free of the needless strangeness that put so many people off earlier Citroens. This is the key car with which to link Citroen's past and its future.

And the XM? Think of it as the last relic of the maverick years. The top version, the one I have been driving, with the new joint-venture Peugeot-Citroen-Renault V6, a 2.9-litre engine with 24 valves, 194bhp and a thrilling growl of a sound, is the quickest XM I have ever driven. That's right; an XM V6 automatic moving under its own power, unlike many of its ancestors. But it's still wilfully odd.

That innovation is once again on the Citroen agenda is great news for anyone who rails against deadening uniformity. This time, though, let's hope the company remembers why people prefer to admire someone else's XM rather than buy one of their own.

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
Sport
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea players celebrate Demba Ba's goal and Gus Poyet
sportLive coverage of today's final game between Chelsea and Sunderland
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit