Citroen C6

If you think BMWs are boring and all Mercedes look the same, what sort of machine should you buy when you are looking for a big, executive car that is guaranteed to set you apart from the crowd?

The looks and comfortable driving style might not suit everyone, but the C6 offers an individual and value-for-money alternative to German saloons. On the evidence of our time at the wheel, it deserves to do well. Let's hope it proves reliable - and that Citroen doesn't offer heavy discounts before the car has a chance to find a market.

If you think BMWs are boring and all Mercedes look the same, what sort of machine should you buy when you are looking for a big, executive car that is guaranteed to set you apart from the crowd?

Citroen claims that it has the answer. The French manufacturer hasn't offered a large executive model in the UK since the demise of the XM in 2000. Yet by next spring you will be able to buy a £30,000 Citroen which aims to rival the best that its German competitors have to offer. Don't believe us? Then take a look at the new C6 - a car Citroen has been promising to deliver since it revealed the C6 Lignage concept of 1999. This machine has been a long time coming, but has it been worth the wait? Auto Express was the first magazine to find out, with a drive of the newcomer in Paris.

Parked in the centre of a crowded city, the C6 grabs your attention like a crashed spaceship. With its wind-cheating shape, zig-zag chrome highlights and convex rear screen, it is like nothing else on the road. Inside, the feeling is much the same. Thanks to a wheelbase nearly three metres long, the Citroen has a huge cabin, dominated by vast leather chairs, interesting cubby holes and attractive finishes.

The UK will get three basic trim levels: C6, C6 Lignage and C6 Exclusive. There will be two engine options, too, both V6s - the 2.7-litre Peugeot/Ford twin-turbo diesel and the PSA 3.0 unleaded V6 from the C5. A base-model petrol C6 is expected to cost about £29,500, with air-conditioning, laminated side glass, cruise control, a speed limiter and alloy wheels, along with xenon headlamps. We drove a turbodiesel Exclusive model, which will cost around £38,000. It adds, among other things, steering headlamps, electrically adjustable front and back leather seats, a head-up information display and lane-departure alerts.

The centre console is cluttered, with controls for the heating, ventilation and stereo systems. Meanwhile, the steering and seats adjust in all directions, and there is plenty of width and height for larger drivers. Particularly pleasing are the wood-faced door pockets which slide down to allow greater access to the stowage bins.

Rear passengers get their own, effec-tive air-conditioning controls, and there is even an adjuster for the front seat mounted in the back centre armrest. When the C6 is idling, the diesel engine is superbly quiet and refined, although getting underway lets a fair amount of vibration through to the major controls.

The unit gives the Citroen a sur-prising turn of speed, despite the six-speed automatic box being a little slow to swap cogs. Citroen's famous oil and gas hydropneumatic system does the springing and damping, plus supplies power for the speed-sensitive steering. True, the set-up is complicated, but what you need to know is that it's foolproof and maintenance-free for five years or 125,000 miles.

It also provides the most sublime ride you could imagine, smoothing out bumps and potholes without allowing the body to bounce, lurch or roll too excessively. However, this means the powerful disc brakes have a slightly abrupt action, the steering feels a little over-sensitive at times and the driving experience can verge on the other-worldly on occasion.

If you try to forget the idea of out-cornering BMWs and concentrate more on long-legged comfort, then the C6 is like nothing else you can buy.

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