Arguably, Citroen are and always have been the most technically innovative production car maker in Europe - and possibly the world.
To their supporters they are idiosyncratic, other less charitable views perhaps describe them as odd. Citroen now seem to have found a way of actually selling some cars rather than just making oddball motors for Greenpeace-supporting hippies. Citroens of the past have always been weird and wonderful. Some have been styled to a Flash Gordon futuristic perfection (witness the DS,GS,CX and XM) that most manufactures dare not even try to achieve. Citroen have defiantly steered their own course, building some of the most technologically advanced cars ever to actually get on to the roads. Unfortunately, Citroen's new found popularity is based on cars which are not really Citroens at all, just more Eurobox-clothed, middle of the road engineering. The Xantia, together with the XM, may be the last of the real Citroens, for even though the Xantia hides it bustle under a very conservative outer skin, it is most definitely a Citroen in the real meaning of the word.
Let's get it over with!
If, by sheer ignorance or biased preconception, you simply can't live with the idea of Citroen's pumped hydropneumatic suspension, then you might as well give up reading this now and go and read about some other car.
Those of you who appreciate its benefits can skip to the next section.
For the undecided or the curious, Xantias come with 3 flavours of Citroen's unique suspension.
Constantly Pumped Hydropneumatic suspension - dispensing with conventional springs and dampers. Features include adjustable ride height and self levelling. This kind of suspension has made Citroens a favourite with the towing fraternity for many years. You can drop the suspension right down to make hitching-up easier and once started up, the car automatically self-levels, irrelevant of the rear weight. It's not only the caravan club that benefits from this suspension, the ride of the big Citroens is unmatched by any car. The sensation of flying along on a magic carpet is something which really has to be sampled before you can perceive how good it really is. In terms of flattening out Britain's crumbling roads, no other car can match a Citroen. Large potholes merely send a mild thump through the steering, while "sleeping policeman" (which seem to sprout up overnight in our neighbourhood) are normally fairly merciless to lesser cars and require serious speed reduction if you're not to launch the car into orbit, are dealt with with contemptuous ease. The down side to the sofa like ride has traditionally been copious amounts of body roll and an unnerving floatiness at motorway speeds. Well, the standard Xantia still rolls but not in the kind of disconcerting, lurching fashion that threatens to scrape the skin off your ears if you leave the window open. Sometimes, the outside front corner seems to dip a little on low speed cornering but that's more of a quirk which you adapt to very quickly. The severe floatiness that afflicted some earlier Citroens seems to have been cured - it never feels far away but it still never seems to happen. At speed, the Xantia merely glides along in a very serene unruffled fashion - no chance of getting sea sick in one of these then. Handling is never a problem, the steering is light yet positive and the car turns in sharply. The chassis seems to have plenty of grip and is only going to let go under the severest of provocation. If you're making your Xantia do this regularly then you've probably bought the wrong car in the first place, it's not built as a GTI, it's designed as sensible family transport and this is a job it does extremely well.
Developed from the system first fitted to the XM, two extra spheres give larger capacity and with the aid of a computer or an over-ride switch, allow the use of two settings - "NORMAL" or "SPORTS" - to firm up the suspension when required. This is fitted to the top of the range VSX models.
Extra sensors, computers and other assorted trickery make the Xantia corner with little perceptible body roll.
1.9 Diesel Turbo
These three engines are distinctly different! Firstly, let's look at the normally aspirated Diesel engine. This motor does what you would expect - very little. In a car this big it really is a complete slug. While it is economical and bearable in traffic, as the speed rises its lack of power becomes more apparent - full throttle motoring just to keep up with traffic, leaves very little margin for safety. Discounting the slug motor, the other two units are far more closely matched and both have enough performance not to be embarrassed into sitting in the inside lane of the motorway. The petrol engine pumps out 103bhp @ 6000 rpm and 113 ft/lb torque @ 3000 rpm, the turbo diesel manages only 92 bhp @ a lowly 4000 rpm and 143 ft/lb. @ 2250 rpm. Whilst the headline BHP figures give the petrol a few mph extra top end and drives it a few tenths of a second quicker to 60 mph, the cost comes back with fuel economy - 20% more or worse. The figures only tell you what you would expect to see, what they don't tell you though is what the engines are like to drive. In simple terms, compared back to back, the turbo diesel feels relaxed and grunty and wafts along without too much effort. The petrol though is a different matter and to keep up with the 'oil burner' you have to wring its neck mercilessly. In the real world the 'smog causer' is the much nicer drive and is definitely the choice motor from this bunch. That's not to say that it's perfect mind, there is the suspicion that more heavily loaded, it may just be a tad under powered, especially in estate form.
For the more power crazy there are also 6 other engine units to choose from
The Xantia is certainly a spacious car. It feels very wide and roomy, giving loads of shoulder room. The whole dashboard is rather flat and the layout only average. Most controls are fairly obvious, although there are a few oddities which I needed to look in the handbook to decipher - the remote radio controls built into the wheel are a nice touch though. The seats, for me at least, are a bit flat and wide, just not shaped enough to keep me comfortable on a long run. They are at least multi-adjustable so getting the right driving position is no problem. The heaters are excellent on all these cars with a nice outlet pipe on the transmission tunnel that gives a good supply of hot air without burning your feet like the systems in many other cars.
The LX comes with an electric sunroof and electric front windows as standard fare. The SX has electric/heated door mirrors, front fog lights and electric rear windows, while the VSX also has alloys and a leather rimmed steering wheel.
Whilst the VSX is the most desirable, you really couldn't complain about the equipment level of the SX. The LX however, is a bit tight fisted with the niceties and even the LX's that have aircon don't really match up to the SX's that don't.
The Xantia is quite distinctive looking for a modern family car - different from all the other clones without being outrageous in any way. Both the hatchback and surprisingly, the estate are very easy on the eye. The car feels fairly big in hatchback form and this is probably more than enough for most of us but, for those of you who feel the need for a truly enormous load swallowing estate, then you can't go far wrong with the Xantia. Citroen have long produced some of the most practical estates and this is another example which won't disappoint. The hatch is one of the few in this market sector and the fifth door gives it an added dose of practicality which many other family saloons can't match. Colour is a major issue though - black, dark green or plum look very well indeed but the white and gold versions look terrible.
Actually there's not that much to complain about in a Xantia.
Except the pedals that is. I have real problems with the tightly spaced accelerator and brake pedal. Now, I may not be twinkle toes but size nine and a half is hardly excessive. In the end I resorted to careful choice of footwear before driving but it's a bit of a pain, long term. The brake pedal (when you can find it) can be a little difficult to modulate, leading to jerky, kangaroo style stopping. It did seem to vary car to car though so it may just be a service issue.
The gearbox is sometimes criticised for being overly stiff, but if we are being fair, while it is a little stiff, it is also very accurate and precise, with a nice mechanical feel.
All things considered, I would probably choose a 1.9 TD VSX hatchback - although I wouldn't feel too short changed by the SX either.
With a choice of the full range, I would be very tempted by a Black 2.1 TD Exclusive Estate thanks very much!
...Oh and some very slim driving slippers.
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