Posted by: Dexter Roberts on May 14, 2007
I just had the chance to test drive the new C6 executive saloon by Citroen, the successor to its historic DS model, which has recently been released in China. (Fully loaded, it retails for a hefty 700,000 rmb or $90,909) It is certainly an unusual-looking car (in a good way) which somehow combines a James Bond-like outer space sort of look, with at the same time elegance. It has a low-slung attractive line with a long sloping nose and a snub rear end. And it is big. Fitting it into tight parking spots in crowded Beijing was sometimes a challenge. The C6 is unusual-looking enough that it regularly turns heads on the streets. I saw that happen with everyone from bicycle cart delivery men staring with interest at the C6 as they peddled by to numerous other motorized vehicle drivers, including at least one BMW owner I passed on the street.
It’s a quiet drive and has a smooth-gliding feel to it as one tools down the road, no doubt in large part due to its use of a hydraulic suspension system. And it’s packed with all sorts of technological gadgets including an electronic seat adjustment system with enough range of movement to it that it could almost double as a massage chair. (And massage chairs or massage pillows to place on one’s armchair, are a popular item in China too.) Other nice touches include the way it projects an image showing the vehicle speed onto the window directly in front of the driver for easy viewing.
The C6 was at its best when I took it out on a beautiful, winding mountain road outside of Beijing that rises more than a thousand meters through scenic countryside to a lovely temple. It handled very well on the curves and with its powerful V6 engine (choices include either 3.0 liter gasoline or 2.7 liter diesel-powered—diesel was what I had) it has the oomph necessary for zipping past the ubiquitous, usually overloaded blue Dongfeng trucks that lumber along and spew exhaust on China’s roads. And the C6 also handled well at higher speeds later when I hit the Jingcheng Expressway north of Beijing. That trip led to the Hongluo Temple (in English, the Red Snail Temple), yet another of the many beautiful and historic sites that dot the countryside around China’s capital.
The C6 has a couple more unusual touches, some ideally suited to counter China’s sometimes alarming driving habits. Foremost among those is its vibrating lane change warning system. That function gives the driver’s seat a cautionary vibration when the car drifts to a new lane without the use of the turn signal indicator. That function might well be seen as an irritation in China where it is quite common for drivers to blithely drift across lanes without regard to neighboring vehicles. To my mind however, it is a very welcome addition. Perhaps a feature like this will make drivers in China a little less inclined to suddenly drift in front of other cars in the future—at least without bothering to use their turn signal indicator.
Another interesting feature is the sensor system that warns (both audibly with beeps and with an image on a small screen on the dashboard) when the C6 is getting too close to another object—that’s generally helpful in Beijing where one regularly has to navigate into narrow parking spaces, although at times the car seemed a trifle too cautious with its early warnings even when there was enough room to spare. I also liked the directional headlights that automatically turn on when outside light becomes dim. That too could be helpful in overcoming the commonplace tendency in China to delay turning on one’s vehicle headlights until it is close to black outside. (I’ve heard various theories for this habit, including one version that has frugal drivers believing the headlights eat up additional gasoline.)
Also much appreciated were the eight air bags in the C6. Those helped it recently win the top rating in the executive car category for safety in a survey by Auto Express and conducted by the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP). Given the dire auto accident record in China, safety features in a car have got to be one of the very most important things a driver on Chinese roads is looking for.
One small flaw is that the car cup holders (only two of them) are flimsy rings and too narrow to fit larger-size thermos-style mugs. (Do the French not take beverages in their vehicles?) Even worse, the cup ring holders are mounted high up on the dashboard where they are in reach of direct sunlight. Not only does that make one’s perhaps initially frosty beverage warm but can have more serious consequences. I discovered that when a can of Coke I had left in the car cup holder exploded from the heat of the sun, spraying liquid about the interior. Luckily no one was in the vehicle driving at that moment.
A more serious challenge for Citroen than getting the cup holders right will be overcoming the dominance that Audi now has in the luxury auto sector in China, as well as BMW and Mercedes to a lesser extent. To succeed in that, Citroen will have to also overcome its sometime association in China with taxis. The Citroen Fukang hatchback has long been an extremely common choice for taxi fleets in cities including Beijing and many Chinese still associate the brand with the common cab. Driving the luxurious, stylish, and sometimes quirky C6 however, will certainly end any low-brow associations and fast.