French barge bargains

As I write this I’m sitting on a Lufthansa flight to Munich, ready to drive the new Lexus GS. That made me think about the last time I saw a GS on the road and I honestly can’t remember. The very first GS was a car I lusted after, especially in the Sport variant, but since then it’s fallen off my radar so here’s hoping the new one rekindles that desire.CHAL Banner

This column isn’t about the new Lexus though, rather it’s about cars that disappear entirely from the public consciousness. No, really, it’s not about the Lexus.

Just this week Citroen have stopped production of the right hand drive C6, a car seemingly designed purely for French Presidents, as sales here were slower than snail crawling through melted Camembert.

That’s a real shame, as the C6 is a truly cracking car. Yes, asking a buyer to shell out £30,000 for a large French car in the UK is never going to end well when there’s obvious competition from the German triumvirate of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, but in eschewing the alternative choice buyers are missing out.

The C6 had a sublime ride, smoothing out even the roughest road surface and ensuring Sarkozy’s hair remained unruffled. The build quality was very good, with a high mileage model now still feeling tight and fresh, and the levels of equipment left almost everything else on the market wanting. The diesel engine sounded a tad rough at start up, but settled in to being a powerful and economical option, while the super-rare 3.0 litre V6 petrol engine was as smooth and relaxing as a glass of Veuve Clicquot at the Fairmont Hotel in Monaco.

Citroen XM 1992 ProfileIt wasn’t the first French barge to manage that. The XM before it is renowned for its ride, if not build quality, so much so that 20 year old examples are now rising in price. The higher spec models had two rear windscreens, one that rose with the hatch for access to the boot with a second that remained in place to shield rear passengers from the elements. I’ve never seen that on another car, yet sales were glacial.

The Peugeot 605 wore a very sharp suit, almost carrying off an Italian style, but nobody noticed. It combined that design with a glorious chassis that was a match for anything Munich could manage at the time, although it wasn’t unusual for bits of trim to fall off mid-corner. Peugeot tried once more with the 607, but even fewer noticed that model.

Peugeot 605 1996 ProfileRenault have been bravest. The old 25 was advanced for its time before being replaced by the Safrane. I had a Safrane once, a big V6 model that I used for the Staples2Naples banger rally, and it wafted down the French motorways without any issues. It was, however, completely invisible. Nobody knew it was there, such was the level of blandness. The one time it did need some work, the service receptionist at my local Renault dealer didn’t even know what a Safrane was, which sums up its desirability.

Renault at least tried a different tactic and replaced the Safrane with the Avantime and the Vel Satis. The latter was a luxury hatchback with quirky styling, while nobody really knows what the Avantime was meant to be, other than ‘different’. After just 400 odd sales in a couple of years, it was quietly dropped.

The vertical depreciation curves of these led to massive discounts when new, but even knocking £5,000 off these behemoths failed to shift them in enough numbers, so now there’s none left to buy new.

Renault Safrane 1996 ProfileThe good news for private buyers though is that there’s still plenty available on the second hand market. A 2007 Citroen C6 with that strong 2.7 litre diesel engine could be yours for £5,000 now. There’s probably not a better bargain on the market than that, giving you a seriously luxurious and distinctive cruiser for less money than a similar aged Peugeot 207.

So if the French are ever brave enough to try and sell a large luxury car here again, don’t simply disregard it. Try it out and you’ll find it’s better than you think it will be. Check the contract hire rates and you may find that, despite the depreciation, rates aren’t all that different to the usual options thanks to those massive discounts.

And then order a BMW, because that’s simply what will happen. Everybody who drives these French barges likes them, but few want to buy them. Perhaps a second hand one… The problem is that people like me who buy unusual cars second hand need people like you to buy them new.

So do me a favour. Be different and look after my next car for a few years. Once you’ve paid the depreciation, I’ll be glad to buy it off you.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 13 June 2012.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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