Like all business support for the arts, when Citroën UK sponsored the recent production of La Bohème at the Royal Albert Hall in London, it was trying to tell us something.
Not about love and death and friendship, as Puccini wanted to, I think. As you can see from the publicity image here, Citroën wants its cars - especially its new C6 executive saloon - to be loved by feisty individualists; that is, the sort of people who love opera.
I took a different message from the marketing effort. Just as so many people who would surely love the art form are put off by opera's image of inaccessibility, so the same may go for this big Citroën. True, you know that if you could get over your worries you'd never look back and you'd become an addict - but how do you get folk to overcome their fears, abandon their prejudices and take their place in the C6's stalls?
Get them to try it, is the answer, although I admit that's easier said than done, in both cases. Having attended Citroën's lavish corporate opera evening at the Albert Hall, I'm now much less nervous about opera and the C6 (having only been to, or in, each once before in my life). And, while I'm never going to make an opera critic, it's a great pity - from Citroën's point of view, at least - that I'm not on one of the many "car of the year" juries out there.
If I were on one of the those panels, I would have no hesitation in nominating the Citroën C6 as car of the year/decade/century. It is automotive opera - spectacular, emotional and, for neophytes, better than you'd think. The C6 is a wonderful piece of artistry that has to be seen and driven to be believed.
I say that in full knowledge of its unpromising origins. I know that it's based on some or other Peugeot-Citroën group platform, just as almost every other Peugeot and Citroën have shared platforms and mechanical parts for a quarter of a century or so.
I know that the brave, slightly mentalist days of the CX are gone (even though the C6 looks like one). I am fully aware that Citroën is just a Peugeot-run brand. Citroën once encompassed everything from President de Gaulle's limousines to Maserati to the DS and the 2CV. Since 1975, though, it has been a Peugeot plaything, for better or worse.
The C6 suggests that the run of events has, in fact, been for the good. Whoever created the C6, they have tried very, very hard indeed. I'll just mention two faults. First, the slightly overlight steering; it's geared for comfort, though, so it's not such a sin. Second, the build quality in the interior. Without wanting to sound like the average car bore (which I am), it really is true that the panel fit isn't as good as you'd get in, say, a Lexus - and this despite Citroën's claims of a much more fastidious assembly process.
So, just two faults - and the rest is sublime. In recent years, it seems that the Peugeot management has realised the advantages of having two sharply differentiated brands with their own marketing and dealers in competition with each other. Rather than cannibalising each other, they both seem to have created a sales success that is greater than the sum of its parts. Citroën preys on Fiat, the Korean brands and the lower reaches of Ford, Vauxhall, Nissan and Renault; Peugeot goes after more archetypally middle-class customers, the sorts who buy VWs or Hondas. And they both succeed.
It is a clever trick. MG and Rover were groping towards something like that before the whole thing went belly up. VW/Audi/Skoda/ Seat have a much more complicated and less successful version of the same strategy. Kia and Hyundai would love to replicate the idea. General Motors of America has been doing something like it for many years, with fluctuating success. Nissan and Renault are getting there, with platforms and branding, but haven't yet cracked it.
So, in terms of consistent brand-management, the Peugeot/Citroën show is a case study in success. Perhaps, like Sir Alan Sugar, they should be advertising for apprentices.
But where does all that leave the Citroën C6? In a strange place. Citroën's "value for money" advertising hasn't really prepared us for this. We are being asked to pay almost £40,000 for a Citroën. That's weird.
As it happens, it is worth every penny, if you can afford it. Look at the styling; retro and different without being silly. Note how they make you feel special. Indoors, you get a "head up" display with your speed digitally projected on to the windscreen, beautifully finished woodwork and a wonderful ride, courtesy of "hydractive" suspension. The door pockets are designed like posh magazine-racks, all lacquered and damped.
The C6 has the comfort of a Bentley, the contemporary, stylish interior of a Range Rover and the performance (and petrol engine) of a Jaguar - but in a more stylish Gallic package. The rear window-pane is made concave and then convex to accommodate the extra high boot aperture. They really have made an effort with this one.
Whether or not you like opera, your C6 is saying that, like a liberal who wants to pay more tax, you can in fact afford to be more civilised. Just as in a more distant age, you buy a Citroën to be different.Reuse content