Fleet News

Citroen Xsara

Citroen

Review

##citxsa.jpg --Right##IF you ever want to wind up a Citroen representative, ask why the company doesn't make unusual-looking cars any more. Odds on you'll get the response that wacky and weird don't sell, and you might just be reminded that in September this year the French manufacturer's UK sales rocketed by 90.43%, including a 45.1% rise in fleet.

It was Citroen's best ever month, the 18,000 or so units (15,290 cars and 2,864 light commercials) doubling the previous year's figure, and it was done without an official cut in recommended retail prices. The UK arm is now on target to achieve 100,000 sales in 2000.

The revised Saxo performed particularly strongly overall, rising from 34th place to number 19, and Picasso is beginning to pick up significant business.

But the star of the show was the outgoing Xsara, making its swansong with a 132.7% year-on-year jump in fleet registrations to 2,364 units. As with most run-outs, Xsara was given a bit of a push. Nonetheless, it bodes well for the latest version of the medium sector hatch, estate and coupe range just relaunched with new looks, two all-new engines and on-the-road prices starting at £10,295. On average, the new Xsara range is RRP'd at about £1,500 less than when the original was launched. There's also a retail offer of £1,000 cashback for orders placed before the end of October, which should help this month's sales figures, too.

As common a cry as the 'bring back DS and Safari' was that the Xsara was bland. Citroen's stylists have gone a long way to sort out that complaint by redesigning the front end: new bonnet, wings and headlamps with integrated fog lamps, bumper and grille - the latter sporting more prominent double chevrons. The facelift puts Xsara in the Saxo/Picasso family way that C5 will follow, too.

The manufacturer has also had a successful crack at the interior with less cheap looking - and feeling - trims and materials and clearer instrument displays, although we noted the electric front window switches are on the fascia rather than on the doors, presumably to avoid having to install thicker, more expensive armrests/door pulls.

Good to see the rear centre lapbelt has been replaced with a three-pointer. One welcome carry-over from its predecessor is the reach and rake adjustable steering wheel: together with a height adjustable driver's seat, this is one French volume car in which sitting comfortably is not a problem.

Fifteen-inch wheels are now standard across the range to give Xsara a sturdier stance and the track has been widened under a substantially strengthened and slightly longer body. All models have anti-lock braking with electronic brake force distribution and, thanks to digital multiplexing which does away with miles of wiring, many more high-tech features have been added. For instance, in entry L trim there are electric front windows, electrically-operated passenger door mirror, remote central locking with boot plip, a 12-volt socket and multi-function display. LX (the fleet trim) brings in automatic air-conditioning and SX adds automatic front wipers, on-board computer and alarm.

Provided a CD system is standard or specified as an option, satellite navigation can be added for £915. Next year Xsara will get parking sensors (a class first) and, depending on demand, Citroen's AutoPC to voice-activate various on-board functions such as a hands-free car phone and audio.

In respect of equipment/price, the Citroen has a strong case against Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Peugeot 306 (although making direct comparisons has become something of a challenge in the wake of price cuts), and the wider track, bigger wheels and tougher bodyshell have led to noticeable dynamic improvements. I drove a 1.6i 16v estate and a 2.0-litre hatchback at the launch of new Xsara, which also offers 75bhp 1.4 and a 167bhp petrol and 1.9-litre and 2.0-litre diesels. There's been no extra work on the suspension, but the ride feels firmer. Actually, the estate handles better than the hatch, but both seem to have had an injection of spirit.

The 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol engines are new to Xsara, the former replacing the previous 1.6 and 1.8-litre units with 20% gains in fuel efficiency, cleanliness and power over the 1.8. The smaller unit has 110bhp on tap at 5,750rpm and it likes to be used - torque is more than adequate with 110lb-ft at 4,000rpm. As a tourer it is impressive, holding 70mph quietly at rpm which allows for smooth, if not rapid, overtaking. It's the only Xsara offered with an automatic transmission option.

The 137bhp 2.0-litre is far livelier and almost as good a company car driving proposition as the HDi 90 common rail diesel. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in less than nine seconds and its sporty character is matched by the excellent chassis. Pity it isn't available in estate format.

But despite the petrol units' obvious benefits and the appeal- widening qualities of a 2.0-litre unit, the trusty HDi still wins the all-rounder vote. There isn't much in the price: 2.0 SX and 2.0 HDi SX, for instance, cost the same in five-door format (£13,995). The HDi estate also matches, at £13,295, the most powerful petrol estate variant - which is the 1.6 16-valve, as 2.0-litre petrol does not feature in the line-up. But the argument winner, for us, is the 154lb-ft of torque at 1,900rpm, 51.4mpg combined economy and lower CO2 emissions.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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