Used car buying guide: Citroen XM

“Behold: a £900 Rolls-Royce!” might have been our headline here if were we feeling slightly sensationalist.

In reality, while there are some sub-£1000 Citroën XMs languishing in the classifieds, you will want to pay a bit more than that for true peace of mind, and even the most luxurious examples don’t pack as much chrome and cowhide as a big-grilled Brit.

Not that you won’t feel every bit as stately as your Phantom-owning neighbour. So wafty and relaxing was Citroën’s hydropneumatic suspension that Crewe used it under licence for the Silver Shadow, and the evolved version that cushioned the XM – dubbed Hydractive – was so competent that we christened it “the best-riding car in the world” in 1989.

The XM’s class-leading ride quality is at once a gift and a curse, however, being one of the main reasons why the car has cultivated a reputation for unreliability that enthusiasts reckon is unjust. Do some research and you will find that the science behind the system is actually relatively straightforward, and you can tackle all but the most involved of jobs at home so long as you’re half-competent with a spanner.

There’s a small but dedicated community of XM enthusiasts in the UK, and you will find them to be a goldmine of advice and instruction when it comes to refreshing the system.

Do also take some time to learn the detailed differences between Series 1 (1989-1994) and Series 2 (1994-2000) cars before opting for the former on the basis of its quirkier interior and cleaner lines. Substantial (but unsuccessful) sales-chasing upgrades included enhanced safety gear, sharper handling courtesy of a passive rear steering system and new petrol and diesel engines.

The later XM is generally considered a more reliable and usable proposition today, having received important electrical and suspension tweaks that rectified some of the original’s biggest shortcomings.

A good compromise, if you can find one, is a so-called Series 1.5 example from 1992 or 1993, which will offer the added refinement of a fully facelifted car but without the more conservative styling.

The XM followed its DS and CX predecessors in pairing a low-slung, swooping shape with inimitable comfort but thankfully has yet to emulate their astonishing surge in values. You can still buy a running, driving example of this Bertone-designed beast for around £1500 – although it will need a good deal more care and attention than most future classics in this price bracket.

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Bodywork

Water can penetrate the body’s zinc coating and rust it from the inside out. Check the strut tops, sills, boot floor, inner wings, door skins and bumper brackets for an early indication of integrity but delve deeper to be sure. Underseal can also be compromised, so check with a torch and screwdriver. It’s wise to budget for some welding and underseal in any case. The plastic nose can crack around the headlights.

Also worth knowing

The XM’s reputation for electrical fragility is largely due to the earth points in the engine bay of early cars, which tended to corrode. They were replaced later with more resilient ring connectors; most surviving XMs have had this change made, but make sure.

How much to spend

£500-£999: Projects, often Series 2 and wanting scary-sounding hydropneumatic work.

£1000-£1999: Phase 2 daily-drivers, mostly estates with the naturally aspirated diesel unit.

£2000-£2999: Solid examples in good mechanical health with tip-top suspension.

£3000 and above: Cleanest Phase 1 and 1.5 cars, the best of which are usually on the Continent.

One we found

CITROEN XM D12 HARMONIE, 1990, 98K MILES, £3340: Bad bits first: this early XM is left-hand drive, costs £3300 and lives in France. But there’s plenty to be excited about: it has been with the same owner its entire life, has the 2.1-litre turbodiesel and the more exciting interior and promises “corrosion très limitée”.