Citroen C6 2.7 HDI | The Brave Pill

This week brings a celebration of liberté, egalité – and fragilité

By Mike Duff / Saturday, May 8, 2021 / Loading comments

It’s taken more than two years and 113 instalments of our automotive dope opera, but we have finally done it. Time to sing La Marseillaise and attempt to mount a trawler blockade of St. Helier – because this Citroen C6 is our first ever French Brave Pill.

Since the column’s foundation we have had Pills from Germany, Britain, Italy, America, Australia and even – controversially – Japan. But the sad truth is that there just aren’t that many French cars able to deliver on both mechanical risk and the ability to stir dark desires; it’s not as if many four-cylinder diesels with blocked particulate filters can set pulses racing. But although this C6 runs on the devil’s fuel and has wrong-wheel drive its combination of oddball design, a six-figure odometer tally and an engine that isn’t famed for its ability to live long enough to earn a retirement clock saw it given the editorial nod.

The C6 has lived its life in the shadow of the even more eccentric predecessors that inspired it. It is unarguably odd, but many of them were downright bizarre, which is why many automotive Francophiles have regarded the C6 as dull and sensible when compared to the DS, SM, CX and even XM which it was originally intended to replace.

That was certainly the intention when the C6 Lignage concept was shown at the Geneva motor show in 1999, causing a fair amount of wine to be spat and canapes to be dropped. But although the XM died in 2000 it took another five years for the production C6 to be launched. When it arrived many of the concept’s wackier details had gone, including suicide hinged rear doors. But the finished car kept the a front overhang, elongated headlights and fastback rear, this hiding the fact it was actually a saloon. The design wasn’t short on French flair, but the C6’s bulbous, bell-bottomed proportions also had a suggestion of French flares.

Mechanically the C6 it was much less adventurous than its styling suggested. The finished C6 sat on a stretched version of the PF3 platform that underpinned the C5 and Peugeot 407. It had self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension, this a far evolution of the system Citroen had pioneered on the DS. But in almost every other regard its underpinnings were conventional, with front-wheel drive and the choice of transversely hung petrol or diesel V6 engines.

The softness of the C6’s chassis settings were deliberate opposition to the chunky Germanic norm of the time, and Citroen’s marketeers made much of the C6’s more cerebral appeal over the obvious Teutonic alternatives. This was a car we were told was more likely to be chosen by a film director than a finance director, one that forward thinking creatives would be forming queues for. They’d be three deep outside the Groucho Club and TV Centre.

The reality was the C6 struggled to be chosen by anybody. Citroen sent it into battle wearing a price tag determined more by corporate pride than market reality.

The range-topping Exclusive HDI cost £38,000 and could be pushed to £40,000 with the Lounge pack that brought power operated rear seats. That might not sound like much in these heavily inflated times, but in 2005 it meant the C6 was nearly twice as expensive as the priciest C5, and cost more than an unoptioned BMW 530d or Mercedes E320 CDI.

Nor did it help that this was Citroen’s era of piling high and selling cheap in the UK, a time when you could walk into a showroom, punch a sales executive in the face and then blow your nose on his tie and still score a third off most of the range. But dealers weren’t allowed to chip more than a couple of grand off the C6 for fear of pummelling its secondhand values.

Sales were minimal in the UK. Just 350 cars were registered in Britain in 2007, the C6’s best year, and fewer than a thousand came here through its entire lifespan. A Citroen executive later admitted the company shouldn’t have bothered with right-hand drive. Demand wasn’t much stronger in the rest of the world; the C6’s total production of just over 23,000 units representing about a tenth of BMW’s annual 5-Series volume at the time.

Beyond its quirky styling, and the chance to roll like a senior French politician, there was lots to like about the C6. I ran Autocar’s long long termer for three months and 5,000 miles in 2007, a car that was in near identical spec to this one, having inherited it from somebody more important on the mag. It definitely wasn’t the most obvious choice for a single bloke in his early thirties, and the contrast with the Clio 197 I’d had before was pretty acute. But although the big Citroen didn’t have a dynamic bone in its body, I’ve never run a car that was easier to spend serious time in, or more relaxed on long journeys. The combination of pillowy suspension and a very hushed cabin – double glazing was standard – made it feel like a sensory deprivation chamber with a view. I said goodbye by driving it from John O’ Groats to Land’s End, a trip it made feel easy.

Looking at the pictures of this car I’m recalling many of the details I loved, and a fair few I didn’t. The cabin’s clubby leather seats felt lovely, but there was lots of cheapo plastic trim too – the dashboard console had come direct from the Peugeot 407 Coupe – and the wooden bits always felt like an afterthought. I also remember the abundance of indifferent tech, from the hard-to-read digital dashboard to the garish head up display and excessively keen lane departure warning. The suspension also seemed underdamped for most British B-roads, the C6 having a remarkable ability to turn passengers green over choppy surfaces.

Citroen responded to the C6’s lack of early success with classic French insouciance, refusing to acknowledge any issue and leaving it substantially unchanged for seven years. The only half-hearted concession to broadening its appeal was the introduction of a cheaper four-cylinder diesel with the option of a manual gearbox; the V6 diesel was also upgraded to a beefier 3.0-litre unit in 2009. But like our Pill, the majority of UK cars were sold with the 2.7-litre HDI, this being the engine that has the unfortunate reputation for snapping its crank in some of its JLR applications. While few C6 drivers seem to have suffered this fate, common issues do include coolant loss from the plastic thermostat housing, gearbox failure for anyone foolish enough to believe Citroen’s ‘sealed for life’ claims, drooping suspension from failed nitrogen-filled spheres and the usual crop of ‘noughties PSA electrical gremlins.

Our Pill is being offered by a specialist in Wolverhampton, one whose enthusiasm is proved by also offering the only other C6 currently to be found in the classifieds. This one has done 116,000 miles and carries a £6,295 pricetag which reflects the fact values have actually crept up a bit in the last few years; good ones are now worth more than the equivalent premium German would be.

Images of the car’s service book reveal a reassuring number of Citroen dealer stamps earlier in the car’s life, although it seems to have last seen a franchised workshop in 2017 and the last entry was for “oil and tyres” at a non-specialist garage in 2019; that seems to coincide with an MOT fail for a lumpy rear tyre. It’s only done another 10,000 miles since then and the most recent MOT was passed with nothing more than warnings for worn brake pads, a rusty anti-roll bar and a non-functioning numberplate light.

So there you go, our first French Brave Pill – and here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 26 months for the next. Having got this Gallic monkey off our backs, the biggest car-building nations not to have featured yet are South Korea, Sweden and the constituent parts of the former Eastern Bloc. Nominations are welcomed.

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