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Xsara turbo diesel estate 

While the XM was having its suspension sorted, I was driving a Xsara 1.9TD estate (or Break).  It was a courtesy car - in fact a demonstrator but Southgate CitroŽn (who have just taken over 3H) had run out of courtesy cars so they let me have the Xsara.  I had rather hoped for a Xantia Activa but...  The arrival of the Xsara coincided with the arrival of a 90 bhp Xantia HDi which means that neither my wife nor I were driving our normal cars.

Now I have to confess that I am underwhelmed by the Xsara hatchback and coupť – at least as far as aesthetics are concerned.  Furthermore, the 1.6i that I drove recently suffered from a gutless engine – or to qualify this, it felt as if it were low on torque at all engine speeds.  It was thoroughly unresponsive but performed well enough.

I think the estate is the most attractive looking bodyshape in the Xsara range.  I am familiar with the 1.9TD engine since that is what powers my wife's Xantia.  Incidentally, the 1.9TD engine has been replaced with the 90bhp HDi unit except where automatic transmission is specified so this estate car with its manual gearbox is now a superceded model.

First impressions were of how noisy the engine was at idle - plus there was a sympathetic vibration from the roof headlining.  Under acceleration, the engine was also quite loud - louder than in my wife's Xantia - although at motorway cruising speeds, it was commendably quiet.

Performance seemed down on the Xantia too - whether this is as a result of the extra weight of the estate car or different gearing is not clear.  Switching off the air-conditioning improved matters a little. 

Steering felt nicely weighted - heavier than a Xantia, on a par with my XM in fact.  The interior is what you would expect from a Xsara - complete with irritatingly located window switches and hazard warning switch which falls just within the driver's peripheral vision.

Brakes have the traditional long travel that non-hydraulic cars have and the pedal was commendably light, albeit located too high - higher than the accelerator pedal. On my drive to work, as I came to the end of a dual carriageway, I was overtaken by a woman driving a Golf GTi - over the cross-hatched area.  Having slewed in front of me, she jammed her brakes on (hard enough to provoke smoke from her tyres) - she had overshot a right turn which she wished to make.  I stood on the brakes, activating the ABS.  I had to steer round her as without signalling she started to turn right.  The Xsara did not pull up in a straight line - in fact it was very wayward indeed but despite this, I was able to retain steering control.  Had I been in an hydraulic CitroŽn, I am sure that this manoeuvre would have been less dramatic.  Incidentally, the engine stalled.

The one area where CitroŽns traditionally excel is the combination of ride comfort and handling.  Sad to say, the Xsara break was not up to scratch in either area.  Handling was compromised by too much weight up front and a tendency for the rear, passive rear steering notwithstanding, to step out of line.  Initial understeer disappeared as velocity increased and then without any warning, the tail would slide.  It was easily corrected though.  All other Xsaras that I have driven handled impeccably.

As far as ride was concerned, on smooth surfaces it was comfortable enough but on what the French call chaussťe deformťe, it bounced all over the place.  On the A303 between Andover and Basingstoke, there are sections where the cones will undoubtedly appear next summer and on these surfaces, it lurched and pitched from peak to trough.  I gained the impression that the rear suspension is too stiff and underdamped.  Presumably this is to allow for heavy loads to be carried.  Normal steel springs suffer too many compromises where estate cars are concerned.  If the springing is soft enough for comfort when unladen, the tail sags when fully loaded and handling suffers.  If the car is set up to accommodate heavy loads, then ride comfort and handling suffer when empty as was the case here.  If ever a car cried out for self-levelling suspension, it is the Xsara estate (and possibly Synergie/Evasion).  Presumably within this highly competitive market sector, the cost of so equipping the car (and I suspect it would only be required at the rear) would render it uncompetitive.

Economy was good - over 55 mpg by my calculations.

I admit that I am no fan of either the Saxo or Xsara.  It is not that I consider them to be bad designs, nor is it that I consider them to be not proper CitroŽns.  Rather it is a case of them not being sufficiently different from other cars.  The traditional attributes one expects to encounter in a CitroŽn are largely absent.  Of all the recent CitroŽns I have driven, the Xsara estate is the worst.  This is not to say it is a bad car, merely that it offers little over and above the competition.  If one factors in the highly competitive equipment levels and deals that are available, it actually becomes quite an attractive proposition - provided that you are not a CitroŽn enthusiast.

© 1999 Julian Marsh