The cars we loved.
When it comes to automotive shoulda-couda-wouldas in history, the fate of the French car in America comes to mind. The biggest peddler of French cars in America was PSA Peugeot, known for a few interesting, if not overly reliable cars sold under its primary divison Peugeot. The French conglomorate had got to the point that US sales were at a dangerously low level. The company had to put out or get out as interest in Peugots small selection of cars in the US was wainng amist fears of reliability issues.
The company naturally put all its marbles on the new Mi19 (405) sport sedan when what it should have rolled out models from Citroen. particularly the Xenia. Citroen had cultivated a reputation for pioneering engineering when Peugeot bought a controlling share in the company in the 1970s. Combined with Peugot’s own left field approaches to engineering and design the two companies seemed like a natural fit. However the parent organization PSA wanted the two to become conventional in an effort to appeal to a wider market.
From that desire came cars like the Citroen Xantia. It was a large (by European standards) family car designed by Italy’s Bertone design studios. You could get the Xantia in a variety of body styles (4 door hatch, wagon or sedan) It shared many components with the related Peugeot 406, a car we might have seen in the US if the brand could have held on here.
Along with much of the 406’s mechanical components, the Xantia had a similar range of normally aspirated and turbocharged engines with displacements from 1.6 to 2.1 liters. Had we the chance to buy the Xantia, we likely would have got the more power than the best selling 2.0 liter turbo could muster (75hp). The top of the line Xantia would later be offered in Europe with a 188 hp 3.0 V6.
The Xantia was unique in that it offered the flair expected of Citroen, but tamed down its aspirations to fit a market usually dominated by the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Cavalier and Toyota Carina. Those cars were ordinary and quite conventional in their front engine rear drive platforms.
While the Xantia was not unique in its drive train layout, but did have one special advantage its rivals did not: a sophisticated hydropneumatic suspension system. The active suspension allowed the Xantia to corner as well as the some Porsches while delivering a comfortable compliant ride. Its self-leveling system kept the car on all fours in even the most agressive road manuvers.
The Xentia had far more personality than the Peougeot 406 and might have postponed the enivible departure of PSA products in America. It’s oddly compressed proportions would have made it an instant standout during a time when most of the new cars sold in America were adopting the aero jelly mold design.
The Xantia’s posh interior was in keeping with what buyers expected in a European luxury car, but was more luxurious than compariable interiors in the BMW 3 Series or the Audi A4.
With Fiat having made a sucessful return to the US market and Alfa Romeo not far behind, could it be possible that the French too might make a return? Even the most conventional cars from Citroen look exotic, something PSA could build on as Americans see the French as sophisticated and independent. If the company can convience us that they are as dependable as stylish, they may have a shot here. After all Detroit once belonged to them.