Our Cars : Citroën Xantia – 1000 miles on

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Well, at last it can be said: my Rover 75 1.8 Connoisseur never cut it as a Bangernomics chariot. Not for one moment… That’s not to say that I don’t think that these cars do make a lot of sense for those running their car on a budget – but, if you’re going to get a 75, please, please, please make sure it’s been looked after. That means far less heartache. So after a great deal of work (by Mike Humble) to get the car right and running reliably, we decided that it was time to move it on and start afresh with something completely different.

I still fundamentally believe that the 75 potentially makes a great Bangernomics mobile. Just not an abused one like mine was. Still, one thing you can say about the 75 – any 75 – is that it’s a very special place to sit. And that’s certainly brought into relief when jumping into its replacement, a 1998 Citroën Xantia 1.9TD SX. Whereas the Rover is graced with swooping internal architecture and beautifully-judged wood veneer with high quality plastics, the Xantia is a bit grey and, er, uninspiring. You sit in the Rover and feel like you’ve made it; driving the Xantia makes you feel like you’ve lots of hard work left to do.

Still, when I bought the Xantia, it was done so in order for me to get back on track with my Bangernomics life. And that means, buying cheap, spending the minimum possible on it to keep the car in tip-top condition and not caring too much about its general well-being. Doing it this way when there’s a Delta Integrale in the garage is probably quite sensible.

But I know what you’re thinking – why a Citroën Xantia? These cars are fragile and troublesome and, compared with the 75, badly built by lazy Frenchmen. Well, actually no. Back in the late 1990s, I ran Xantias as my company cars over thousands of miles and, compared with their counterparts from Ford and Vauxhall (and Rover, it has to be said), they never gave me any problem at all and would deliver 50mpg all day long, no matter how hard you drove. Not only that, the ride comfort and overall refinement were stunning, leaving me to conclude that the old ‘Relax it’s a Rover’ campaign was applied to the wrong marque.

Still, that was then and this is now. A long time later… But I have to say that the car that Mike put on to me is absolutely brilliant. You may have noticed that the steering wheel is on the wrong side. Well, that’s why the car came with a very favourable price tag – but, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just buy the Xantia because it was cheap. Oh no, it’s been superbly looked after by its one-owner and hasn’t exactly had a hard life down in the South of Spain. Actually, I’m kind of envious.

Living with the car has certainly pain-free. Once used to being on the wrong side of the car (which is great practice for driving the LHD Delta Integrale anyway) it’s been easy-peasy. The driving position is good (better than RHD, actually) and the ride just as good as I remember. Cruising on the motorway is an effortless 90mph affair, while at the pumps, it seems to be doing the all-day-long 50mpg thing that you can’t help but like. Has anything gone wrong with it so far? Not a bean. Does anything not work? Nope, it’s all good. Even the aftermarket CD multi-changer system works well while sounding punchy and crisp.

What’s the one fundamental difference between this and the 75? I trust it to get where I’m going.

I’m enjoying beating the system again. Shame it’s not in a British car, but vive la Bangernomics!

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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41 Comments

  1. Bodywork looks good for its age. My brother had a Xantia LX TD as a company car in 1993-95. It actually went well, was economical and reliable until it reached a high mileage, then things started going wrong…

    I always thought the Xantia was a nice looking car compared to the equivalent Mondeo’s, Cavalier’s and Primera’s of that era. Good luck with this one Keith, it looks promising!

  2. Are you sure a Xantia is more reliable than a 75?
    I had two Citroen in the past wich are very bad cars compared with my MG ZT

  3. I’ve never owned a Xantia, but I owned a Citroen ZX for 3months.
    Easily the worst car I have had 🙁
    Yet some people would say they are a great car…

    Citroen’s do seem to divide opinion in the extreme.

  4. Your 50MPG claim is a bit spurious, especially if you’re driving about at 90MPH. The XUD isn’t that fuel efficient at high speeds.

    I bought a Xantia recently too, a non turbo diesel, my first car with hydropneumatic suspension, I’ve always wanted to try one.

    I do think the suspension is without peer, especially if you regularly carry/tow heavy loads like I do, and drive quickly on bumpy rural roads, it’s totally unflustered.

    Acceleration is poor but it’ll sit happily at 80MPH all day – it does make me want a turbo diesel one though.

    @Richard Kilpatrick
    The ‘pointless handle’ was only on pre facelift models, RHD and LHD.

  5. Nothing ever went wrong with my Citroën Xantia – 100% reliability. My Mk2 XM was amazingly reliable too. Very under-rated cars.

  6. i had one of these a few years back,i bought it to sell on but kept it about 6 months it was so good,same as yours keith but in white,it needed nothing to prepare it for sale,and 6 months later when i sold it it still needed nothing,bit boring but great bangernomics,very very comfy too!

  7. My stepfather had a Xantia as a company car and he liked it a lot which didn’t miss a beat. It was a great car, spacious, comfortable, quiet and refined. I do think these are underrated cars. They were a cut above the usual Mondeo and Vectra. The Citroën Xantia is definitely an Unsung Hero in my book.

  8. A shame Citroen doesn’t produce a car like this today. The C5 is too big and the C4 too ordinary. And the DS5, according to the test reports I’ve seen, rides even worse than an Audi. Seems that Citroen doesn’t understand the meaning of the words “brand values”.

  9. ” the Xantia is a bit grey and, er, uninspiring. You sit in the Rover and feel like you’ve made it; driving the Xantia makes you feel like you’ve lots of hard work left to do.”

    Bit harsh! At the very least, the Xantias interior was architectural, but a splash of fake wood inserts can brighten it up a bit. For some reason I always liked the fading interior lights thought they were classy.

    Exterior wise, I still think they’re a handsome car. A hatchback disguised as a saloon, not as bulbous as the mk1 C5, not as oragami as the BX, but some aspects such as the front overhang, the long tapered bonnet, the way the thick C pillar is pinched in such that you look behind you when reversing always put me in mind of the DS.

    No rust either, unlike 90s Fords, BMWs, Mercs etc.

    A shame that now they have the supposedly German C5 with those annoying HDi engines and pseudo-SUV DS5 which, as 406v6 says, unfortunately has the ride comfort of an audi.

    @Richard Kilpatrick

    On my post-facelift Xantia it was an airbag and a glovebox, rather than the passenger cracking their skull on the grabhandle. My dad’s old pre-facelift phase 1.5 (badge on grille) did have the grabhandle, he thought it was handy for keeping documents behind.

    @dzt103

    I had 2 ZXs and they were utterly faultless. Just kept going and going and the XUD / XUDT engine sipped fuel. A perfect student car and the 2nd was a great second car to support an Alfa GTV (916) which seemed to spend most of it’s time on axle stands.

  10. Mine was post-facelift too, I think. ’99 V-reg 1.8 estate. Lovely car. I had half an M-reg non-Turbo diesel one, too, that was an utter dog of a thing and painfully slow (but it did keep on soldiering on for a long time). Xantias can take abuse, so could BXs, I think people have forgotten how the French maintain their cars!

  11. I don’t mind my Xantia 1.9D, it’s not that bad to drive, especially once it’s up to speed.
    It keeps up with traffic, accelerates up hills (slowly) and I’ve even overtaken some cars in it.
    The atmo XUD is easier to work on and arguably more reliable than the turbo version too.

    Has anybody tried the automatic version? That must be pretty dour.

    Here’s a photo of my Xantia “slammed” on the wrong wheels.

  12. What I meant was, rather than the dual Glovebox layout, did UK spec cars get an airbag for safety, while the Spanish didn’t?

  13. While there’ll be plenty of people with bad experiences of running French cars, the ones I’ve owned/run over the years have provided some of my most reliable bangernomics-style motoring.

    My personal list includes a Citroen ZX 1.4, a Saxo 1.1, a couple of MkI Lagunas (one diesel, one petrol), a Pug 406 and my current high(ish)-mileage 205 daily hack. I genuinely can’t complain about any of them.

    I’ve been considering buying a Xantia for a while now. I really must get round to it…

  14. Re: 15, Hector. Is that photo at a distillery?

    I’ve said it before, ,y two (a mk 1 1.9 TD SX hatch and a mk 1.5. 2.1 TD SX estate) were great. I loved the suspension and the ease of loading big and heavy objects and also being able to raise ground clearence in flooding.

    It seems to me that neither the Xantia nor the R75 have equivalents today and having owned both i’d say that was a shame.

  15. The suspension was great for loading, got a big cooker in there, gardening paving slabs etc. no problem. Suspension self levelled.
    Good towcars too, lower suspension, line up trailer with towbar, raise suspension.

  16. Poor Roger. He’s off selling mint, one owner, highly collectible clouds to angels now. A real icon and character in the Citroën scene for decades :/

  17. Mr Smart’s Citroen collection from a few years ago. Mine was the silver 1.8.
    I think a few of his collection came from Roger.

  18. I’ll put my hands up and say that when these were still relatively common they never appeared to me as anything particularly special. Aside from the hyrdractive suspension, I considered them to be the same as all the other Peugeot era Citroen’s.

    I’ve still yet to ride in one though, let alone drive one.

  19. Jeff: I did that a bit – I really ignored the Xantia for far too long as an inferior car (I drove XMs) and a far too ‘mainstream’ treatment. Then I got one and it was fantastic, a great mix of vastly improved material quality but proper oleopneumatic ride and handling qualities.

    OTOH, I tried to avoid that mistake again, and got the C6 new. Xantia’s definitely the exception in what seemed to be a downward spiral, but as such, I think the car needs more recognition – it was a better car than the BX, even if it was less individual, and for many it’s a better car than the XM too.

  20. I worked in a company where the standard managers fleet car was Zantia and they were bullet proof. They were from the best days of PSA with the class leading 405, 306, Xantia following on from the legendary 205 and highly underrated 309.

    Important to remember that the car is a generation earlier than the 75, 75 was a truly good car, but I wonder if the “Das Kapital” marketing strategy of Rover which said on launch that the 75 was not intended for the fleet market was in fact an omission that the car was not up to taking company car driver abuse.

  21. The old fellas’ firm used Xantias as company cars, but with the C5 the fleet company wouldn’t handle them due to depreciation, so they switched to 406s, Mondeos and Vectras.

  22. The Xantia had the makings of a being a good car; good looking, loads of space in the back with big doors, much less flimsy than the BX, proper hydraulic suspension and very nearly good enough to fill the baby XM role. As an estate car, it was predictably brilliant.

    Such a shame that it was replaced by the hideous (and completely hopeless) C5. With the Mk2 C5 even having dropped its raison d’etre, hydraulic suspension, in all but the depreciation magnet Exclusive trim, there is simply no sane reason to buy one.

    I miss the Xantia.

  23. I remember XM expert, Paul Johnson, explaining to me how he’d called into a Citroen dealership in a reasonable Xantia he’d traded in and the dealer had willingly done a straight swap for a much nicer XM that he had on the forecourt. The Xantia had a ready market in its day and the secret of how much better the XM really was was only understood by a select few!

  24. Are C5 mk1s really hopeless? My friend has a couple, a 110 HDi and LPG 1.8, and gets on fine with them, they are as reliable as Xantias, just with some minor multiplex glitches.
    They are very ugly of course (phase 2 an improvement), but good cars for the money I think.
    I see loads of them about so they can’t be that bad.

    I think hydropneumatic suspension is available on Mk2 C5s above ‘VTR+’ spec, but it’s hard to work out from the Citroen website.

  25. Hydractive 3+ is an option on the Mk 2 C5, but why bother. The steel sprung one is almost as good – sometimes better – and far less of a maintenance/reliability drama queen. Brakes ‘feel’ sharper, too.

  26. I think the Xantia was the last car to have the brakes on the same hydraulic circuit as the suspension.

    Never really a maintenance concern, 4 spheres which were as easy as oil filters to replace. Would rather do that than mucking about changing springs!

  27. “…it’s been superbly looked after by its one-owner, and hasn’t exactly had a hard life…”

    I can very much appreciate this point. My 75 was obviously at the very early stages of HGF when I bought it and despite all my efforts it was never 100% sorted in a ‘Humble’ fashion. Given its mileage, there where other issues too, although slight by comparison eg new track rod ends, anti roll bar links.

    I am now, however, very much appreciating the fault free nature of my ZR – It is low mileage, one and a bit careful previous owners and not just trouble free but worry free.

    The 75 is a lovely, special car. Just make sure you get a looked after, well documented, trouble free one!

  28. @33 C5 suspension rarely goes wrong and is maintenance free for 5 years – then they only need a fluid change – I’d expect steel sprung cars to have more problems especially with the proliferation of speed humps these days. I’ve taken C5s past 100K miles with no work whatsoever on the suspension. As the braking system has been separated from the suspension hydraulics, dirt ingress is practically non-existent – hence the reliability. The ability to raise and lower the suspension can be a massive boon – as is the self levelling capability. No, steel springs are not nearly as good – not even close.

  29. I ran a 94 1.9TD Dimension for 100,000 miles from new and loved it dearly.Rarely got more than 40mpg as is was a comany car and soundly thrashed everywhere poor thing. The sister car on the fleet turned in about the same mpg figure. Both were pretty reliable; M537 UWY and M517 UWY RIP

  30. @31 I had a brand new Citroen C5 Exclusive SE in 2002 and after owning a series of Citroen XM’s, it was shockingly cheaply built. To give you two instances:

    On the outside, it was a lovely metallic green but, under the bonnet, it was a sea of sand coloured undercoat. To save cash, they didn’t spray coloured paint anywhere but the outside and the door slams.

    After 20,000 miles, the seats were so badly worn that you could feel the steel frame of the seat though the padding, while the “leather” must have been finest hamster hide, it was that thin. I don’t know how if faired after 20,000 miles as the car was formally rejected as a result of catastrophic engine reliability that saw it in the garage workshops for 5 months out of the 12 months that I had it!

    Sadly, hydraulics are only available on the very highest spec C5.

    @33 But the USP for a Citroen (estates in particular) is the hydraulic suspension! From the ability to to lower (or raise) for convenient loading (or trailer hitching), self leveling under load, the ability to raise the car over rough ground and floods (or help elderly relatives to get in and out) and even the ability to change a wheel without having to raise a jack! Without hydralics, you’ve simply got a Peugeot with an odd looking body.

    @34 Yes, the Xantia and the XM were the last to do it this way. I liked the way that if you turned the engine off in downhill stop start traffic, the hydraulic pressure for the brakes would seem to last indefinitely! The early C5’s were like any other car in that respect. Oh yes and the early XM’s made great hydraulic hissing noises too 😉

  31. I saw a late Xantia in the petrol station yesterday and it’s still a good looking, futuristic, car. Obviously, it’s better looking than a Mk1 C5 (but even my wheely bin is, so that’s no huge achievement), but it’s still better looking than the Mk2 C5.

    Just try not to think about the Euroncap rating…..

  32. My 1976 Auto 1.9 Diesel Non turbo is a fantastic car drives like a bird etc.
    The only trouble is that from a standing start The acceleration is poor to the point of being dangerous even worse than the old ami 8.
    Any one know why this is ?

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