Updated: Apr 1, 2020
I believe the 1989 XM is the last great Citroen, although the last model Citroen ever developed as an independent company is the 1974 CX.
By December of that same year, Peugeot bought 38% of a virtually bankrupt Citroen and then completed its acquisition in 1976.
Sales of the CX stayed well over 100.000 cars per year during the late Seventies but began to falter by 1981, when the company hadn't yet even planned a successor.
The project "V80" that would ultimately lead to the XM started in 1984.
The XM's look borrows from the supercar design language: it doesn't glide through the air, it cuts its way through it like an arrow.
The Bertone-designed BX was proving to be a runaway hit, leading Citroen's top brasses to trust the Italians more of the in-house design team. PSA's management of the time had little regard for the CX and wanted the new car to have absolutely nothing to do with it, and Bertone certainly delivered. The angular wedge shape of the XM, with its exposed rear wheels, looked like the CX had never even existed.
The CX's teardrop shape and flowing lines hinted at its aerodynamic performance at gliding through the air, minimizing resistance. The XM's look borrows from the supercar design language: it doesn't glide through the air, it cuts its way through it like an arrow. Overall, the XM was a more assertive design, in keeping with an executive market that was increasingly shifting towards Germany's offerings.
The XM broke new ground on a technological level, by marrying the celebrated hydropneumatic suspension with electronics
Such a clean break from the past was, anyway, very much in keeping with Citroen's tradition of independent thinking: this was a new Citroen for a new era, conservatism be damned.
The XM broke new ground on a technological level, by marrying the celebrated hydropneumatic suspension with electronics, thus creating the so-called "Hydractive" suspension.
Thanks to sensors placed on the steering wheel, throttle, etc. that fed to a control unit, the system was perhaps the first "active" suspension system in mass production, able to switch automatically between two modes according to vehicle speed and driver inputs.
The system achieved this feat thanks to an additional third "sphere" added to the usual two of each axle. During regular use, the six spheres gave the XM the Citroen's proverbial "magic carpet" ride. In the so-called "sport" mode, the system isolated the "middle" sphere of each axle, giving a firmer ride for increased body control at high speed or in the twisties. I've driven a few XMs myself, and thanks to the Hydractive system, it truly is a "magic" car. Supremely comfortable yet a pleasure to drive quickly, as it's surprisingly agile and outward visibility is excellent.
the way the XM went out singlehandedly redefining aesthetic and driving standards were pure Citroen "esprit d'avant-garde"
This makes even sadder how the electrical gremlins of the first cars ended up spoiling the reputation of the XM for good. Citroen went shooting for the stars, designed the finest car it ever made, only to have it made sales poison by an unprepared dealer network.
The XM stayed in production until 1999, with only a relatively minor restyling in 1995 that didn't change its fortunes. When the last one left the Rennes-La-Janais production line, for me, Citroen died with it. The XM may have shared its platform and engines with the Peugeot 605. Still, the way the XM went out singlehandedly redefining aesthetic and driving standards were pure Citroen "esprit d'avant-garde," for one glorious last time.