Big Citroëns are always absurd. They’re enormous, oddly designed, and solely exist for pure, effortless, worry-free comfort, and possibly also for smoking Gauloises. Even more absurd is a new one that’s mysteriously made it’s way to the United States. And we drove it.
When we first heard that there was a 2006 Citroën C6 not only for sale in the U.S., but nearby, we knew we had to get behind the wheel. And if we couldn’t do that, at the very least, we wanted to be simply near it. To feel its présence, its je ne sais quoi, its joie de vivre, and many other French phrases besides. At the very least, we wanted to see it with our own eyes.
But it’s not just that it’s French. It’s that it’s one of the few relatively inexpensive modern cars that was built for supreme relaxation. And no one does that anymore, not really. Because the Citroën C6 doesn’t belong in the modern era, much like drinking frankly heroic amounts of wormwood-tainted absinthe during a working day doesn’t belong in the modern era.
There’s not anything strictly wrong with it, per se, not in any moral sense. It’s just unfashionable for the mainstream, even though we have vastly better stuff than we did back then.
Sure, a few cars are still made to that sort of exacting, cushy specification, but the list of cars that have never even heard of a race track isn’t a long one. Not including the spaceships made by Rolls-Royce and Bentley, there’s the Toyota Avalon, the Lexus ES, and maybe a Kia somewhere along the way.
Even then, automakers seemed to have gotten confused at some point. When someone spoke aloud the words “supreme relaxation,” all they heard was “ultimate, death-inducing boredom.”
And it doesn’t have to be that way. Furniture makers can give you a maximally comfortable and interesting chair in 30,000 different styles, but when you ask for a ridiculously comfortable and interesting car, made without a single thought for “sportiness” or “handling,” all you seem to get from automakers these days is the equivalent of a blank stare.
Except for the fine engineers at Citroën. And even then, for only seven years, from 2005 to 2012. Because no one bought one. Over those seven years, Citroën couldn’t manage to shift even 25,000 units in all of their markets.
The comfort purist, then, is a dying breed.
But we, the last of us purists, still exist, at least for now. And we’ve been dying for a better car for decades now. One that doesn’t just whisk away the world, but also isn’t terrible. The Lincoln Town Car, with its body-on-frame construction, dates from approximately the Rutherford B. Hayes presidency, and in a best case scenario everyone will think that you, too, also date from the Hayes presidency when driving it. The aforementioned Toyota and Lexus don’t just relax you, they put you into a coma.
So for those few left, the Citroën C6 is it. And not in America. Except for this one, lonely example.
Before we go any further, you’re probably wondering how a 2006 Citroën C6, made in France, originally sold in Belgium, and never officially imported into the United States, made it to New York. An even bigger question is how the state of New York not only registered it, but also allowed it to pass a state inspection, despite being younger than the 25-year import ban.
And these are all excellent, excellent questions. Really, they are. Unfortunately, we agreed that the answers to those would be strictly off the record. And to be honest, besides all of our natural curiosity, it wouldn’t really matter. The method used here, for various reasons, is pretty much impossible for anyone to recreate.
All you really need to know is that there is a real, live, Citroën C6. It’s really here. In America.
It is also magnificent. So let’s just all enjoy it.
Even when we had merely heard about the car, it was impossible to resist. So many people had sent us the Craigslist ad advertising its sale, that it had to be something special. Then we read that the reason why it was being sold to make room for a restored Citroën DS, the original big French oddball, and a Fisker Karma, the new-ish electric oddball, so the owner had to be one of us. “We are also crazy,” he said in his ad.
And so we met the owner, who flew the B-36 Peacemaker under General Curtis LeMay back in the 1950s. He’s owned plenty of Citroëns before, starting with a DS, and continuing with a veritable fleet of them in succession until the current C6. It’s been in good hands.
When you first walk up to the car there’s something both inherently familiar and strange to it. It’s about the same size on the outside as a BMW 5-series, and it’s an unassuming dark green. If it passed you going the opposite direction on the highway, you might catch a flash of it and assuming it was a road madness-induced hallucination.
But then you see it’s got an oddly long hood, and an oddly short trunk, and it’s got arrows on its face and a rear window that curves inwards upon itself, and it’s nothing like anything else in the world.
It’s when you step inside, however, that things get super weird. Because something is going on here, something that breaks the laws of physics. It is so monumentally vast inside that there is parking for another C6 in the back seats alone. And each seat, in its own right, is the size of a massive captain’s chair. You don’t sit in the seat, so much as you’re swallowed by it.
You’re left startled and confused, like someone is casually hiding a doorway to another dimension inside a family grocery-getter. “Oh, this? It’s just the portal to the multiverse,” you say, as you peer into the depths of endless possibilities. I’m fairly certain Amelia Earhart was hiding in there somewhere, along with D.B. Cooper and Sasquatch.
Like I said, it’s absurd.
Then you turn the key, and start it up, and the real absurdity begins. With a 2.7-liter diesel V6, it’s not winning any races, but you don’t want to win any races in it. Too many cars constantly feel like they’re pushing you on, like they only want more, like they’re only truly happy when screaming at 190 miles per hour.
The Citroën, on the other hand, does the opposite. You’ll be driving along at 45 MPH, and then you’ll look around, and it’s almost as if it’s saying to you “why not try 40? You’re in no hurry. There’s no rush. Sit back and enjoy life.”
It’s completely anathema to the prevailing automotive industry winds. The entire instrument cluster is horizontal, from the tach to the digital speedometer, and it’s got a heads-up display. And, just in case you forget that it’s a French car, a fire extinguisher was included as standard.
Not that he’s ever had trouble getting it repaired here in the U.S., mind you. It’s just good to know it has one. It’s full of small design details that let you know it was drawn from a completely clean sheet. It’s not just the concave glass, or the the horizontal tach, or the gentle ripple effect stretched out across the leather that lets you know it was sourced from extraordinarily fat cows.
It’s little, practical details, like the little storage cupboards in the doors. Instead of popping out at you, it slides downwards automatically with a gentle push. Not even a Bentley has that.
The fat, pillowy steering wheel is feather light, and you feel nothing from the road. Zero. Zilch. It’s almost as if it’s detached completely from the surface, because becoming too connected to the street below would be a bother. “I’d like to turn left,” you think, as you dreamily feel your hands turning, and then it’s as if a thousand servants start the process for you, because why would you want to think about such trivialities?
But it wasn’t until he showed off the real capabilities of the suspension did I truly know what we were dealing with. We had driven a few miles already, bathing in the gentle glow of the famous Citroën Hydractive suspension, before the car was actually put into comfort mode.
We had already been gliding along like an ice skater, and I had thought I’d experienced what it means to let everything melt away. I had heard all the terrible repetition about how “oh, you need to experience this, it’s totally different,” and already, in normal mode, it was different, to the point of satisfaction. It was comfortable, it was fine, it was grand.
Once the button was pushed, everything did seem to just, well, actually melt. The road beneath us almost felt liquid, as our seats wallowed around. If we hit a big enough pothole, we might, maybe, just possibly feel a slight shonk, but otherwise it was almost as if the car itself wasn’t attached to the Earth below us anymore.
We were, I was fairly certain, floating above it. And yet, miraculously, you didn’t get a disconcerting feeling of imminent danger like you would get in something like an old Cadillac. The feeling that because you can’t feel the road, you’re no longer in control. It was more like a feeling that someone else was taking care of it for you. It was like sitting on a plush pool of melted butter. It was alien.
Which is the joy of a big Citroën. You don’t worry about anything, once you’re inside. It’s not a car for Russian billionaires in their Mercedes S-classes, who even in their own supreme isolation worry about the price of natural gas.
It’s great, it’s French, and it’s a unicorn. And that’s not just because they didn’t make very many.
Photos credit: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik