Saturday, March 7, 2009

GTbyCitroën Road Test

You would think that the keys to Citroen's world-beating new electric supercar, the GT, would be handed-out over brandy the night before its world-premier road test, and you would think that the setting for the night-before's brandy and keys would be a remote mountainside B&B overlooking the faraway twinkling lights of Strasbourg.

You would think the Citroen PR lady, Gigi (5'9" and so willowy you're apt to immediately forget she's just handed you the keys to a car that must coast on the straightaways to let Ferrari Enzos catch-up) might tell you to have fun the next day – not to worry whether you decide to go up the mountain or down the mountain, for your Graphite Gray GT is not normally aspirated or blown (here you may pause to drop your brandy, for Gigi just said, "blown") – that it's not aspirated at all.

You might also anticipate a somber, quell thrill vehicle orientation with a dour company driver on the cold, gray, Gigi-less morning after ... the giddiness of the sheer explosiveness of the machine tempered almost immediately with a close call with an Alpine guardrail, et cetera.

Well, no such French foo foo transpired when your Unhumble Car Czar had the pleasure of wringing out a Citroen GT for its first-ever civilian road test.

Instead of the Alps, brandy, and Gigi, Citroen GT Build #1 rolled off the line on a bright 12-degree day in the flatlands of Columbus, Ohio after a grand night-before's Maker's Mark on ice in the company of Stacy (5'9" and willowy. French accents are overrated, really).

The first thing you notice about Citroen's new electric wonder car is its roominess. My test example featured Italian leather seating for six (eight if two sit on the ottoman). Forget those cramped Ferrari Scaglietties and you-gotta-be-kidding-me-you-call-that-a-back-seat? Californias: the Citroen GT is truly a supercar for the whole family, and even some after-the-soccer-game tag-alongs if they can stand the thrills.

More very unsupercar amenities: a brick hearth with ample room for the Mountain Dew this kind of road test demands, and a full fireplace, replete with the roaring crackle of dried cherry wood. All of it makes Chrysler look awfully smug bragging about fitting that Spartan little card table in its minivans.

Enough with the creature comforts. This is a car about durm and strang, ripping and tearing.

It's 2009, so forget about ignition keys. Just press X to fire this Parisian bad boy up.

The second thing you'll notice about the Citroen's electric steed is no bellowing, hood-shaking explosion ... just ... maybe ... some hum. Maybe a little less disturbing-the-peace hum than firing up a Singer StitchRite. No need to finesse a clutch or select a gear from here on in: just select "D" and go.

IMPORTANT: Look out behind you from here on in, because what's in front of you is more or less irrelevant with 800 horsepower on hand. There will be more stuff behind you in no time, and anything behind you will only shortly be in front of you again on this round planet ... or semi-round oval, if you must play locally. With only 3,000 pounds (leather couch, brick hearth, and firewood included) to move through the infinite-ratio drivetrain, there's nothing to do but drive ... fast.

Mid-morning traffic is thin and confused here in Tressel Town: platinum-blonde women coming down off Starbucks rushes and blue-haired women not rushing anywhere. Every once in a while prepare to abandon the right lane for the stopped-by-a-cop beat-up pickup of a contractor who has rushed too quickly and dumbly into the polite northern burbs.

Thread gingerly through the post-rush hour surreality of this fair Midwest metropolis with more-surreal-than-yours confidence, for your transportation of choice is French, silent, and transporting a leather sectional and burning fireplace into triple-digit speeds by the time you pass Frank Road on I-71.

Just a few presses of the Citroen GT's magic X button find you way away from the south side landfills and rendering plants before the cabin air filter has intercepted so much as a whiff of foul atmosphere.

You're now – as in immediately – 900 miles away from the frozen stew of chemicals and fauna. It's a bright, sunny 75 degrees Fahrenheit at the Daytona International Speedway. Those two troopers sitting in the median near Mt. Sterling are still recalibrating their radar guns.

Did I say this thing was fast?

Well you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Wait 'til the plebian cars on the rolling starting grid here at the House that Petty Built – mere Corvettes, F430s, and GTRs – get a load of this machine.

Floor the X button and all the world's wannabe street racers now look like Shriner cars at a Fourth of July parade. With 800 right-here, right-now horsepower, all-wheel drive, and other-worldly aerodynamic and suspension tuning by Kazunori Yamauchi, the Citroen GT literally parts the curtains of reality to expose a brave new world where all other entities are in your rear view mirror.

By the end of Turn One that multi-million-dollar fleet of cars – some bought by actual federally-bailed-out bankers (not with federal bailout money, but with other money that was lying around before they got the bailout money and therefore OK to spend on high-end cars and junkets to Cancun with Las Vegas prostitutes) is two laps away from becoming lapped traffic.

The eerie, no-fuss hum of the go-go-no-dino motor is a slap in the face to the bellowing, struggling herd of internal combustion behind you. The leather sofa, roaring fire, and recently-added 13-year-old daughter who has plopped down on the sofa with chips, dip, and a Fresca, makes a mockery of the hard-charging career efforts of Zora Duntov, Enzo Ferrari, et al. This thrust is the same thrust produced by the Christmas morning slot cars of your childhood. You can almost smell the acrid, smoking copper wire brushes spooling everything up ... but this time, you're inside the silent screaming banshee.

Flying around Daytona's super speedway in a Citroen GT there is no push. There is no loose.

Enter the banking at speeds that would suck NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" straight into the wall, and this Franco-Japanese apparition dispassionately tells Physics it can take the rest of the day off, scrapping and crabbing through to daylight with all-wheel-drive and Yamauchi bits-and-bytes magic.

You can let-off the X button if you're a wuss.

With Daytona in the record books, Suzuka Circuit was next up for the Graphite Gray Electric Mare and its unhumble rider on this day. Just press the X button a few more times, use the in-car toggle, and forget about passports, the TSA, and timezones. Like that, you're just there in the Land of the Rising Sun and Falling Yen.

Suzuka is trickier than Turn-Left-Here Daytona. You've got to slow down right after you speed up practically all the time, and they want you to turn right just as much as they want you to turn left. I swear it's like they're trying to make you crash.

The GT is still too much for the world's finest here, and even though your faithful road tester ran off the track twice (once while scratching an itch on his nose and another time coming off "pause" at full speed after putting another log on the fire) the Vettes, Vipers, and Fioranos were pretty much well waxed.

Other nice things about the Citroen GT?

No transporters, stacks of tires, or expensive support crews required. This is truly a daily driver that's just as happy shrinking commuter traffic as making the grid at Monte Carlo disappear.

Your insurance agent will love this rig, for even after several brushes with the SAFER barrier at Daytona and a high-speed rear-ender with a Honda S2000, the test article was good as new at the end of the day.

Storage? A few gigs of hard drive space will suffice, and no need for a trickle charger over the winter.

Back at our modest split-level headquarters in modest Columbus after a day of hyper-zooming all over the planet, there is no sadness over not having a mountainside chalet to park by or a company PR lady named "Gigi" waiting at the bar to receive the keys to this magnificent machine .

The once-roaring fire that so tranquilly rode shotgun in the GT through the graceful esses at Suzuka and blowing Lays potato chip bags of Daytona is now a single glowing ember; the in-again, out-again daughter (casually, even, during a 180-to-40 no-clutch hairpin) is up in the kitchen heating up cheese sticks (note to self: take the money saved on a crew chief and hire a dietitian) ... and Stacy, a Stacy more fabulous than Gigi and all the more so for not wanting any supercar keys handed over at the end of the day, has appeared with fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a cold glass of milk.

You would think there would be downsides and tradeoffs to owning the world's most astounding supercar, but the torrent of torque, endless electric current, damage-free crashing, international joystick-toggled no-lost-luggage travel, and Physics? What's Physics? handling ... well, all of that says, "No."

The best thing about the Citroen GT is that no Wall Street derivatives crook can get one that's any better or real than the models those of us with only enough money for a PlayStation 3, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, and a modest conventionally-mortgaged home in the modest Midwest U. S. of A. (plus a dietitian) can get by racing up a million credits over a few winter weekends.


I'm not done yet. Next week: Thoughts on the Big O. playing around with the Fat L.

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