It is into this healthy environment that the ZX estate's replacement, the Xsara, is launched, looking for increased fleet sales with a range of 11models. There are four trim levels - X, LX (as tested here), SX and Executive. Engine options are 1.4 (75bhp), 1.6 (90bhp), two 1.8-litre petrol engines (103bhp and 113bhp, the latter 16-valve), and two 1.9-litre diesels (68bhp and 90bhp, normally-aspirated and turbo).
The Xsara already has the new Astra estate to contend with alongside the Peugeot 306 and Ford Escort, so it has to make a strong impact before a fresh wave of competition breaks from the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. But for a new car bristling with improvements over its predecessor it has got off to a relatively poor start. Contract hire rates are on the high side and predicted residual values are only average.
It has the dynamics to make it fun to drive, an impressive 517 litres capacity for luggage under the parcel shelf (1,512 litres with the rear seats folded) - class-leading to the extent it beats larger estates such as the Vauxhall Vectra - and there are neat design touches inside and out.