Motoring: The dream car that's a nightmare to own - Life and Style - The Independent

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.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Senior C++ Developer

    £400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week