Eccentric? Moi?

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday September 11, 1998

John Wright

Despite its unique suspension and unmistakable driving style, the Xantia typified Citroen's move to the conventional. By John Wright.

For many with even a passing interest in things automotive, Citroen is a synonym for eccentricity. As recently as the mid-'70s, many models used a button instead of a brake pedal and, as a matter of policy, Citroen indicators did not self-cancel.

Citroen popularised front-drive with the Traction Avant in 1934. Since Peugeot took over the firm in 1976, Citroens have veered towards the conventional. The Xantia, which arrived in 1994, typified that tendency.

The heart of the Xantia's appeal lies in its blending of Citroen-esque character with conventional practicality. This medium-sized Citroen, by the same token, would not be confused with a Japanese model.

Replacing the variable-quality BX hatch, the Xantia brought a new level of refinement and a higher standard of build quality while honouring long-held Citroen tenets of a spacious cabin, comfortable ride, strong braking and delightfully direct steering.

The exterior styling was elegant, an overworked but in this case deserved description. The faint boxiness of the BX was gone, replaced by a more rounded and flowing look.

Citroen's hallmark long wheelbase played a part in endowing the car with probably the best ride in its class. The bigger role was played by an updated version of the famed hydro-pneumatic suspension which uses gas-filled spheres in place of conventional springs.

A secondary advantage of this system is that it enables the driver to move the vehicle up and down on its suspension - raising it to change a wheel or negotiate a high-crowned bush track or dropping it virtually to the ground for ease of service.

A glance at the dashboard showed all evidence of eccentricity had vanished. Small gauges and conventional controls were set in a bland fascia. The BX's dashboard squeaks and buzzes, unevenly fitted trim and other cheap-and-nastiness were banished. On quality grounds, the Xantia can take its place as a '90s design.

On the road the Xantia felt more solid and quieter than its predecessor, having lost the tinny, slightly buzzy feel that came with the BX's extremely light weight. The comfortable ride did not bring the overdose of body roll that once distinguished Citroens, and the car cornered with agility. It felt particularly stable in crosswinds, helped by its front-drive and long wheelbase.

The base SX featured anti-lock brakes, a driver's airbag, power front windows, practical cloth trim and headlight adjustment. The one-piece rear seat folded to create a huge load area, but was a problem if you wanted to carry three passengers and, say, a couple of bikes. The lack of a driver's footrest was an irritation.

As with so many French cars, the engine was the weakest point. Robust but noisy and neither conspicuously refined nor powerful, the 2.0-litre eight-valve four-cylinder gave good economy and average performance. Like any other four, it is stronger when teamed with a manual transmission rather than an auto, and the Xantia's manual is another strong point.

Better though the finish was, it still could not rival Japanese quality. The paint, applied by robots, still displayed the so-called "orange peel" effect.

The Xantia has been close to trouble-free in service. The rear suspension spheres on earlier models could lose pressure; this made progress less comfortable rather than causing ride height to drop. It is easily, cheaply remedied.

The front anti-lock brake connectors could get water inside them, causing the warning light to glow balefully. Small hardware changes fix this.

The Xantia engine uses a toothed rubber timing belt, which will cause damage to the engine should it break. Best remember that all cars need some kind of servicing and do it by the book.

Citroen itself came closer to doing it by the book with the Xantia. The model's improved usability more than compensated for any loss of idiosyncratic character.

Unique, effective suspension, comfortable interior, excellent rear passenger space, huge load area, supple ride, excellent steering and brakes.

Unexciting engine delivers only average performance, plasticky and bland-looking dashboard, lacks driver's footrest and

centre rear armrest.

What to look for

Timing belt: If in doubt, change it or risk expensive engine damage.

ABS warning light: May indicate a faulty

connector on front wheel.

Rear suspension: Hydro-pneumatic spheres can lose pressure. Check at intervals of 40,000 km.

VERDICT

A functional and attractive hatch with more space, a better ride and a generally better driving experience than rivals. Citroen could have risked a little more character.

How much you should pay
Model                              '94              '95            '96
('000 km)                                   65              60              44
                                   P  R            P  R            P  R
Xantia SX                       $27,000  $29,000        $28,000  $30,000
$29,000  $31,000
Xantia VSX      $28,000  $30,000        $29,000  $31,000        $30,000  $32,000

Values are based on vehicles in good condition.  P - Private sale price.  R -
Retail price from franchise dealer, and includes warranty. Data supplied by
Glass's Guide. Kilometres travelled are typical for the year and model. For more
 information on vehicle specifications and values, telephone Glass's Guide on
1900 180 486 (calls charged at $3.75 per minute).

© 1998 Sydney Morning Herald

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