This car is a top-of-the-range V6 Exclusive automatic which, despite its high specification, manages to hit the streets for a reasonable price of around £20,000. The V6 Xantia, has a satisfying ride quality, thanks to the intelligent Hydractive suspension system which complements the self-levelling hydraulic suspension that is standard on all Xantias.
In place of the usual metal coil springs, the Hydractive system uses two fluids (nitrogen gas and mineral oil) contained in a sealed sphere. The compressible gas is in a self-contained pocket within the sphere and provides the elasticity that is a necessary component of any suspension system. Load variations alter the volume and pressure of the gas to generate an almost literal 'riding on air' feel to the handling.
The clever bit is a third, centrally-mounted sphere which allows the suspension to switch between a 'soft' and 'firm' setting according to a range of parameters constantly monitored by computer.
Under normal circumstances around 85 per cent of the ride is on 'soft' setting using all three spheres. What might be termed 'enthusiastic' driving alerts the system which switches to a 'firm' setting that by-passes the central sphere. Drivers who prefer a harder, more 'sporting' ride can select the firm setting manually from a switch on the dashboard
And there's more. The Hydractive system controls not only the springing but also the damping which it achieves by modifying the cross section of the liquid circuit that runs between the suspension units to increase or inhibit flow. As with the conventional Citroen hydraulic suspension system there is also a centre-mounted lever to raise or lower the suspension according to road conditions. Up one notch for slow-speed bumpy tracks, up two for wheel changing and right down for servicing purposes.
The Hydractive system produces a ride quality that would sell me the car on its own. But in typical Citroen fashion the novelties are not limited to a unique handling. Small, detail touches suggest that a lot of thought has gone into the cabin design. Two-position front door armrests with concealed pockets, a height- as well as tilt-adjustable rear view mirror, a windscreen-mounted ticket clip, footwell illumination, a separate socket for in-car accessories and so on cost almost nothing but add to the impression that Citroen recognise that drivers are more than just steering wheel attendants.
Topping a range of 33 models, including estate variants, the V6 Exclusive is very much a flagship car and boasts a full range of executive toys. Cruise control, CD autochanger, rain-sensitive wipers and enough heated leather to start a serious fetish are only part of the story. Even the base model is better equipped than most of its rivals and as you move upwards through the range the value-for-money package gets better and better.
But if you demand speed with your style then the 24-valve V6 should satisfy. Almost 200 bhp translates as twice the legal limit and 60 mph in under nine seconds. Not bad for a car with a combined fuel consumption of 24.4 mpg.
The Exclusive has a so-called
'fuzzy logic' automatic 'box which adapts to driving style. Not quite as clever
as the new four-speed unit fitted to the latest 4-cylinder cars, the V6 gearbox is
nonetheless well suited to the engine mapping and produces reasonably seamless
changes unless pushed really hard when it tends to snatch a little.
Two points of criticism emerge here. Firstly the 'gate' seems unnecessarily notchy and, if like me, you don't sit at red lights, in drive, with your foot on the brake, selecting 'drive' from 'park' is a fiddly affair that quickly irritates in stop-start town driving. And maybe it's a function of the alloy construction, but the engine sounds a tad strained under heavy acceleration and silky smooth is not an expression that applies except with a light foot.
Comfort is inevitably high on the
agenda for any 'executive' car and the Exclusive is well positioned to
pamper its occupants, even at speed on twisting roads, thanks to the nearly flat
cornering of the Hydractive suspension. But even without that, the car has the most comfortable seats I have sat
in for ages and produces an air of relaxed calm which is a joy to behold.
Rear leg room is generous to the point of being excessive and the boot is big
enough for a barn dance. A massive 17 cubic feet becomes an estate-car-like 49.6
cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.
The Xantia employs something Citroen call a Unified Safety Structure which comprises a rigid passenger cell within a ring of steel to mitigate roll-over injuries. Every model has front seat-belt pre-tensioners, a driver's airbag and a side-force limiting driver's seatbelt to reduce the pressure applied by the belt to the thorax in event of an impact. All models offer optional 'head and chest' side airbags.
Apart from the irritating gear selector I also cursed the indexing nearside door mirror which points at the back wheels every time reverse is engaged. Other than these minor complaints I found nothing about the cabin layout to contradict Citroen's statement that the Xantia's cockpit is a 'model of ergonomic design.'
In short it is a thoroughly desirable motor car that would easily stand a much higher price and represents one of the best examples of intelligent form and function I have encountered in many years.
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For data and specifications on the whole Citroen Xantia range 1993 onwards from www.ukcar.com click here.