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Old 05-06-2006, 09:01 PM   #1
voyager
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Default BBC 'Top Gear' magazine June 2006 on the C6

this month's issue of 'Top Gear' has an eight page feature on the C6 :-)

*******************

'Haute culture - the CitroŽn C6 is the Gallic shrug of French design - intelligent, elegant and not in the least bit troubled by what you make of it' (story by Paul Horrell)

Want to know what makes the CitroŽn C6 great? Cool, let's go to France! Want to know why, in all too many ways, it's a bit flaky? Erm, the same journey will cover it. You can learn so much about cars by ferreting around in the cultural history of the nation that designed them, but none more so than with France's big cars because, quite simply, they just do not globalise. You can spot a 5-series or E-class at any busy intersection in Tokyo, Cape Town, Moscow, LA, NY or WC1. But not a CitroŽn. Yes, the French bourgeoisie might love them dearly, but the rest of the planet stays quietly baffled.

Even so, don't make the mistake of thinking the Germans build their big saloons to suit the rest of the world. Oh no, they're easily as insular as the French. The only thing Audi, BMW and Mercedes ever did to please America or Asia was to fit cupholders. These guys succeeded on the world stage because they built cars for southern German conditions. They have a conservative, prosperous local population who want staid-looking four-doors with a design that evolves slowly over the generations, and they're prepared to pay for solid engineering too. They have fast, twisty autobahnen, so they need good high-speed manners. Put that lot into a car and it will immediately look like it's worth a price premium.

So Audi, 'Benz and BMW became prestige cars all over the world not by brilliant global brand management, but by keeping an eye on the local market and local competition. For them, short-sightedness has paid huge dividends.

French conditions and French culture, on the other hand, have done big French cars corresponding harm. Part of it is due to the roads, which used to be pretty lousy in France, and that favoured ride over handling. Nowadays, though, everyone wants hard suspension with huge wheels, handing the advantage to BMW. Another part of it is the politics of France, and specifically the egalitť component that was enshrined during the revolution. For decades, big-engined cars have been kneed in the groin by the punitive tax system, especially big-engined petrol cars. For the whole of that period until about five minutes ago, nobody else in the world wanted a small-engined diesel luxury car. As a result, the French car makers didn't get the return on investment needed to develop world-class large barges.

I have had a long-term and sentimental love of big CitroŽns. I'm not blind to their faults, but i'm certainly more inclined than some to let certain aspects of their behaviour pass as eccentric, where others would call them failings. And the C6 is another in the same line. It happens to feel a lot better built than any before, so that's the main criticism out of the way, but with the best will in the world, I still can't say the C6 is the best big car out there.

But come on, just look at the thing. Climb in the back and feel the amazing comfort. Let's set off down the street absolutely full of speed bumps and potholes, and feel the almost magical way it glides over them. Even if it isn't an exceptionally good car, you can easily argue that it's a great one and, what's more, a truly fascinating alternative to those hordes of A6s and 5-series.

You can go on all you like about hydropneumatic suspension (and trust me, friends, i will), but no discussion of this car can start anywhere else but in its design, both outside and in. You can take those long, sleek curves and extrapolate them through to the 1974 CX and on back to the 1955 DS. The shape might be modern, but it maintains a healthy respect for history, because that's how France works.

French design, automotive and otherwise, has a continuous and largely uninterrupted history. Philippe Starck isn't omnipresent in modern French design just for spikiness and pure irony. Even when he's being ironic, he still respects history. Modern German automotive design differs from French because it exists in something of a vacuum. Before WW2, the Germans led the planet in product design, and Bauhaus was the first movement to make art indivisible from design and technology. The trauma of Nazism ended all that. In fact, beyond Dieter Rams's work for Braun, German product design never quite recovered. Which means German car design has few references beyond other German car design.

French cars refer to other French objects, and French designers in general don't really feel the need to make any concessions beyond their national bubble. French culture as a whole doesn't, I guess. Our C6 got surrounded in Paris by protesters waving banners against the Anglo-American model of liberalised employment and trade. No other country on earth fights harder to keep its own language pure of creeping Anglicisation. So much of their pop music is hopeless - it gets such a helping hand from local radio that it's sheltered from the bracing wind of competition. By the same token, when something genuinely good like Air or Daft Punk comes bursting out of France, it has a fresh, exotic aroma about it because it wasn't cultured in quite the same soil as Anglo-American stuff. Neither does the C6 come out of the same homogenised German fertiliser that nurtures all the designs that form its leading opposition.

When it comes to the French combining their staunchly-defended isolationism with something they feel truly confident about, the results can prove spectacular. Think the top end of the food game, or the rag trade, where they have such a dominant position; they've even got the total freehold on the language: haute cuisine, haute couture and so on. From Escoffier to Chanel, they laid the ground rules, all of which makes them feel that when it comes to luxury goods, they need genuflect to no other nation. The C6 is one such luxury item and, regardless of whether CitroŽn actually has the technical competence to carry it off, the same train of thought informs it.

And the C6 is grand, because the French love a grand gesture. Grand and modern. Though they respect history, they see no need to replicate it. Les Grands Projets, the chunks of modern architecture parachuted into the Parisien street plan during the Mitterand years, were entirely in the spirit of Versailles or Napoleon's Paris. And those buildings' design is modern too. You get none of that Prince Charles-style 'in keeping' architecture; building knock-offs of the old stuff because we've got no confidence in the new - in other words, the same thinking that gave us the Jaguar S-type. The French knew it wasn't right to ape the Louvre, so they installed a glass pyramid in front of it to compare and contrast instead.

So we have a car that's quite unlike the international opposition and one that's definitely a grand gesture. The game is modern luxury. Huge space, soft chairs, all four of them electrically reclining. Some lovely touches too. The door bins might be a bit OTT, but they never fail to raise a smile.

The C6 wafts along in terrific serenity. The windows are frameless for reasons of style, but they keep any wind noise out quite well enough, because they are also laminated. The petrol V6 is quiet at a cruise, but to be honest, the performance is nothing special.

But what really makes things special is the ride. It can absorb big ruts and pot holes as if by magic. That doesn't mean it manages to mask the road from you completely - there's still some short-amplitude harshness that the bushes don't seem to be able to filter out, and you're more aware of it than in other cars, because in other ways, the ride is so good.

But overall, it's an amazing system, especially when you realise it's not hopeless at cornering. Once it senses a curve, or that you are braking, it automatically stiffens both the damping (many cars do that) and the springing (a highly unique benefit of the fluid suspension). So it keeps its decorum far better than you'd have imagined, given the ride's downy softness.

Yet the C6 is clear about its identity - and it's about luxury, not sportiness; another reason why the styling emphasises the front overhang rather than hiding it. There's hardly any feel in the steering, so you're not meant to go squealing about the place. It's just that the suspension firms up to keep you at ease and confident in the sort of fast sweeping roads France has lots of.

The hydractive suspension is a big-CitroŽn article of faith, of course, but there's other new technology too - like the pop-up pedestrian-protection bonnet. Lane-departure warning too. We tend to think the Germans and the Japanese are the guvnors with in-car tech, but the French are proud of their technologies as a nation. I give you Concorde, the TGV, their nuclear power programme - and they sell their trains and power stations worldwide.

CitroŽn also has a habit of persisting with their own technologies when the rest of the world has moved on. They still use a hopelessly outdated CD navigation system, controlled by a ghastly, old-hat, button-festooned centre console. Actually there's voice activation and bluetooth, so they could have concealed the buttons behind a flap.

The rest of the dash is satisfyingly minimalist and in keeping with the car's architecture and philosophy: you don't need a dinner-plate rev-counter when your means of propulsion has such a flat torque graph. And a digital speedo is just fine (CitroŽn used them before digital existed by printing numbers on a revolving drum), especially when it's mirrored by a head-up display.

But if you pack all the gizmos - the HUD, radar-cruise, powered rear seats, navigation, phone - into a C6, you bump into a very nasty figure: about S$230000. Here in Britain, hardly a soul will buy this car and if they do, they're going to be facing a depreciation nightmare.

And i don't suppose the creators of the C6 would do anything more than shrug their shoulders in a Gallic fashion. They work hard to sell a lot of C1/C2/C3/C4 here, but the C5 is marginal, as the C6 is likely to be more so.

See the C6 wasn't designed for us. It was designed for a particular stratum of French society, who all got their higher education at the same institution: l'Ecole Nationale d'Administration (Civil Service College). Here, the brightest and best of France's youth learn how to be government ministers and civil servants and industry chiefs. In their future lives, they'll frequently meet and swap jobs in an endless carousel. It's why industry and the state remain so close in France, while they're so antipathetic in Britain.

There's a lot of truth in the old barb about big French cars selling well only to the French government. CitroŽn's top brass didn't make the C6 for you and me. They made it for their old college mates. So if we get some enjoyment along the way (and i really did), that can only be an added bonus.
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Old 08-06-2006, 10:39 PM   #2
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Default Re: BBC 'Top Gear' magazine June 2006 on the C6

in response to the Top Gear C6 video,

Clarkson (and quite a few of the Top Gear staff) actually do 'get' what CitroŽns are all about.

much more so than the staff of, say, 'autocar', or 'what car'.

http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/art...460564,00.html

Top Gear staff understand the ethos best, followed by 'Car' magazine writers.

surprisingly, the German mag 'automotorundsport' have also reviewed the car very favourably :-)

at borders bookshop, this month's issue of 'Test Drive' magazine gave the C6 the nod over the S-type.
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Old 12-06-2006, 11:22 AM   #3
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Default Re: BBC 'Top Gear' magazine June 2006 on the C6

Look like we got a winner here

but when is it coming to sg? can't wait to see it 8)
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Old 12-06-2006, 04:02 PM   #4
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Default Re: BBC 'Top Gear' magazine June 2006 on the C6

it's just as beautiful - if not more so - in the flesh (so to speak).

and the build quality seems leagues above our C5s.

(have only sat in stationary ones at motor shows, though)

having said that, l'automobile magazine (the current issue - the one with scooped family-hatches on the front cover) features France's first proper test of the C6, in which they took it from Paris to Gibraltar and back. a couple of gremlins surfaced... :-P

on a separate note, welcome to our most recent member - CarBaby!

welcome welcome to you :-)
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