Citroën’s Angular Spaceship, the XM, Turned 35 This Month

citroen xm
Citroën’s Angular Spaceship Turned 35 This MonthAutoweek

You may have seen the Citroën SM at a concours event, but odds are you haven't seen the very last Citroën that was sold stateside, at least semi-officially. That last Citroën was the spiritual successor to the equally futuristic DS, and for a short period of time you could buy one of these new in the US.

What's more, when the XM was new it was merely one of five French sedans you could buy in the US at the time—a fact that still seems implausible three decades later. The other four could be found at dealerships.

The XM arrived on the scene in May 1989 to pick up the baton (baguette?) from the long-lived CX, and it fully embraced the styling direction laid down by the long-wheelbase fastback while adding its own modern elements. Those elements were all seemingly sharper-edged this time around, with the French automaker relying on plenty of flat shapes in crafting the wedge-like sedan.


It was also a lot more spacious than the CX it was replacing, which may seem large in photos to this day but was not really a vast automobile on the outside.

Styled by Bertone and heavily influenced by the Gandini-designed BX, the XM featured long overhangs, a spacious and slightly futuristic interior, as well as Citroën's trademark hydropneumatic suspension, giving the big sedan a magic carpet ride. A 3.0-liter V6 was the top engine on the menu, but a 2.0-liter inline-four was more in line with the thrifty French engine lineup back in the day.

And of course there were oil-flavored powerplants on the menu as well, including a 2.5-liter four-cylinder unit.

citroen xm
The plush XM offered a very smooth ride, but it’s probably not the car you’d take to drive the Tail of the Dragon.Autoweek

Compared to the Mercedes-Benz W126 S-Class of the day, the XM seemed like a spaceship from another world. But it was also positioned somewhat asymmetrically from the German offerings.

As in the past, Citroën seemed cognizant of the fact that its big sedan might not even compete directly with the largest Peugeot sedan of the day (which also happened to be its platform sibling), offering a distinctly different experience with a futuristic exterior and interior, along with a much plusher suspension. So Citroën did not try to best the other European executive sedans in the horsepower wars, or 'Ring lap times.

Still, with a V6 option on the menu, the XM could serve as chauffeured executive sedan, as well as a presidential limousine. At least in France.

But let's back up to the part where we said you could buy one of these new.

You certainly didn't drive past one of these at your local Citroën dealer in 1989 and had somehow forgotten seeing them. Rather, the XM was imported by a small outfit called CXA Automotive in the very last days of gray market imports. The federalization process was... as strange as always, with some XMs gaining rectangular headlights from Pontiac Grand Prix—a fact that was obscured magically well by the sheetmetal. (We would have also loved to see twin round sealed beams just for the shock value).

citroen xm
A handful of XM wagons have made their way to North America over the years, making it a rare longroof even in the French car community stateside. And this one is diesel.Autoweek

But the XM was also quite pricey if you lived in the US, and was comparable in price to the S-Class if you were importing one. A total of about two dozen sedans came into the US, in addition to a couple of station wagons, and over the years we feel like we've seen about a third of them by now.

Speaking of seeing the XM, the French sedan is perhaps best known stateside for being the bad guys' sedans in Ronin, where it evaded a nitrous-boosted, all-wheel-drive Audi S8 for what seemed like a suspiciously long time. We'll chalk the length of that battle to the requirements of the plot, since the XM would have had about a third of the horsepower of that S8. (Was Larry just not as good a driver as advertised?)

In all, the XM stayed in production from 1989 till 2000, while recording some 330,000 sales. This made it a bit of a disappointment for the automaker at the time, but its production run still greatly eclipsed that of its successor, the Citroën C6, that arrived in 2006.

We harbor few illusions about how the rest of Citroën's lineup would have done in North America sales-wise if it were offered here. But the remaining examples of the XM are a curious window into a very different design and engineering philosophy, even by the standards of other European executive sedans of the time.