Temptingly quirky but with a reputation for trouble, should you invest in this French modern classic? We advise you on buying the best...
Replacing the popular, futuristically-styled CX was never going to be easy but that was the task facing Citroen in the late 1980s, and the result was this, the XM. The curves were gone, the Bertone bodywork taking on a far more angular look with plenty of glass and a sharply chiseled front end that looked suitably stylish at the 1989 launch. In fact, the XM was appealing enough to bag the European Car of the Year gong the following year so what was it like to drive? Well, very relaxing as you might expect from a big Citroen and much of that was down to the computer-controlled ‘Hydractive’ suspension system. Once again the company eschewed a conventional coil spring and damper arrangement, instead choosing to stick with a heavily revised version of their hydro-pneumatic set up. The result was a car that rode superbly, if a little more firmly than the magic-carpet ride of old, the new system keeping body roll and pitch to a minimum in harder driving. Allied to accurate steering and powerful brakes this was a car that you could punt down a twisty road with confidence, although in fairness it was comfortable motorway cruising where the big hatchback really excelled.
The XM could soothe away the miles very effectively, giving passengers plenty of time to enjoy the spacious cabin and generous equipment levels. Indeed, if it was space you needed then an XM would have been perfect, and there was always the cavernous estate - built by French coachbuilders, Heuliez - if you needed to shift not only the sink but the whole kitchen too. The hatchback even included an extra glass panel behind the rear seats to keep draughts at bay when the tailgate was opened. Engine-wise, the original 8-valve petrol motor could be a bit sluggish and the need to row it along wasn’t really in keeping with the car’s relaxed demeanour. Far better instead to ignore the thirst and plump for the smooth 3.0-litre V6 petrol that was allied to a slick-shifting automatic transmission. Or let common sense rule and take the frugal turbo-diesel route.
Citroen XM V6
Torque 173lb ft@4600rpm
Top speed 133mph
Gearbox 4-speed automatic
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Panel rust is a relatively rare occurrence although it pays to check the lower front wings where they meet the sills. Parking dings and poorly repaired accident damage are the most likely causes of corrosion, and pay particular attention to the bumpers for scrapes and missing chrome trim which is hard to source. Damaged light units and mirrors are likely to need a hunt for new-old stock or secondhand parts so check those too, although used panels are generally easy to find.
You’ll need to check more carefully underneath as the sills are prone to corroding from the inside out - check their full length and around the jacking points. Thick layers of factory underseal can hide rot in the floor or box sections too, so a good prod of these areas is advisable. And you’ll need to ensure that the top suspension mountings - especially those at the front - are free of rust. Generally speaking, it seems that Series 2 cars (introduced for the 1995MY) can be more prone to corrosion woes so pay them particular attention.
Petrol engines are robust with regular maintenance although the eight-valve unit is a bit underpowered. Consider the turbocharged motor or later sixteen-valve for better performance, but check that the turbo itself is healthy and there are no signs of blue smoke on the overrun. Leaking exhaust manifold gaskets can be an issue too. Cam belt changes are crucial with all engines, so be extremely wary of cars with a patchy or non-existent service history, and keep an eye out for engine management issues and rogue warning lights. Most problems are caused by dodgy electrical connections and corroded earth points but specialists can sort these once and for all. And don’t dismiss the 3.0-litre V6 - it’s considered bullet-proof, if a bit thirsty.
Diesels proved popular with buyers thanks to their reliability, torquey power delivery, and better economy. They’re reliable on the whole too, though head gasket problems are a concern - some owners reckon a stronger anti-freeze mix can reduce the risk of failure - and you’ll need to ensure that the turbocharger isn’t showing signs of wear. The 2.1-litre unit is easier to work on - changing the cambelt on a 2.5 takes almost twice as long - but look out for leaking radiators, and leaks from the fuel return pipes on the injectors.
Manual gearboxes are strong and any problems should be obvious, but ensure the clutch operation is okay as sourcing a good quality replacement cable can be tricky. The automatic ‘box has a reputation for unreliability, but while you do need to be wary of misbehaving units, annual fluid changes are the key to longevity. If that’s been done, they should cover high mileages without issue.
Scare stories about the ‘Hydractive’ suspension abound but it’s rarely the trouble you’d expect. Specialist attention is usually best, but a well maintained system should be fine as long as the LHM fluid has been changed every 30,000 miles. It makes sense to ensure that the ride height isn’t lopsided, that the pipework is solid and leak-free, and that it responds properly to the height and mode selection switches, but otherwise don’t worry. Power steering pumps need checking for noises or leaks, and ensure that the ABS is fully operational. Faulty wheel sensors are often to blame and replacements are scarce - replacing the complete hub with a secondhand item is a common cure.
Most of the electrical maladies should have been sorted by now, but prod every switch to be certain. Failed electric window regulators can be a common problem and a pain to fix (costly too) while central locking and heater motors can fail too. Also, door locks themselves can play up, and watch for missing pixels on the dashboard’s LED displays. Most trim materials are fairly hard-wearing - although interior parts are getting scarce - and watch for battered load bays on estates.
It’s gained a reputation for painful ownership, but that’s unfair according to specialists and owners. We’d certainly avoid abused or neglected examples that could test your patience, but XMs are well understood now and there’s excellent specialist and enthusiast support. It may have foibles but there’s no doubt it holds a very definite kind of appeal.