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Citroen XM (1989 - 2000)

reviewed by lowflyingpilot on 27 April 2015

SX 2.1 TD 5dr hatchback automatic

reviewed by Spanner on 14 February 2013
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A bit 'sci-fi' but none the worse for it.

This is my second Citroen XM that I've owned and glad to say I'm still pleased with it. When I sold my first XM back in 2005 I later regretted it and then spent the following years looking for another good one. Luckily in June last year I found one on Ebay from a private seller and because it was a 'one previous owner car' who had maintained a dealer or specialist service history, I bought it. Another reason was that it was an honest, well serviced car with a few small scuffs but nothing seriously wrong with it. What was important was the massive service history file that came with it.
The important thing to remember with this cars is never, never never buy one that hasn't been looked after or lacks service history or evidence of receipts for servicing or repairs UNLESS it's dirt-cheap and being sold for parts or repair only. There seems to be a trend of either mint looking XM's from dealers at grossly optimistic prices or old barges sold privately with a bit of ticket left and a whole heap of trouble for the unsuspecting purchaser. As I found out, it's getting difficult finding good XM's in nice mechanical condition that maybe need just a bit of minor TLC. They're out there but finding a good one can take some time. Most good ones tend to be kept by owners.
These cars are big. Seriously big. The bonnet is almost large enough to play table tennis on and the sloping front end is easily clunked when parking these monsters. That's why it's rare to find one without scuffs to the bumper corners, but if you think the hatchback is big then you should see the estate version. It makes the old boxy Volvos look like they're not trying. The front and rear ends of the XM estate are in different postcodes... seriously, if you want a car with the carrying capacity of a container ship then the XM Estate is for you - if you can find a good one.

First, let's dispel some myths;
The hydropneumatic suspension system is NOT unreliable. What makes them unreliable is lack of servicing, neglect or bad repairs carried out by garage mechanics who still don't understand Citroens or even basic hydraulics. I've owned two XM's and a Zantia and worked on several more (professionally) and I can tell you now I would rather change a hydraulic pressure sphere than a rusted up conventional steel road spring any day. I've lost count over the number of busted road springs and ripped tyres I've replaced on customer's cars where the spring has snapped and fired itself into the tyre and/or brake hose. XM's also make very safe cars since they are self-levelling and I did hear of an owner suffering a high speed blow out which because of the clever suspension - kept the car stable so he was able to pull over to the hard shoulder. Lose a tyre on a conventionally sprung car and you'll be spinning like a top or worse.
The worst thing that an owner can do on an XM, Xantia, C5, BX, CX or DS is not changing the hydraulic oil - LHM - at the correct intervals. Like all hydraulic systems, it needs scruplously clean hydraulic oil. The LHM fluid is normally a clear green colour and you should be able to read newsprint through a sample held in a glass jar. If it's dark green, brown or even black then it's old, oxidised or just plain contaminated. Oil in this condition will cause problems and if you see any XM/Xantia/C5/CX/BX etc like this then walk away or be prepared for some expensive repairs.
For most part, the hydraulic system is easy to live with and gives a ride like the proverbial magic carpet. So long as the LHM is changed at the right intervals then the only other important aspect is to ensure the metal high-pressure pipes and lines are kept rust-free as the system runs at huge pressures. As I mentioned earlier, these cars don't use conventional steel road springs. Instead they use nitrogen pressurised spheres that act as the 'springing medium and damper in conjunction with the hydraulic rams or struts at each wheel. Good quality spheres tend to last longer than after-market pattern parts. When a sphere does wear out or fail, the ride quality gets hard and starts to feel like a normal car. When the rear spheres start going then the car can feel like it has no suspension - which in effect it doesn't as there isn't any suspension travel since the gas has gone and hydralic fluid fills up the sphere. Best not to drive the car in this state as it will eventually cause damage, the police might say something but more importantly the car isn't controllable since the wheels won't be doing what they are supposed to do. You'll be glad to know that front spheres are easy to change and damn sight quicker than replacing a macpherson strut and spring. The rear spheres can put up a fight as they often rust tight onto the struts. However with a lot of release spray, a wire brushing and correct technique, they can be removed.

There are two other provisos when buying an XM. One is condition of front suspension struts which are basically hydraulic rams and the other is condition of the strut tops.

Struts must be leak-free since leaks are an MOT failure. They are hellishly expensive to buy new and cannot be rebuilt.

With regard to strut tops (the bit under the bonnet where the green spheres are mounted to) On older XM's these used to rust out and delaminate from the rubber bonded unit thus causing the front suspension strut to break free and punch into the bonnet. It's not the inner wing rusting but a bit of a lousy design of using mild steel and rubber which helped give the XM amazing ride quality but rusted quickly. Citroen modified the strut tops for the later XM's but they can still rust but at least (in theory) they wont pop into the bonnet. If the later strut tops rust and start moving around, it can cause heavy and rough steering feel plus excess tyre wear. Please note that new strut tops are very, very pricey and old good ones are like hen's teeth on the internet auction sites. (Apparently there is a specialist strut top rebuilder in Estonia that rebuilds them but can't confirm this at the moment)

So what are XM's like to live with?
In short - easy - if you do all your own servicing and repairs.
Since older cars tend to be out of the dealer servicing network, most XM's are either looked after by specialists, the owner or normal independents. There are some great XM specialists which can be found on the internet.

I use my one every day for commuting on mostly duel carriageway, motorway and very ocassionally in city traffic. Because of the futuristic, but aerodynamic shape, the car is mercifully quiet inside at motorway speeds and if you have the automatic gearbox, has a high final ratio so it's relaxing at 70mph with engine spinning at 2,500 rpm. In the real world I get 39.8 miles per gallon on a run. It can crack 42 mpg but only if you drive like Miss Daisy. The manual gearbox 2.1's will return 44 mpg on a run but the 2.5 turbo-diesels which are 130 bhp, will average 34 to 36 mpg in the real world.
If you're tall like me then you will appreciate the leg room front and rear. The seats are supportive and quite typically soft. The steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake and the drivers seat on even the basic SX is height adjustable - so no excuse for not being able to get comfortable.
All the instruments are clear and the controls are easy to reach although the American style parking brake does take some time to get used to as it involves pushing a large button in near the driver's right knee then pressing the small foot pedal down. To release it you simply pull on the release button.
Interior trim is generally solid and squeak and rattle free on good XM's as build quality was aimed at the executive car buyer when these were new. In fact general build quality is very good and the doors shut with a heavy, reassuring thud. However, since the XM is now in old car territory, the chances of finding one that doesn't squeak a bit is rare. Often it's because an instrument cluster light has blown and trim has been removed to replace it. If the clips snap then some trim will rattle. Apart from that, the interior is pretty tough although the full leather interiors of the higher spec XM's needs looking after to keep it in great condition but then so do all cars with leather interiors. While we're on the subject of leather and high spec XM's the interior of the top models is a very, very nice place to be. My older 1992 XM had full electric seats, full heated seats front and rear and even the front centre arm rest/cubby box was electrically adjustable. With the older style square dashboard, it looked superb. My only regret with my present XM is that it has cloth trim but since we've got a dog, cloth trim is probably a blessing.

The 2.1 litre 12 valve turbo-diesel is easy to service as it has hydraulic tappets and the oil filter is at the front tucked down under the hydraulic pump. It's a variation of the XU 1.9 diesels so it means 6,000 mile oil and filter change intervals. It's a bit low compared to modern diesels but again - these engines can go on for huge mileages - if regularly serviced. Likewise with the cooling system. Change the coolant every two years using good quality anti-freeze and deionised water and the engine will love you for it but neglect it and it can cause overheating and headgasket issues but then again, neglecting any engine can cause expensive failures.
Also these engines being turbos means good quality, semi-synthetic or full synthetic oil. Personally speaking from experience, semi-synth is perfectly acceptable. Since there are hydraulic tappets and a tiny pre-filter screen for the turbo bearing oil supply pipe, you neglect oil changes at your own risk. Having said that I did run a Xantia 1.9 TD deliberately at 9,000 mile oil intervals using Halford semi-synthetic oil and it didn't show any wear problems when I removed head for a look at the bores. However remember regular oil changes keeps the turbo happy so on your own head if you ignore the 6,000 mile intervals.
The 2.1 TD has a conventional timing belt with guides and an auto-tensioner. Since the timing belt also drives the waterpump, it helps if the pump is swapped along with the guides and tensioner when the belt is changed. Pumps and timing belt kits are cheap from Eurocarparts, GSF or other reputable parts retailers. It's a bit fiddly to change but a snapping timing belt will ruin your day and your wallet so maybe keep to the old adage of change the belt every 36,000 miles or three years. I believe Citroen stipulate a 60,000 or 70,000 mile interval. Seems a bit long to me but as an ex mobile mechanic I've seen belts let go at a lot less than 70,000 miles.

The manual five speed 'boxes are conventional and so long as oil levels are maintained and maybe drained and refilled every two years then they're tough although the heavy XM can be hard on clutches especially if it's been towing or living in urban environment. Gear changes should be smooth and precise. If the clutch doesn't engage until pedal is almost released then clutch is due for replacement - a big job although the 2.1 manual can be done without taking the engine out. A clutch change on the bigger 2.5 TD is an engine/transmission out job since there's no room to remove gearbox with engine in place so bare that in mind if you're looking at buying a high mileage (and they will ALL be high mileage) 2.5 TD with manual box.
The 4 speed automatics really do need regular ATF changes. Ignore Citroen's advice and change the fluid ideally once a year. ATF is cheap enough. There's been several well reported failures on this transmission mostly down to too long a fluid change interval. The other reason is faults with the electronic brain which helps make the changes smooth and almost seemless. My car has done 167,000 miles and the autobox is still good because the previous owner changed fluid every year and I'm continuing the process since a busted transmission will write off an XM since the labour to repair/replace it will be huge. I've seen many a superb condition XM ruined because the ATF was dirty, black or too low because regular checks weren't carried out.
Just to warn you - changing the ATF on an XM is a bit of a pain since the fluid is dripped in slowly via the dip-stick hole. Over-filling it will cause damage.

Older XM's suffered from earthing problems due to the weird centralised earthing system. The series 2 cars from 1994 had much better electrics although a high mileage later XM can have a worn out ignition switch which can cause starting problems and cabin fan issues since much of the interior power supply to components comes via the ignition switch.

So, to summerise, these cars when in good condition make great used buys - if you're prepared to get your hands dirty. They still turn heads, they will stand out in a carpark full of anonymous euroboxes and - assuming you maintain it and keep it in good condition will probably mean you get most of the your money back if and when you come to sell it. A major classic car magazine recently ran an article that suggested values of XM's will climb as there are fewer on the road since the government's dubious scrappage scheme. They still have a massive fan base in the UK and in Europe.
I find what gets people talking is parking it up then putting it in service low setting where it slowly sinks to the ground. It almost looks small since the roof is low but put it in service high setting and it rises up and you'd be forgiven in thinking it would simply levitate off it's wheels and fly off. Either way, it does get people talking at the fuel pumps.

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