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  • Writer's pictureMatteo Licata

Why I Love the Citroen XM

The last XM left the Rennes-La-Janais production line over 20 years ago, and it's fair to say that Citroen's flagship for the 90s is aging like the finest Chateau Laffite.

I fell in love with the XM since I saw it on magazine covers in 1989, and my admiration for what Citroën achieved with this model has only grown since then.

It was late 1984 when PSA's management tasked three design studios (two in-house studios and Bertone from Italy) to submit proposals for Citroën's new flagship saloon. But it's fair to say that the project, codenamed "V80," was late before it began.

The Citroën CX was ten years old and ripe for replacement: Its sales peaked in 1979 and had been declining for years, and there was little Grace Jones could do about it.

The XM was designed in conjunction with the Peugeot 605, sharing the floor pan, engines, and transmissions, but the avant-garde body style and state-of-the-art suspension were pure Citroën.

In a world where bloated and cartoonish overdesign is the norm, the Citroën XM's sharp lines look perhaps even better than they did thirty years ago. PSA's management wanted a completely different design language from the CX, and Bertone's chief stylist Marc Deschamps certainly delivered.

The XM pampers its passengers like its illustrious predecessors while being far more agile and rewarding to drive than it has any right to be.

The XM's unique visual identity was achieved by creating a band of light around the car, comprising an enormous glass area counting no less than thirteen individual windows.

Although the XM couldn't look more different from the CX, some exquisitely subtle references to Citroen's past glories are there for enthusiasts to appreciate.

This "step" in the side window profile is a clear nod to the SM. The rear lighting arrangement and the front fascia are perhaps less evident, but nevertheless significant, nods to Robert Opron's 1970s masterpiece.

The XM's interior is airy and spacious in a way modern cars this size simply can't be anymore, and the 1999 Exclusive model featured in the video comes with every possible option bar the sunroof. All XMs, bar the lowest specification models, came with this secondary rear window that protects the rear passengers from drafts when the hatch is open.

The XM was the first Citroën to be equipped with Hydractive suspension. The system was a refinement of Citroën's well-established Hydropneumatic design, employing two additional spheres that can be switched in or out of the circuit to vary the degree of softness. The signal from sensors attached to the steering, accelerator, brakes, and gearbox go to a computer that regulates the suspension to provide a soft ride for comfort and a tauter ride for handling.

The results are borderline magic.

The XM pampers its passengers like its illustrious predecessors while being far more agile and rewarding to drive than it has any right to be.

the XM really was a remarkable automobile that deserved to succeed.

The XM, launched in March 1989 at the Geneva Motor Show, was warmly received by critics and the public alike and went on sale in May the same year.

Coherently with Citroën tradition, albeit not the best one, the XM was initially available with rather lackluster engine choices.

The 2 liters four-cylinder engine was a bored-out version of the 1.9 "XU" engine from the successful BX. However, this unit struggled to move adequately the much heavier XM.

The all-important diesel offerings that joined the range in 1990 couldn't match even the previous CX's performance, let alone the competition. The XM was the first Citroën model equipped with a V6 engine since the SM's demise in '75. Still, the three-liters PRV engine, available with four-valve heads since 1992, was hardly going to be a volume seller anyways.

V6 cars were equipped with Citroën's proprietary DiRaVi self-centering power steering system, which first appeared on the SM in 1970 and then characterized the CX. However, this unique feature was quietly dropped in 1997, when the old PRV engine was replaced by the much more modern and efficient "ES9."

Unfortunately, early XM models suffered from considerable teething problems. These were caused mainly by inadequate wiring and connectors, but that quickly ruined the car's image. Citroën ironed out all the issues later on, but the damage was already done: the buying public had already turned its attention elsewhere. Sales of the XM peaked at around 96.000 units in 1990, then fell off a cliff in '91, never to recover.

This is a crying shame, as the XM really was a remarkable automobile that deserved to succeed.

The XM range was restyled for 1995: these "series two" examples are easily recognized by their rounder and color-coded bumpers, smaller rear spoiler, and redesigned grille.

However, it was all for nothing, as yearly sales further dropped in 1995 to well under 20.000 cars and then sunk below 10.000 in '97.

The stunning Turbo CT Exclusive model from 1999 featured in the video is one of just 2000 produced that year, but it has aged much better than Backstreet Boys' music, that's for sure. The 2 liters turbo engine that powers this wonderfully preserved example arrived in 1993. It was a development of the pre-existing "XU-10" four-cylinder, equipped with a small, low-pressure turbocharger.

While it hardly is the last word in refinement and sophistication, the Turbo CT engine delivers peak torque at just 2200 Rpm, making for swift and effortless progress.

Here it's paired to the optional four-speed automatic transmission, which I believe suits the XM's suave demeanor much better than the standard five-speed manual.

Citroën XM production came to an end, without fanfare, in June 2000, with no replacement in sight. In my view, the XM remains the last great Citroën, the last time the Marque went all out to try redefining the future of the automobile.



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