Come on guys, there's nothing to be ashamed of.

3y ago

I was mooching around the internet the other day, when I came across a great review here on DRIVETRIBE of the new DS7 Crossback SUV. I was reading through the authors thoughts on the new car, nodding sagely in agreement. Yes, it is lovely to behold and, and yes, the engines are nothing much to write home about. It was all good stuff, but then I got to the end where the gent in question said "This could be a great starting point for DS."

And this got me thinking...

Why in the world would a car manufacturer with as rich a heritage as Citroen want to sweep ninety-nine years of history under the carpet?

The astounding 140 mph Citroen SM.

The astounding 140 mph Citroen SM.

Alright, if you are four years old then at this point you're probably rolling your eyes and thinking "Err because Citroen just make boring cars that fall to bits." I'll be the first to admit that over the last fifteen years or so, things have gone a little bit wrong. The best thing about the Citroen C4, for instance, was the TV ad where it turned into a dancing robot. The C3 was hateful, the C1 was a Toyota and the less said about the atrocious C8 people carrier, the better.

But prior to that, you simply cannot fail to acknowledge the fact that Citroen have a cast iron track record of producing some of the most innovative cars in history.

There was the Traction Avant, the world's very first front wheel drive production car, and like it or not, the one that paved the way for pretty much every small and medium car on sale today. It also had four-wheel independent suspension, in 1934. Something that many family cars don't have today.

Then they turned their attention to a smaller car, a car to mobilise the forty-million strong French population. The car that resulted, on the eve of World War II, was of course the famous 2CV. Threatened by the invading German forces, the vice-president of Citroen, Pierre Boulanger, set about squirrelling prototypes of the car away where he hoped that the Nazis would be unable to find and steal his baby. After the war, the car was launched properly and was such an astounding success, that it remained in production with few alterations until 1990.

The 2CV is perhaps Citroen's most recognisable car. Nearly 4 million were sold in total.

The 2CV is perhaps Citroen's most recognisable car. Nearly 4 million were sold in total.

When the boom-time came in the late 50’s and 60’s Citroen were ready once again with another very individual car to suit the mood. The DS was the technical marvel that really put Citroen on the map. Over the course of its twenty-year life it debuted Citroen’s famous hydro-pneumatic suspension front and rear, adjustable headlamps that turned along with the steering, and styling so captivating that when it was unveiled at the 1955 Paris motor show, Citroen took over 12,000 deposits for the car on the first day alone. A record the DS held for over sixty years.

In the 1970’s there was the SM. More luxurious and upmarket than the DS, the SM was another technological tour de force and with a lusty Maserati V6 engine, this Citroen could rival BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes on performance as well as looks.

All that innovation didn't come cheap though, and going into the 80's Citroen had been bought out by French competitors Peugeot. It didn't stop them doing their thing though, and whilst other car makers went crazy with power and excess, Citroen trod a different path, preferring to build featherweight challengers like the diminutive AX, which weighed so little that it could have been taxed as an inert gas. Then came the fearsome 16-valve BX, which may have looked like the usual oddball Citroen fare, but could keep up with a BMW 325i in a traffic light grand prix.

The Citroen Xantia Activa - Faster than a Mclaren, in a very specific way.

The Citroen Xantia Activa - Faster than a Mclaren, in a very specific way.

As the 80's became the 90's market trends dictated that the cars Citroen built became more conventional in looks, and were more reliant on parent company Peugeot for mechanical parts. But the same spirit of innovation remained. Advances in technology meant that Citroen were able to develop a computer controlled version of their 'magic carpet' suspension for the Xantia.

This new system enabled the 190 horsepower V6 Activa model to stabilise itself through corners and effectively pump up the side of the car that would roll into a corner. It was this trickery that allowed the Activa to power it's way through the Swedish slalom test that famously felled the original Merc A-Class at a record speed that it holds to this day, faster even than the McLaren 675LT.

A great car in need of an identity. The DS7 was an opportunity to re-invigorate the Citroen brand, instead they're startingfrom scratch.

A great car in need of an identity. The DS7 was an opportunity to re-invigorate the Citroen brand, instead they're startingfrom scratch.

Even when they were starting from some fairly humdrum Peugeot components, they could do something special. The Saxo VTS for instance, which was based on the humble 106 but accelerated like an Apollo spacecraft and steered with almost telepathic aplomb. It's a great car that, one of my all time favourite hot hatchbacks.

But as the 21st Century began, it just seemed as if Citroen had lost their joie de vivre. They stopped innovating and dreaming up solutions to problems that nobody else had even thought of, and started piling 'em high and selling 'em so cheap that I'm surprised the company didn't pay you to buy one of their cars.

Whilst this approach might have satisfied the grandes fromages in the accounts department, it was damaging to the brand no end. When the DS3 arrived in 2010, it looked as though things might be on the up. But then the company decided to split the DS models and create an entirely new brand. Leaving Citroen, the name that the motoring world owes so much to, withering away under the weight of a boring range of dull hatchbacks and white vans.

Damn shame that. Damn, damn shame.





If you haven't already, check out Tom Kent's great article I referred to in my piece here.


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Comments (9)

  • The DS brand is said to be the luxury arm of Citroen. I think they want to create a Lexus/Toyota equivalent.

      3 years ago
    • That's true. But I'm not sure they need it given the prestige of their past with the DS, SM, CX and so on. Not saying either is right or wrong. Just thinking out loud really.

        3 years ago
    • No you’re completely right there mate. It’s a shame really.

        3 years ago
  • This sort of thing has happened with SEAT as well because they now call the SEAT CUPRA models just CUPRA Leon etc. Just to make a posh sporty brand.

      3 years ago
  • It's across the board. France started by making the most beautiful cars. Look up Delage and Delahaye and Talbot-Lago, if you're doubting. Then something happened.

      3 years ago
  • Clarkson says that in France we are communist peasants

    citroen is all about that and they make cars only for old people and for women

    that's maybe why they are affraid to be citroen

      3 years ago