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Future Classic Friday: Citroen Xantia

Published 12 July 2019

When it was revealed at the 1993 Geneva Motor Show the Citroen Xantia won universal praise. 

Replacing the BX, it was a car that would finally take Citroen into a more conventional area of the market, competing directly with the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Cavalier, rather than sitting awkwardly across two segments like its predecessor. 

Styled by Bertone, the Xantia was angular but also fresh and modern-looking, while the cabin was a big advance for Citroen, with a smart fascia and crisp, clear instrumentation, including some neat features such as an oil level check when first started and steering wheel audio controls - normally the preserve of executive cars. The materials were of a high quality, proving that Citroen had benchmarked its European rivals in a bid to increase its presence in the ultra-competitive fleet market.

Citroen Xantia (6)

All Xantias used hydro-pneumatic suspension, but higher spec models benefitted from an enhanced version of the XM’s computer-controlled Hydractive suspension, which used extra suspension spheres to allow a soft ride in normal conditions, but taut body control during hard braking, acceleration or cornering. The Xantia also had a passive-steering rear axle, a design pioneered on the Citroen ZX which effectively helped the rear end turn in-line with the front wheels to sharpen up the handling.

As expected, then, ride and handling were exceptional, which partly made up for the Xantia’s aged engine range - 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre XU petrol engines and 1.9 and 2.1-litre XUD diesels. They weren’t bad powerplants by any stretch of the imagination, but they lacked the technology and refinement of rivals’ newer engines. 

Citroen Xantia (3)

At launch, the Xantia was offered as a five-door hatchback only, but was complemented in 1995 by a capacious estate, assembled on Citroen’s behalf by Heuliez. The estate was superb, with self-levelling suspension and a massive load bay, giving Citroen further power to expand its brand within the business car market. Indeed, where the XM had failed to achieve the fleet success it had been developed for, both the Xantia and the ZX finally gave power to Citroen’s elbow in the corporate car park.  

Also worthy of note is the Xantia Activa. Sold as a 150bhp 2.0 Turbo in the UK and a V6 in other markets, it used a further-developed version of the Hydractive suspension, this time using two extra spheres and hydraulic cylinders to eliminate body roll altogether. The driving experience is bizarre but also incredibly effective - the Activa genuinely remaining level under hard cornering.

As the fleet market developed and new models appeared on the market, the Xantia evolved. Spec levels were increased, and in 1997 the car was given a thorough facelift, with a new dashboard, more rounded front end and a number of trim enhancement. It was a plush and well-equipped car even in the lower trim levels, while the leather-clad ‘Executive’ was extremely well-appointed. New common-rail HDi diesel also came along, bringing petrol-like levels of responsiveness and even better fuel economy.

Citroen Xantia (7)

But to purists, the facelifted Xantia lacks the simple angularity of the original, meaning the later cars, albeit often better, are less collectable. 

Whichever model or generation you go for, though, the Xantia is a a quirky and unusual choice, as well as being an increasingly rare one. Of the 135,000 Xantias sold in the UK, less than one per cent survive, with survival numbers dropping by 50% in the last two years. It’s a car that’s on the cusp of near extinction, but that also means it’s also on the cusp of becoming a classic, as demand for the good ones starts to outweigh supply…

Comments

Howard Millichap    on 15 July 2019

The top spec was "Exclusive" not "Executive". I owned an 2000 HDi Exclusive for 12 years. It was advanced in so many ways for its day having things like rain sensing wipers, Hydractive suspension, climate control AND a sunroof and heated door mirrors & washer nozzles plus more. All things that are now common, but in its day were quite a spec sheet. It was a superb car and very reliable. Unfortunately rust along the sills forced me to move on.

Paul Jenkinz    on 15 July 2019

howard is correct

bx84trs    on 15 July 2019

Hi

Once again a great thing to see the xantia featured in classic car section in honest john. Previously having featured on 1 Grand Monday feature.

As with the previous article there's a few errors and issues. The offer is always there for assistance from the Citroen Car Club to ensure greater accuracy.

Thanks

Phil
CCC Xantia column

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