In 1982, Citroën's range of cars was somewhat limited - the GSA was becoming rather long in the tooth and in comparison with its competitors was low on performance and high on fuel consumption, the CX was too large a car to compete in the most closely fought sector - the Sierra arena and of course the GSA was too small. Unlike its competitors, Citroën chose to create a new size of car - one which straddled the Escort/Sierra class. Shorter in length than the Sierra but offering as much interior room, the BX was initially launched with a choice of two engine sizes - an asthmatic 1.4 and a 1.6.
The BX had all the styling panache of a fridge freezer - where the competition was introducing flowing organic shapes, something that all large Citroëns from 1955 on had enjoyed, the BX was angular, slab sided and different. Being different was something Citroën had excelled at - the BX was the last manifestation of this philosophy. In true Citroën style, the dashboard was bizarre - a digital (but analogue) speedo culled from the GSA/CX, PRN satellites melded into the dash - all made out of a tactilely horrible plastic. The dash of the original BX is often described as the "Lego dash" - this does Lego a gross disservice since their bricks are a joy to handle. The feel of the switches on the BX led one to believe that they would not stand up to repeated use, surprisingly this was not the case, the problem not being mechanical but electrical with them showing a predisposition towards burning out. The interior as a whole was a mish-mash of textures with carpet appearing on the doors and dash, seats upholstered with the most unpleasantly itchy material - woe betide any mini-skirted lady or bekilted Scotsman who chose to ride in a BX. The headlining was made out of a nasty fabric, screw heads were visible all over the interior and worst of all (according to the muttering rotters), the doors made a cheap clanging noise when slammed. In fact, the motoring press was surprised to discover that Citroën had at long last built a car that ordinary mortals would happily buy. It drove conventionally (apart from its "sharp brakes" - a "problem" that was "cured" with the introduction of ABS), was competitively priced and offered a ride superior to almost anything else on the road (although this too was "cured" on the BX GTi).
If the BX appeared on the surface to be an unconventionally styled conventional car, it was a marvellous con for under the skin, the car was a conventional Citroën with its fully powered brakes, hydropneumatic suspension and, appearances notwithstanding, excellent aerodynamics (although this was cured with the addition of aerodynamic addenda on the GT/Sport/GTi models).
Some aspects of the cars design are absolutely infuriating - the rear wiper motor had a propensity for burning out - hence the replacement of the intermittent wipe of the Mark 1 cars with the system on the Mark 2 with a single button to wipe and wash - driving slowly in the rain requires frequent short jabs at the button - and after washing the rear screen, there is always a dribble of water from the jet which trickles down the screen; attempting to wipe it away usually results in the washer system being reactivated thereby exacerbating the situation. The front washer system looks very sensible with the jets being attached to the wiper arm - until it is freezing outside and you wish to wash your screen - the water freezes right in your field of vision and then the water in the jet (actually a plastic tube with holes in it) freezes too since it is smack dab in the middle of the freezing air flow. A conventional bonnet mounted jet enables one to "test the water" (or should that be "ice"?) and squirt a little moisture on to the screen first. The bonnet mounting also keeps the washer tubes that bit warmer.
The C pillars on the saloon are cranked over at a very acute angle making loading or unloading a toddler from a car seat a task best performed by a contortionist and on some models, the C pillar is made out of a translucent plastic which reacted badly to UV light causing crazing. The bumpers on both Mark 1 and 2 models loose their lustre when subjected to sunlight although Back To Black provides a temporary solution. The tailgate is an incredibly weighty affair - even more so with the addition of the afore-mentioned aerodynamic addenda - notwithstanding that it is made out of plastic but then the rear glass is huge and glass is very heavy. The sharply raked windscreen may make aerodynamic sense but also results in severe screen reflections, especially with the lighter coloured dashboards.
In its basic incarnation, the BX did not have power steering - in common with other big Citroëns of the past, this means bicep building, slow steering making the car a pain to manoeuvre in the car park and uninvolving on the open road.
In common with all big Citroëns, the rear brake calipers suffer from corrosion if the car is regularly driven in a lightly laden condition and the parking brake suffers from the problem of front discs contracting when they cool down and the car going off for a wander by itself.
Despite all these criticisms, the BX is a reliable, well built, comfortable, economical car which rightly deserved the success it enjoyed.
*1994 Julian Marsh
|This article was originally published in the Citroënian, the monthly magazine of the Citroën Car Club .|