In an ideal world every new car would take automotive ideas and technology on a step, but the Xsara simply seems to have played catch-up. Indeed, a recent spell in the long-established Peugeot 306 revealed the Xsara to have made few, if any advances on its PSA sister, without considering fierce competition on the horizon from the new Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.
Yet the Xsara undoubtedly marks an improvement on its predecessor the ZX, and has drawn compliments. One passenger who normally drives a 306 commented on the Citroen's impressive interior space, while my fiancee, a committed VW Golf fan, praised the Xsara's ride. And it was this ride and the car's fine handling which really sparkled on the empty roads of my early morning drive. Indeed, the grip and balance of the car are such that I was left wishing the sprightly 1.6-litre engine was even beefier - the scintillating performance of the Xsara 2.0 VTS coupe should make for a thrilling drive.
Unfortunately, however, in everyday semi-congested driving the Xsara 1.6 fails to stand out of the crowd. In dull dark blue, our test car cuts an anonymous figure on the road, while interior trim fails to match the quality feel of either the new Astra or Golf.
The Citroen's dashboard plastics and seat fabrics feel cheaper than its rivals, and the positioning of the electric window switches at the centre of the dashboard console seems ill thought out, although the standard air conditioning in the SX, and the six-CD autochanger (a ú330 option) add a welcome touch of luxury.
This is not enough, however, for the Xsara to take centre stage in the residual value stakes, according to this month's issue of Fleet Car magazine, which also reveals the Citroen to have comparatively high maintenance costs, weakening its wholelife cost case.
The new Xsara estate presents a much stronger all-round case, leading its class on the all-important boot space measure, and cutting an elegant line in profile. Unfortunately, the five-door hatchback version seems to achieve no such distinctions.