The space-oddity known as the Citroen DS was the last successful French executive saloon. Every French grand routier since the “Goddess” has been disappointing to various degrees. Today, even in Paris, one sees more German cars than French (even the taxis). So my expectations for the new Citroen C6 were not high; especially as I’d spent considerable seat time in the segment’s gold standard: the Audi A8. Can the French still parlez voitures luxes?
The ‘Troon’s profile is interesting, long and ministerial. From the three quarter angle, it looks like a conventional hatchback (it’s not). The front and rear aspects are brand faithfully quirky, requiring some major acclimatization. The C6’s prow is dominated by two horizontal chrome strips that connect medium-sized headlights and bisect the radiator opening. The back window is deeply concave a la CX. The narrow strip taillights ride atop the rear fenders and form slight fins reminiscent of a ’49 Buick.
Open the front door (with frameless glass like a Subaru or, come to think of it, a DS) and settle into the large, firm black leather chairs. The C6’s window lowers a few millimeters to clear the seal, and then powers back up after the door closed, BMW coupe-style. Nice. And then things get a bit strange…
The C6’s dashboard is a broad, full-width horizontal shelf clad in a strange (but oddly appealing) black vinyl cover with a linen-like texture, topped by a smallish navigation/ICE display. A two inch strip of glossy faux hardwood– with a striking black-stained grain— runs across the Citroen sedan’s cockpit. Another petite digital display lives behind a hefty leather-clad wheel covered with two big chrome chevrons. (The wheel has three spokes, not one like the iconic Deesse.) Speed and navigational arrows appear in the lower windshield’s heads-up display.
The C6’s four door panels are dominated by large slide-down covers for generous lower storage, made from the same exotic looking wood as the dash strip. Like all of the C6’s other moving parts, the panels are dampened to a degree that would freak Ferdinand Piech. The door handles exchange the fashionable satin look of Germany’s premium rides for shiny chrome. Bright but tasteful chrome strips also line the lower dash and the door panels. All in all, the C6’s cabin’s very different, in a BCBG kinda way.
Once underway, the C6 drives like the A8. The French car’s structure is absolutely granitic; no creaks, rattles, squeaks or buzzes. Other than a bit more wind rustle and less tire noise, the boulevardier’s noise levels match that of Ingolstadt’s aluminum cruiser. The ride is also similar: soft but not floaty, with little lean in corners. The power steering is Japanese-light at parking speed but firms up nicely above 25 kmph.
I drove to the C6 in an diesel-powered Audi; one of the least diesel-like cars I’ve ever driven (very quiet and very fast). I’d been told beforehand that the Citroen tester would holster either a petrol or diesel V6. After driving off, I was sure I was behind the wheel of the gas-powered C6. Only the redline was 5000 rpm. Once it stopped raining, I pulled over and popped the hood. The plastic engine cover said “V6 HDI” Formidable! Diesel-starved Americans note: the engine was developed as a joint venture with Ford. It’s already is available in various Peugeots, Jaguars and Land Rovers.
I drove the C6 all over Holland, on freeways and secondary roads. The overall driving experience was a hoot, and a deluxe hoot at that. The car glided with imperious ease, a true GT with Gallic charm. But there were a few glitches. The navigational system was hard to program and unreliable; it would go off course inexplicably, guiding me in circles or repetitive U-turns. Whenever I tried to reclose an open window at speed the high interior air pressure prevented the windows from sealing properly.
You want weird science? The C6 lane drift control system is both ingenious and kinky, in a distinctly French sort of way. If you leave your lane “unintentionally” (i.e. without using the turn indicators), the driver’s seat cushion vibrates rhythmically as a warning. It bumps your left cheek if you are veering left, and the right one if right. The first time it happened I nearly crashed (no one had warned me about the feature.) Meanwhile, the C6’s climate control system resurrects the VW Phaeton’s “soft diffusion” methodology, indirectly spreading cooled or heated air around the cabin in four zones. I was never aware of it, so I guess it works pretty well.
Et voila! Here at last is a French luxobarge that European executives and bureaucrats can enjoy that can compete with similar cars from Germany, England or Japan. It’s different and a worthy successor to the DS. Tant pis pour les Americains, bub.