Review and road test of the Citroen Xantia (1993 - 2001)
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Let's get one thing straight at the outset. You pronounce it "zan-ti-a". Almost everyone knows that now of course, but they didn't back in 1993, when Citroen's stylish mid-range Xantia was launched to warm press and public acclaim. The good news is that it's now an affordable option on the used market - and there are plenty about.
First generation Xantia - 1993-to date
(1.6i 5dr Hatchback [base,LX,SX] / 1.8i 5dr Hatchback,Estate [LX,SX] / 2.0i 5dr Hatchback,Estate [LX,SX,VSX,16v VSX,Turbo Activa,16v SX,Turbo VSX] / 1.9 D 5dr Hatchback,Estate [D,DLX,DSX] / 1.9 TD 5dr Hatchback,Estate [TD,TD LX, TD SX, TD VSX])
Second generation Xantia - June 1997-2001:
(1.8i 16v 5dr Hatchback [LX,SX] / 1.8 8v Estate [LX] / 2.0i 5dr Hatchback [SX,VSX] / 2.0i Estate [SX] / 2.0 Turbo Hatchback [Activa] / 2.0 Turbo Estate [VSX] / 1.9 SD 5dr Hatchback [LX] / 1.9 TD 5dr Hatchback and Estate [LX,SX] / 2.1 TD Hatchback, Estate [SX,VSX] / 3.0i Hatchback [Exclusive]) / 2.0HDi Hatchback, Estate [LX,SX,Exclusive])
The Xantia was the car with the difficult job of replacing the BX, the plastic-bodied medium range Citroen that almost single-handedly brought the company back to profit. Voted 'Europe's Most Beautiful Car' within months of being launched, the market quickly took the new French arrival to its heart.
Most second-hand examples you'll find will be fitted with 1.6, 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol engines or 1.9-litre normally aspirated or turbocharged diesels. More recent cars gained 16-valve 1.8 and 2.0-litre units which, though undeniably smoother and quieter, did not represent a huge improvement. Other recent range additions you may find on the used forecourt are the turbocharged petrol Estate and the clever 'Activa' model with `active` suspension.
The range received a mild makeover for the summer of 1997. The main news was the introduction of new 2.1-litre turbo diesel engines to complement the existing 1.9-litre units. Additionally, an all-new 3.0-litre V6 engine appeared, finally confirming the rumours of a six-cylinder Xantia that had circulated for years. The turbocharged 'Activa' was the only model to remain unchanged. Indeed, every Xantia now shared the actively sprung car's body-coloured bumpers. A high-mounted stoplight also now featured.
A much more significant makeover was announced early in 1998 when Citroen gave the car a new front end and revised the rear taillights. Equipment levels were improved and prices reduced (particularly on the Activa). The Autumn of 1998 brought the introduction of a new 2.0-litre Common Rail HDi turbo diesel engine to replace the 2.1-litre unit. The 1.9-litre turbo diesel continued - but only until July 1999 when a 90bhp HDi unit finally replaced it.
The range was slimmed down considerably at the end of 2000 with the 3.0-litre V6, the turbocharged Activa, the 90bhp HDi diesel and the 2.0 16v petrol models all being dropped. It was replaced altogether by the new C5 in the middle of 2001.
What You Get
A five-door family car that was amongst the medium range class leaders. This is mainly thanks to the unique Citroen self-levelling suspension which provides an astonishingly good ride; speed bumps just vanish. Immature drivers, I'm told, have been known to abuse the system (there's a control by the handbrake) by bouncing the car up and down while waiting at the traffic lights - to the bewilderment of other users. Tut, tut...
Citroen executives described the Xantia as 'the return of the real Citroen', though if you haven't tried one, you'll be glad to know that fortunately, that doesn't mean a return to the days of quirky brakes, cyclops-eye speedometers and hopelessly complicated mechanicals.
Instead, they said, the car was produced to stand apart from the herd. It looks different from its competitors, it drives differently and it feels different to own. Marketing flam perhaps, but at first acquaintance with the Xantia, the rhetoric doesn't seem too far off the mark.
Opt for pricier models and you'll get all the electric add-ons you'd expect. Arguably more worthwhile however, is the access that your thicker chequebook gives you to Hydractive II, Citroen's latest 'thinking' computer suspension system. Its availability on the flagship Xantia 1.9TD VSX made its handling unique in the diesel class.
The idea is that the suspension adjusts automatically to suit your style of driving. Thus it is that as soon as you corner hard or accelerate heavily, the system will change from being soft and absorbent to firm and roll-resistant. Should you then encounter a section of lumpy road, the system will flip back to the 'comfort' suspension setting in the same way. This concept was subsequently taken a step further with the 'active suspension' Activa model.
What to Look For
Avoid examples that do not come with a full dealer service history. The Xantia's hydropneumatic suspension system uses fluid and gas and, though reliable, does not take kindly to DIY maintenance. There were early high-profile concerns over the performance of the handbrake, but this was quickly improved.
Get the brakes checked out too. On the road, non-Citrophiles tend to find it difficult to adjust to a pedal that has very little travel. You get very little sensation through it, but tend to stop very quickly. Stamping is not recommended.
(Approx, based on a 1993 Xantia 1.9 Turbo Diesel excl VAT) Not the cheapest certainly, but not as expensive as you might expect. A clutch assembly is around £150 and a full exhaust about £225. Brake pads are close to £50 and an alternator is about £300. Starter motors retail at close to £250, a headlamp about £100 and a radiator for around £220.
On the Road
Eager acceleration was always one of the more endearing qualities of the outgoing BX and it's a characteristic that was carried forward into Xantia. This is particularly evident in the 111mph turbo diesel models which feature flexible mid-range performance to equal equivalent petrol-powered competitors.
For diesel buyers, economy will of course be paramount - and here there is little disappointment. Turbo diesel variants return 56.5mpg at a constant 56mph and nearly 40mpg around town.
Xantia featured the longest wheelbase in the class, a fact which makes itself felt in the amount of interior space available. Rear seat legroom could be greater, but head and elbowroom are both impressive.
The car isn't offered as a saloon - which ought to be fine for most buyers since it could easily pass for one. Lift up the rear hatch however, and you've 17cuft of space, rising to 31cuft should you opt to fold the 60:40 split rear seats. There's also a ski flap in the rear central armrest for awkward loads.
There are some other clever detail interior touches, too. Like the silent operation of the handbrake ratchet mechanism (how long have we been waiting for that?), steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and a uniquely designed radio cassette player which is integrated into the fascia design as a deterrent to theft.
Security was been high on the designer's list - or at least for UK spec cars. This was originally the only car in its class to offer a keypad immobiliser system and the system is integrated into the key on later models. In other words, it's no good the average joy rider trying to hot-wire your car, even if he successfully manages to get around the door's deadlocks and the perimetric alarm.
A car which makes a great deal of sense second-hand, innovative without being outlandish. If you can find a good one, don't hesitate.
Citroen Xantia (1993 - 2001) review by JONATHAN CROUCH