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Future Classic Friday: Citroen ZX

Published 25 October 2019

It may not have been the car of choice for Citroen traditionalists thanks to being the brand’s most conventional ever, but the ZX was nevertheless one of the most competent compact hatches of the Nineties. 

Introduced in 1990, the ZX was a more credible rival to the Ford Escort and Volkswagen Golf than the BX, which was a fascinating car but one that also sat awkwardly between two market sectors, bigger than an Astra and smaller than a Cavalier. 

Citroen _zx _5-door _8 (1)

The BX, meanwhile, would continue until 1993, serving the needs of fleet customers, those who wanted a bigger car than a ZX or LHM-snorting Citroen traditionalists, whose needs would all be served by the forthcoming Mondeo-rivalling Xantia.

Parent company PSA had a lot riding on the ZX. Not only did it have to convince loyal customers that it was ‘still’ a Citroen, it also had to offer the ride and handling appeal that drivers expected of the brand, along with the quality and engineering appeal to match its rivals in what was a highly competitive sector.

And to be fair to Citroen, they nailed it. At launch and for at least two years, the ZX was one of the best cars in its class - better finished and more refined than the Golf, Astra or disappointing Mk 5 Escort and sharper handling than them, too, it was only truly matched by the Rover 200, and that was a more expensive car. In lower trim levels, the ZX was the winner all day long.

Autowp .ru _citroen _zx _break _2 (2)

Further up the range, it didn’t offer the same value, but it did get more interesting. The Aura specification was both pleasant and plush, while the Volcane was a performance variant that handled brilliantly on its lowered and firmer suspension. There were also two diesel models of particular note - the Volcane TD, which was the first diesel ‘warm’ hatch and completely looked the part, and the Aura TD auto, which added the flexibility of self-shifting transmission to the compact hatchback market, making it a surprisingly competent tow car to boot. 

But Citroen wasn’t done yet. In 1994, the range was given a mild facelift, while a satisfyingly useful estate was also introduced to the range, along with a new hot hatch called the 16v, with wide arches and a body kit, plus 150bhp. 

The estate carried on for a while after the main ZX range was replaced by the Xsara in 1997, which was based on the same platform but was arguably less attractive. But the ZX was far from dead - it began a new life in China as the Dongfeng Fukang, offered as both a hatchback and a four-door saloon, the latter exclusively designed for China. Such was its popularity that the Fukang also evolved into a two-door panel van, pick-up and four-door crew cab, which were fascinating in their own right. 

Citroen _zx _16v _3-door 12

They remained strong sellers in such form until 2009, when the ZX bodyshell was given new panels and renamed Elysse, continuing on the market until 2013. By that point, over 2.6 million had been sold.

The traditionalists may not have embraced the new direction of Citroen 30 years ago, but the numbers can’t be argued with it. It was a terrific car for its time and one that completely reinvented the brand. Now they’re becoming rare in the UK, good examples are starting to get a bit of interest - especially the performance models. It may not be the most innovative Citroen ever made but it’s definitely one of the most successful.


hissingsid    on 26 October 2019

When my father-in-law gave up driving in 2008 he presented his K-reg Citroen ZX 1.9D automatic to my wife. Although slow off the mark, it cruised effortlessly and economically, riding far more smoothly and quietly than the Mazda CX-3 which we own today. It was the electrics which brought about it's downfall. We lived with the unreliable windows and central locking, but when the heater controls and half the instruments failed to illuminate at night it was the last straw. We could see the rev counter and the temperature gauge, but not the speedometer or the fuel gauge, and replacing the bulbs would have involved removing the steering wheel and the entire fascia panel. At this point the 2009 Scrappage Sheme was enacted, so the ZX became a £2000 deposit against a new Daihatsu Sirion, the most reliable super-mini most people have never heard of. As we parted with the ZX, my wife's last words to the salesman were "don't let anyone drive it at night!"

Edited by hissingsid on 26/10/2019 at 13:59

AJ Huddersfield    on 28 October 2019

Bought one in 1994 but regretted not buying the diesel but instead bought the problematic single point injection 1.4 petrol. One of the best ride and handling cars of it's time and loads of room for it's class. Go to france and you see many examples still plodding along and body panels totally free of rust (although many a dent), so unbelievable long lasting and simple to service. Probably the best 25 year old car you can buy.

   on 28 October 2019

Had a green ZX Aura TD, from new, my first diesel car, I think in 94. Same as Asthe picture above, as a company car it covered over 75k with no problems and one winter's night when 3 years old was stolen from my driveway.

Herman Mulder    on 28 October 2019

had a 1993 1.9 TD, real goer, enjoyed driving it, changed for the 2.0HDI Picasso, another brilliant car

999pez    on 29 October 2019

I had a ZX 1.4 petrol as a company car for 3 years and did about 60k miles in it. I wasn't keen at the start (didn't have a choice of car) but I came to realise it was a really good car both to drive and the fact that it had a massive boot compared to other similar cars. It was great for booze cruises. I hated the single front wiper though.
It was replaced by a Peugeot 306 which although based on the same Peugeot/Citroen shared platform was far inferior.

Husbandofstinky    on 12 November 2019

Never had a ZX but drove many years with various 306's.

Fundamentally, it was the same vehicle but far prettier (Pininfarina style) and outsold the ZX hand over fist.

I hate to say it, but the ZX was the 306's ugly sister imo.

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