Big things with little cars
Big things with little cars
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French Friday: La fin du luxe français

Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em

Ok, one last one for today. Or, in the case of French automakers, one last one for forever. The Citroen C6 and Renault Vel Satis, the last attempts by the Gallic marques to make something properly big and comfortable. (Yes, Peugeot had the 607, but Norev made only like three of those in 1:64 so obviously I don’t have one...)

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Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em

The 607 was honestly a bit more proletariat than these two beige barges though—it was more of a stretched 406 in mindset (though it used the 605's platform) in that it packed comfort and a bit of technology into a very ordinary wrapper. Renault and Citroen went about their cars the traditional French way: all out and with no second thoughts given. And thus, they ended up with a convex hatchback and a concave-backed sedan.

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Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em

Compared to German contemporaries there really wasn’t a reason to buy either of these. They were lazy, FWD couches that didn’t even ride particularly well and really didn’t stand out on a spec sheet at all. Well, the Renault that is.

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Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em

Even though it was the last hurrah, Citroen gave pretty much its all on the C6. Hydropneumatics, funky styling, loads and loads of technology, etc. But it was too late. BMW had taken the game with its “sporty” aesthetic that Audi and Mercedes were quickly copying. No one wanted a beige four-door that floated like a pillow and shared a badge with a €9.000 utility van.

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Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em

The Vel Satis, though, that was more of a mixed bag. It didn’t have much heritage to speak of, no groundbreaking or even unique technologies; just a V6 cribbed from Nissan and an interior rejected by Scandinavian Designs. Sure it had cargo space, but so did a Laguna Estate, and that was much cheaper (and better looking, if I’m honest).

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Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em

All said and done, Citroen sold 23K of its incredible C6s and Renault, 62K of its oddbal Vel Satis’. Wait, what? The ugly Nissan wagon sold more than the PSA streamliner? Yep, the world just isn’t fair sometimes. The C6 was incredibly complex and expensive which didn’t help matters, and that was where the Vel Satis shone as its parts bin roots made it likely cheaper to buy and run. Of course, that’s not even considering the taxi-cab 607 of which 168K examples were made due to its simplicity and durability.

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Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em

So really over this past half-century, what did the French learn about their big cars? Honestly, that’s the wrong question to ask—it’s what should we take away from this? Well, if anything it’s that today we as a society seem to prize inexpensiveness and mundaneness over the complex and sophisticated. Or really perhaps it’s that once upon a time even the fanciest of technologies such as those in the DS and CX could be engineered to an affordable standard and that the benchmark for luxury is falling.

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Cars no longer have to showcase hydropneumatics or achingly beautiful design to be “luxurious” or “fancy”. Parts bin specials are now plausibly considered “luxury” cars as long as they have enough leather inside and a badge on the front as the “upper echelon” German brands have obviously discovered, effectively ending the reign of the affordable, upper-middle luxury class once created and ruled by the Gallic market. Yet, even as I type this, PSA and Renault-Nissan together are larger automakers than every single one of the German “luxury” marques combined. Why is that? Here’s a hint: think small.

Illustration for article titled French Friday: La fin du luxe françaisem/em
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I’ll see y’all next week ;)

All models here today are three-inch Norev castings.

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