Randomly Spotted: What is a Citroen XM and why is it in America?

I am one to get very intrigued by rare, odd and unusual cars. That said, I would often find myself snapping pictures of some of the “Easter Egg” discoveries that I would randomly stumble upon during my travels. Then at the day’s end, I’d be sharing it with my car-related friends, discussing the oddity at hand. But because I also write for a car blog, I thought I’d start a little section of mine and share some of my findings. Welcome, to what I call egmCarTech’s Randomly Spotted.

To kick this one off, I was running about my normal business in the wealthy suburbs of New Jersey when I stumbled upon this (pictured). And to peak my interest, it’s a Frenchie mobile! In America!

What I had in front of me was a Citroen XM, a French car that was designed and built to compete against the likes of the BMW 5-Series and the Audi 100, back in 1989. And I know that this isn’t a fancy Ferrari or a super rare and collectible Mercedes. But it’s not often to see a French car running about in this part of the melting pot we call, Earth.

For those who’ve never heard of Citroen, I’ll give you a little background. There really should be no surprise if some of you have never heard of companies like Peugeot, Citroen, Renault. French automobiles never exactly took off in this country. Known to be worse to own than your grand-pop’s old Jaguar and far more underdeveloped, French automobile manufacturers packed up their bags and left the US market rather quickly in the 1980s. This was caused by the rise of foreign competition and an ever so changing market demand put the Frenchies at all sorts of disadvantages. And there’s a reason: French cars just never really worked. Fiat, which is Italian, left this country back in 1984 for almost the same reasons.

The Citroen XM was pegged as the second successor to the famous and widely popular Citroen DS, which was first succeeded by the CX. And despite the tumultuous reputation that any French brand has, the Citroen XM was, at first, was very well received…key emphasis on “at first.”

In 1990, the XM was handed the award for the European Car of the Year in 1990 and gained nearly twice as many votes over the second place winner, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. Citroen—who was at the time owned by Peugeot and still is—expected to ship out 150,000 XMs throughout Europe. Though that never really happened and the XM was never truly marketed in the US. But a company known to import certain Citroens for the loyalists in the US, had imported a select number of XMs. Though because it fetched a hefty price of $50,000 large in 1993, only a few sold. So this is probably one of the few. And to my surprise, it was in rather clean shape.

The Citroen XM was widely noted for its unmatched ride quality, which was Citroen’s selling point and is part of what made the historic DS—and the brand—so popular. And that’s because the French manufacturer is responsible for inventing hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension, which debuted in the DS: the same setups that brands like Mercedes-Benz (the one that gave models like the S-Class their signature, smooth ride), BMW, Jaguar and countless others have adapted the system and evolved into their own, with some still used today. So the Citroen XM was along the same bloodline as the DS and while they were known for being terribly built and unreliable, they were also remembered for setting significant new standards in innovation and technology. For instance, the DS was the first European production car with disc breaks and was one of the first cars to feature a unibody or monocoque-type body, versus a body-on-frame. The only downside is that the systems never worked, so everyone else like the Germans and the Japanese came along, adapted the systems and perfected them…sort of. Anyone who’s owned a car with self-leveling suspension out of warranty knows why I left off with “sort of.”

So I’m sure you can see why I would share my discovery. Although the French tend to make a mess of things when it comes to cars—and arguably other things, but you’re at the wrong blog for that—they’re still around for a reason. They may not work all of the time and may be terribly underdeveloped, but French cars still find a way to charm drivers, whether it is in their technology or just being the target of many humorous automotive criticisms. In other words, they’re cars that illicit of a lot of responses similar to: “what were they thinking?” For that, I can appreciate them and the XM was a surprise, simply because most of the French cars ever sold in this country would’ve already found their way to be recycled back into the planet or into a new car by now.

– By: Chris Chin