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Citroen CX Diesel - Rattling along

by Andrew Shanks

NINE MONTHS' experience has proved what we felt when the Diesel CX was first tested. There is little loss of refinement compared with the petrol equivalent and with 60 per cent better fuel consumption, the loss of performance becomes very easy to live with. When you look at a car, just its appearance tells you something about it - or it should. A Jaguar or a Ferrari looks as though it is doing 6Omph when it is standing still. German cars over-exhibit Teutonic thoroughness through a lack of ostentation and a completely practical - yet soulless - approach in the design. Thank goodness for Citroens which, while they are best in only a few areas, at least are cars of great character. They are the sort of cars that you christen and which somehow provide a feeling of companionship. When you look at a Citroen, if you are an engineer you are appalled at the expensive ends to which the company goes to provide aerodynamic shape and probably just as amazed that the sophisticated dynamic systems can be provided for quite reasonable prices. To an ordinary motorist a Citroen exhibits all that is in good taste.
What I have never been able to come to terms with during my nine-month stint with the Citroen CX22OO Diesel is the incongruity of that "commercial" diesel knocking noise in in a car whose appearance shouts elegance and sophistication. The looks on people's faces when you start the thing up must be seen to be believed. They look everywhere but at the car, thinking perhaps the noise coming from a delivery van that has just disappeared round the corner.
But I should not care very much for what others think of the car. It has averaged 33.5 mpg over the last 12,000 miles, it is supremely comfortable for the considerable mileage that I do. 12,000 miles in nine months with the Citroen represents about a third of all the mileage that I cover in the various cars that pass through Autocar’s hands and it has ,always been valuable to return to the Citroen to be reminded of how certain things should be done properly.

In its element on the long continental drag down to Geneva to cover the Motor Show. However hard you drive, at least 300 miles is available on a tankful and several times we have easily exceeded 400 miles. Presently, ours is the only country in Europe where diesel costs as much as petrol - surely a highly inflationary situation.
Apart from the noise, the only give-away that the CX2200 has a diesel engine is the D at the end of the name. The car has proved ideal for towing, albeit rather slowly with a heavy load.

Take for instance the control layout. The flying saucer-shaped binnacle of effective, modern design puts everything within easy fingertip reach. The function of each switch or lever is easy to learn and so one can concentrate solely on driving without any nagging worries over finding the right control or even of having to take one's hands from the wheel. There was a time when Citroen had a headstart in respect of ride and handling but others have caught up and Jaguar and Peugeot have definitely moved ahead. But with the exception of these two, Citroen still set a level of ride comfort (especially in the back) which is better than others. So it is always nice to return to the Diesel CX to have one’s benchmark recalibrated after this has been joggled downward by the inferior ride standard of other cars.
But these features are typical Citroen CX. What of the engine and its suitability for a close-to-top-of the market car? The big four-cylinder petrol engine which, in several capacities, has powered the CX range from the start is a slow-revving slogging sort of an unit; this suits the character of the Citroen which "lollops" along rather than sprints. Thus, the application of a diesel engine - which must necessarily run slowly to gain a fuel consumption advantage is appropriate. It means that gearbox ratios and the final drive are shared with the petrol-car despite a difference of 1,000 rpm in the engine speed at which maximum power is produced. By very careful attention to noise insulation, there is only a little more evidence of engine noise inside the car (with the windows up, of course) and there is remarkably little roughness which previous diesel applications have schooled one to expect. Apart, perhaps, from the Golf Diesel, the Citroen has easily the highest cruising speed of any like-engined car and it can, in fact, be cruised interminably at its maximum speed.
But, there is another, very important aspect of diesel car driving. Since you can't go very quickly, and certainly have to think very hard about overtaking, after a week or so in the car one becomes a quieter, better adjusted person. Not, perhaps, one prepared to move along with the herd but certainly one who is learning that the herd might actually have a point in gently meandering along and enjoying the scenery, what's on the radio and the thought that a nice cream tea might be around the corner. Diesels are good for the soul.

Above the diesel engine is similar in layout to the petrol versions, but there are changes in the units driven by the belts
Below those rear seats with ample leg and head room are no bother at all for passengers on long journeys. The drop-down armrest provides good location
Above facia layout is similar to the petrol-engined cars; main changes are the idle adjustment alongside the steering colum and the glow plug warning lamp amongst the instruments
Below the perforated blinds at the back of the rear seats are useful when driving with the sun behind you. There are side visors for rear passenger comfort.

They are also good for the pocket. Though the overall fuel consumption for 12,000 miles has been 33.5 mpg, this has necessarily included several journeys on which consumption has been artificially low. The Citroen towed my racing car up to Croft circuit, near Darlington, on one occasion and the consumption dropped to 22 mpg. Two weekends later, it was used to tow a very large caravan to Silverstone for the Tourist Trophy meeting; again, consumption was down to 22 mpg. These figures an be seen in context when compared with the petrol-engined CX 2000 Safari whose consumption drops right down to 16 mpg when tackling the same towing task. If 22 mpg represents an all-time low, the all-time best was the result when "my" car was used for a Diesel Cars Test Day. This involved a complete loop of London using the thoroughly inadequate North and South Circular roads. Though it shouldn't have done, this test involved stop/start driving for just over 50 miles and took close on three hours. It was of course ideal diesel running with lots of part throttle and no high-speed cruising. The CX came a splendid second to the remarkable VW Golf Diesel providing 41.6 mpg compared with the Golf's 54.5 mpg.
Compare the Citroen's result with other diesel-engined cars of similar size: the Opel Rekord Estate car gave 25.1 mpg, the Peugeot 504 31.1 mpg, the Mercedes 240D 29.0 mpg, and the Mercedes 300D completed the list with 27.2 mpg. During more normal running that the CX has been doing, fuel returns have been usually in the mid thirties with just two more returns over 40 mpg during the last year. Incidentally, the fuel consumption appears to be improving as the engine covers more miles. During the first 6,000 miles period, consumption was 32.5 mpg but from 6 to 12,000 miles, the figure has improved to 34.9 mpg.
In the context of gradual improvement, one should also comment on the oil consumption. During the first 3.000 miles we were getting less than 300 miles per pint of SAE 3OHD oil - stuff you can't exactly get everywhere. Citroen were asked about this and they confirmed that consumption would be high initially but that it would improve as the mileage went up. Fortunately, this has proved to be the case and the current consumption is over 800 miles per pint. These results fall in with one of the most amusing things to read in any owner's handbook. Under the heading of Running-in instructions it clearly states that the engine will not be fully run-in until 12,000 mites have been covered and that until this mileage, the usual conditions of full throttle and heavy load avoidance should be adhered to. If the oil consumption is a guide and the steady improvement in the performance and fuel economy are also considered it seems that the engine is just about run in nearly one year and 12,000 miles after the car was suppled.

Above the boot space is vast and without the spare wheel or tools cluttering it up, it is sensibly shaped
Left Editorial seats- Tech Editor Jedd Daniels at the wheel and Editor Ray Hutton as co-driver en route for the Geneva Show earlier this year.

To close the considerations of the diesel aspect of the CX, the point should be made that the British garage industry is not yet attuned to the needs of the diesel passenger car. Most of the garages selling Derv do so to service lorry traffic. Not surprisingly this tends to be a weekday requirement and thus you find that few of the garages that stay open at the weekend have diesel fuel available and this has led to anxious moments.
The CX has a pronounced front end bias for its considerable weight. Thus gives the advantage of splendid roadholding on wet roads for a fwd car but does bring the disadvantage of very heavy understeer. We have countered this to a slight extent by running the front tyres 2 psi over pressure and though there is a slight penalty of worsened ride quality, the advantage of more precise steering and less “deadness” in the straight-ahead position are well worth having.
As one who has done a considerable mileage in Citroens with the Varipower power assisted system, it becomes difficult to be totally objective about its merits and disadvantages. This is because it takes a long while to get used to the system. Once you have mastered it, you get to like it. With just 2 1/2 turns from lock to lock, the steering is very high-geared indeed. But if you are not used to it, you tend to steer too much and get too close to things - the consequent movement away leads to ragged driving. Once accustomed to the steering, however, one finds that the car can be placed with laudable precision and of course, high-gearing with a power-assisted system means effortless driving. But to give an idea how only familiarity can enable one to cope with the system, one might cite our experience when towing. Whereas I was able to tow without any snaking of the trailer at speeds as high as 50 mph, my wife, who has driven the car much less could get the trailer snaking at speeds as low as 30 mph. Certainly, ham-fisted drivers will never get used to the steering and will make themselves and their passengers very unhappy on a journey of any length. I would not be at all surprised to find hat dealers take out potential customers in a car without the power-assisted system.
Citroens must always have been difficult cars to sell on the basis of a demonstration run. It takes weeks to come completely to terms with the car and the way it does things, Once you have done so, Citroens become very satisfying to drive and not the challenge that they appeared at first. The other peculiarity of the diesel Citroen that could possibly put off a potential customer on a demonstration run is the problem of the car's heavy flywheel.
With a compression ratio double that of most petrol engines, one can see that without a heavy flywheel the engine speed would slow abruptly when the accelerator is closed. In fact, the slowing down is faster than a petrol engine and one needs to be very accurate in matching the engine to transmission to ensure smooth progress. The technique that works best is to assume that there is no synchromesh and that all changes will have to be matched exactly. Thus, when changing up, one tends to linger in neutral, as one would in a lorry, before gently pushing the gear-lever through to the next gear. Changing down, one tends to let the engine speed build up gradually and then one can choose the exact moment to move to the next gear. When you get it right, it is very satisfying.

Above up-down, turnaround. In its sleeping position, the Citroen snuggles the road and looks balefully up at pedestrians. When awake it still looks low but has good ground clearance and, for towing, the virtue of self-levelling rear suspension* - there are two higher suspension settings, one for roughish roads and a very high position for very slow progress on really rough roads.

The diesel engine, power steering and efficient electric front window lifts are things offered on the diesel version of the CX. What of the equipment common to all CX models? The opulent comfort of the fabric seats which are adjustable for front and rear height has previously been referred to. Suffice to add that these features allow everyone to be comfortable in the car and the only criticism that this particular user would make is that the steering wheel is unnecessarily large in diameter - a smaller wheel would give better clearance above one's legs. In the rear of the CX, the amount of leg, shoulder and kneeroom is impressive and everyone that has travelled in the back has felt well catered for. There are map pockets on the backs of the front seats into which to put sweet papers and each rear seat passenger has his or her own ashtray. There are even a pair of blinds that may be pulled up to latch just ahead of the rear window glass. I've never used them but they should certainly cut down on glare at night and excessive brightness for rear seat passengers in the height of summer - they also give privacy for the rear compartment but only for prying eyes looking through the rear window.
The aspect of the CX that disappoints most - especially considering the climate of the country of origin - is the heating and ventilation system. It is difficult to maintain an equable temperature during the winter and not possible to get cool air in the summer without using the fan. Admittedly, the latter is quiet on its slowest speed when the car is on the move but when stationary, the amount of noise from the fan is too great. There is also the problem that the heater controls are mounted in the centre of the car and the temperature control lever operates the water valve directly. As a result, hot water is always present in the pipes beneath the console and this makes the front of the car stuffy - even when the heater is switched to its cold setting.
The final aspect of the interior that I find very annoying is the positioning of the radio. Unlike most installations, that in the Citroen is nearly vertical. As a result it is impossible to see the radio tuning scale without leaning well forward and looking down. This arrangement smacks badly of afterthought and one hopes that something can be done about this particular piece of poor design. Just like a warning instrument or the speedometer, what is showing on the radio scale should be able to be interpreted very quickly and with a minimum of need to refocus - setting the radio vertical makes this impossible. While on the subject of clear interpretation of information that the driver needs, the drum-type speedometer is a disaster. It is impossible to check one's speed accurately without first taking one's eyes from the road and refocussing on what the drum is displaying. A conventional dial with sweep needle is required since with such a device, one can absorb speed indication through one's peripheral vision without the tiring (and potentially dangerous) need to refocus.
Early on in the life of our Diesel, its heated rear window and cigarette lighter failed. Tracing the wiring and checking the fuses failed to produce a solution and eventually a new wire from the ignition switch to the fusebox for these items was tried - this cured the problems. In all other respects, the Citroen has been a model of reliability - until that is, it let itself down badly just before this report was due for writing. Photographer Peter Cramer had taken the CX home for the weekend. The water pump failed. With difficulty but great care, he drove to a local Citroen dealer to have a replacement fitted - an easy enough task one might think. But, no. Not only did this particular dealer not have such a part in stock but neither did all the others that he contacted for us. So, on Monday morning, the car was declared VOR (Vehicle off the road) and the central parts department at Staines were contacted to supply a replacement part. Exactly one week later, the pump was delivered to Bedford and has now been fitted. Be warned - it appears that the parts for Diesel Citroens held by dealers do not give the same coverage as petrol-engined cars.
No other serious service faults have arisen though I am getting fed up with asking Citroen at Slough whether our car is correct in taking nearly a minute to pump itself up to correct operating height. Since the petrol-engined models take just a few seconds - as the diesel car did when it was new - I think there must be something wrong. The reason why this is a serious problem for us on this magazine is that lots of different people drive the car and they cannot all be expected to know that it is not safe to drive off just because all the pretty warning lights have gone out – the normal indication that all systems are ‘go’.
I seem to have ended with a moan This does not give the right impression of a car that should by all the usual standards have disappointed. Its lack of acceleration one might imagine to be a hardship and yet once on the move one never feels at a disadvantage among other traffic and once "wound up", with nothing to overtake, journey averages can be well up with most conventional cars.
If I was asked to drive from London to Edinburgh overnight I would have no misgivings about taking the Citroen Diesel along. On a journey of this length, its comfort and heartwarming economy would more than outweigh the ability of others to get there a few minutes earlier.

Engine: in-line, 4 cyl, 90 x 85.5 mm (3.54 x 3.37 in), 2,175 cc (132.7 cu in); CR 22.5 to 1; Bosch Rotary or Roto diesel injection 66 bhp (DIN) at 4,500 rpm; max torque 92.6 lb ft (12.8 mkg) at 2,750 rpm
Transmission: Front engine, rear drive **, Manual, overall ratios: 3.82, 5.39, 8.73, 15.1. Top gear mph/1,000 rpm 19.3
Suspension: ifs, upper and lower transverse arms, hydropneumatic units, anti-roll bar. Rear, independent, trailing arms, hydropneumatic units, anti-roll bar. Steering: rack and pinion; VariPower (power assisted)
Brakes: Dual circuit, hydraulic servo. 10.2 in front discs, 8.6 in rear discs
Dimensions: Wheelbase 9ft 4in (284cm); front track 4ft 10in (147cm); rear track 4ft 5 1/2in (136cm) Overall length 15ft 1in (460cm) width 5ft 8in (173cm) height 4ft 5.5in (136cm) Turning circle 35ft 6in (10.8m) Unladen weight 3,140lb (1,426kg) Max payload 1,034lb (470kg)
Others: tyres 185-14 (front) 175-14 (rear) 5 1/2in rims Fuel 15 galls (68 litres); warranty 6 mths unltd mileage
Overall mpg: 33.5 mpg (8.4 litres per 100 km)
Maximum speeds
Top (mean)
Top (best)
True mph
Time (sec)
Speedo mph
Standing 1/4 mile 21.9 sec 61 mph
Standing kilometre 40.7 sec 74 mph
Cost of ownership
CONSUMABLE ITEMS Life (miles) Unit cost (£) Cost per 12,000 miles (£)
Fuel: Derv (gallon) 33.5 0.82 293.73
Oil: topping up between changes 800 0.42 6.30

Front pads (Unit cost = set of 4) 20,000 15.65 9.39
Rear pads (Unit cost = set of 4) 20,000 10.69 6.41
Tyres: Michelin XAS

Front pair 35,000 47.00 32.26
Rear pair 70,000 47.00 16.13
Recommended charges for service at £5.50 per hour (labour only) 3,000 miles £2.75

6,000 miles £12.92

12,000 miles £25.85
Service costs incurred with our car in past 12,000 miles (inc oil and materials)
Repair costs incurred
Total maintenance costs incurred

Insurance (see note)


Cost of our car when new £4,699
Its estimated value today £3,200
Decline in value over nine months

Total running costs (consumable items plus Service and Repairs)
Total standing charges
Grand Total

Cost per mile 17.4p
Note: To put all our cars on equal footing for insurance costs, the figure given above is a typical quotation for a 'good risk' driver - with clean record and car garaged in Oxfordshire, a 'middle range' risk area. Full ncb has been deducted, as has the saving for £25 excess. The figure given is the middle one of five quotations ranging from £85 to £91. Source Quotel Motor Insurance Service.

* the CX was of course fitted with self-levelling suspension at both front and rear
** the CX was of course front wheel drive like every CitroŽn car built since 1934 (four wheel drives excepted)

© 1977 Autocar/2011 CitroŽnŽt