The Citroen XM has always fascinated this writer. Hydropneumatic Citroens generally, in fact. Probably because I knew quite a lot of people who owned them when I was a kid.
The fella who lived opposite had a BX estate followed by a Xantia, a friend’s parents had a BX hatchback, another friend’s family had a string of vast CX Familiales and a Xantia company car. Several local taxi drivers ran assorted BXs, CXs, Xantias and, indeed, XMs. They seemed to be everywhere. And I would be completely engrossed whenever one rose up on its suspension.
For reasons I can’t explain, the XM always stuck with me and I’ve often toyed with the idea of owning one. But I’ve always been put off by the potential for massively expensive problems with the suspension. I may have missed the boat now anyway. The XM was never a big seller in the UK, but when it was discontinued in 2001 some 13,150 examples were on the road. Now there are just 221 (those numbers according to HowManyLeft.co.uk).
As Citroens always are, the XM was a tough old bird that could stand up to long, hard use and tolerate a certain amount of neglect. But that will eventually take its toll and most succumbed to electrical and, yes, suspension issues. Having racked up several hundred thousand miles.
So, what actually is a Citroen XM? Launched in 1989 to replace the magnificent CX, it offered a left-field alternative to the Ford Granada, Vauxhall Carlton, Rover 800, BMW 5-Series and so on. The platform was shared with the Peugeot 605 saloon, but Citroen wrapped it in a handsome hatchback body styled by Bertone – a massive estate would be added to the range a few years later. Power came from various 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 2.9-litre V6 petrol engines and 2.1- and 2.5-litre turbo diesels. It survived a full 12 years in production and over 300,000 were built.
The XM turns 30 this year, so Citroen brought one along to the recent SMMT Test Day for journalists to have a go. I was so keen it was the first car I drove. It’s a lovely example, too. It proved difficult to sell when new and it languished in the showroom for several years. A farmer eventually bought it, using it lightly and looking after it properly. It eventually passed through another few owners before ending up with the current custodian – a proper enthusiast. It was in fine fettle mechanically, but had been beaten up a bit. A full cosmetic restoration was carried out and it now looks stunning.
The first thing that strikes me as a walk up it is how small it is. Okay, it’s a big car, but it’s 17cm shorter than the current Mondeo. And considerably narrower and lower. Especially when the hydropneumatic suspension has sunk down its stationary setting, which necessitates a bit of a limbo to get in. Still, once ensconced behind the wheel it’s extremely spacious and the seat is incredibly comfortable.
The door feels like it’s made from tracing paper, but clang it shut and the XM feels safe and solid. The cabin’s wonderfully airy too, thanks to the slim pillars. Even in this base-spec model, there are buttons everywhere – the ones behind the steering wheel are virtually impossible to see.
Being the base model also means this one makes do with a 2.0-litre, fuel-injected four pot engine that serves up 130hp, saddled to an automatic gearbox. Fast it ain’t – Citroen quoted a 0-60mph of 12secs. It gets down the road happily enough, but you have to be content to trundle along at a more relaxed pace.
Swing the huge steering wheel in the direction of a few corners and it tracks round without any fuss. The steering and chassis tell you absolutely nothing about the process, but it’s extremely surefooted and the self-levelling suspension stops you falling out of your seat. The brakes were a lot better than I expected, as well.
The XM was named 1990 European Car of The Year, but contemporary opinion was divided. Personally, I think you get it or you don’t. I thought I got it and, having driven one, I now definitely do. Yes, it’s far from a dynamic delight, but it’s so charming that I just felt fantastic driving it.
Do I still want one? Absolutely.
I reckon a good, late example would still make a great daily driver. In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with the early brochure I have.
Model tested: Citroen XM 2.0i Type: Big, comfy hatchback Value: £3,000-ish Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol Power: 130hp Transmission: 4-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive Performance: 0-60mph in 12.0secs, top speed 125mph Economy: 41.5mpg at 56mph Length: 4,708mm Width: 1,794mm Height: 1,390mm Weight: 1,310kg
By Graham King