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Driving the XM

So, you put your right foot on the brake pedal (no left foot braking here - the pedal is offset too far to the right), engage drive, release the foot operated parking brake and off you move. Everything feels conventional - the steering, the low speed ride. Engine noise is subdued, the accelerator pedal feels quite heavy and unresponsive. The first application of the brakes reminds you that you are driving the successor to the DS, SM and CX - the pedal is rock hard and has hardly any movement.

The four speed auto box is utterly unobtrusive, changing down at the right time - you rarely find yourself in too high a gear with the engine off-boost - in fact, I would go as far as saying that I would hate to be saddled with a manual gearbox again.

 
 

As velocity increases, the ride, which was nothing special, improves, the steering which initially felt rather unresponsive is, you discover, very precise, enabling totally accurate placement of this big car even if feedback from the road is masked.

As confidence increases, so you discover that this softly sprung barge has incredible grip and superlative handling.

The car is essentially neutral in its handling - true, as might be expected, it understeers in extremis but it is very forgiving - lift off in the middle of a bend or even brake hard and the car loses speed - without drama or fuss. 
And you find yourself braking on bends far too frequently - not because you are traveling too quickly but because your progress is baulked by conventional machinery traveling substantially slower than you.
It is all too easy to travel at far higher speeds than are legal - a combination of low noise and the superlative ride and handling.

But what of the ride - after all, the Hydractive suspension is the car's raison d'Ítre and is the result of nearly 50 years of development.
As mentioned earlier, it is nothing special at low speed - but this has always been true of hydropneumatic CitroŽns. At speeds below 50 mph/80 kph, the car feels conventional - the driver of a Mercedes or BMW would notice nothing amiss. As the speed builds up, the ride improves although it is still far firmer than a CX driver - even a CX GTi Turbo 2 driver might expect.
Body roll is minimal and the car is not caught out by humpback bridges and the like. Hydractive 2 offers you a choice between two suspension settings - there is no discernible difference in ride comfort between the two although handling is slightly more neutral in the sports setting and steering response appears sharper.

To sum up then, the XM is a wonderful, high speed, long distance cruiser. It is truly a Gran Turismo or Grande RoutiŤre in the tradition of the 15 CV, the DS, the SM and the CX. It is also highly individualistic in appearance which is refreshing in an era when most cars are anodyne and bland to look at.

© 1997 Julian Marsh