May 23rd 2014 marks 25 years to the day since Citroën first unveiled the XM. With the DS and CX as its predecessors, the XM had the great legacy of Citroën large cars to live up to, as well as the hopes of a cash strapped parent company resting on its shoulders. And although outright sales success eventually eluded it, the Citroën XM remains a fascinating car that very much deserves its place in the French marque’s large car history.
The 1970s had seen financial difficulties hit Citroën, and by the end of 1976 Peugeot had acquired approximately 90% ownership of the cash-strapped company to form PSA Peugeot-Citroën. By the early 80s sales of Citroën’s existing flagship, the CX, had dramatically slowed, despite some reasonable early success, ongoing financial difficulty at PSA preventing the car from being significantly updated.
Citroën CX was getting long in the tooth by the mid-80s
With the CX and Peugeot’s equivalent model, the 604, initially designed as competitors (the companies were still independent from one another at the time they were conceived), the logical decision was taken by PSA to develop a common platform that would be able to underpin the successors to both. The CX’s replacement would however retain Citroën’s iconic Hydractive hydraulic suspension system, something its Peugeot sibling, the handsome Pininfarina styled 605 would not receive.
Design development commenced in 1984, when a number of proposals were put forward by Citroën’s in house styling teams and Italian design house Bertone, who had recently worked with Citroën to produce the BX. Ultimately it was Nuccio Bertone’s proposal that was chosen for the project.
When it finally broke cover with great fanfare in 1989, the XM proved a futuristic and innovative design, its angular wedge shape somewhat avant-garde for the era. The deep glasshouse gave a spacious and unique feel to the cabin, and its narrow headlights, a enabled by new ‘complex surface’ technology, gave the car a sinister expression. Much was made of the XM’s low drag co-efficient of 0.28cd, as these claims were trendy at the time. Yet despite the XM’s thoroughly modern look, it featured a number of Citroën family design cues. Its practical liftback body style was a direct continuation of the CX theme, while small details such as the single spoke steering wheel linked it to its predecessors.
Nuccio Bertone with the Citroën XM
Interior was futuristic for the time, single spoke wheel recalled earlier Citroëns
Underneath its skin the XM was very high tech too, featuring sophisticated computer controlled suspension to reduce body roll and optional ABS brakes, automatic climate control and even a keypad alarm system that required a PIN number to start the car. The engines available were 2.0 litre 4 or 3.0 litre 6 cylinder petrol motors or a 2.1 litre diesel, with or without a turbocharger.
Although some found its styling and sheer unique nature rather polarising, initial response to the XM was by and large favourable, with its unique driving experience earning it a number of accolades including the 1990 European Car of the Year title. Unfortunately however, reports of reliability issues, specifically relating to the complicated electronics systems, quickly began to surface. It didn’t take long for the XM’s reputation to become tarnished despite Citroën’s efforts to rectify reported issues, and resale values were severely affected. Sales were disappointing too. PSA had hoped Citroën could sell 160,000 units in the XM’s first year, but sales never broke the 100,000 barrier. The XM’s best year, 1990, saw just over 96,000 built.
Citroën persevered however and in 1992 the XM Break – Citroën speak for the station wagon body style, joined the range. Built by Heuliez, it featured a particularly copious load area. A Turbocharged version of the 2.0 4 cylinder engine also joined the range at a similar time.
XM Break premiered in 1992
A bigger update came in 1994, with styling tweaks to align the XM with the rest of the Citroën range, which had been bolstered by the smaller Xantia, which was also designed by Bertone and shared a definite family resemblance. Suspension and engine revisions were also carried out, with the Hydractive II suspension system being launched, featuring automatic adjustment, rather than the manual driving mode selection on early model cars. The most notable visual change found inside however, with the interior featuring a redesigned dashboard and a steering wheel that now housed a driver’s airbag – which unfortunately signalled the demise of the single spoke steering wheel that had been a Citroën trademark for so long.
Series II XM (Below) was updated to realign with Xantia (Above)
Redesigned interior was biggest visual difference in series II, was a bit less individual than series I in an attempt to broaden XM’s appeal
A number of coachbuilders built their own variations of the XM. Amongst them Heuliez, who produced the Break variant for Citroën, produced a number of saloon versions of the car including the Palace Limousine and the one-off Presidentielle, which was presented to former French president Jacques Chirac in 1996. Automobiles Tissier also made a number custom XMs, including stretch limousines and six wheeled delivery vans. The XM break was a common base for French ambulances for quite some time too, with a number of French coachbuilders converting them for this purpose.
A number of coachbuilders refitted XM Breaks as French ambulances. This one was converted by Heuliez
The last of the 333,755 Citroën XMs produced rolled off the production line in June 2000. Despite the 1999 C6 Lignage concept car providing a strong preview of the XM’s successor, it was another 5 years before the production C6 arrived in showrooms to take the XM’s place in the Citroën range. Even so, the XM has a loyal group of owners who, 25 years on, still haven’t found anything that quite compares with its combination of practicality, bold innovation and futuristic whimsy.
1999 C6 Lignage concept previewed the future…
…which premiered 6 years later in C6 production car
– by Andrew Marshall