MOTORING / Auto Biography: The Citroen Xantia 1.9 TD SX in 0-60 seconds

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The Independent Culture
AS WE observed in these pages earlier in the year, the petrol- engined Citroen Xantia does all the things Citroens are supposed to do - go up and down like a hovercraft, use more glass than Kew Gardens, display a bonnet profile like a submerging submarine, and generally look as if flair still has some meaning in automotive design.

In the autumn, the company followed up this highly successful debut with the Xantia's turbo-diesel sibling. Citroen is very good at diesels, and has sold a spectacular number of them, so a Xantia turbo-diesel promised to be a hot ticket - and so it turns out to be.

Like the petrol version, with which it has almost everything in common except the power-plant, the car neatly manages to appeal to family users and travelling salesmen as a clever, practical machine, while retaining the style and flair of a true Citroen.

It is a remarkably quiet car for a diesel (and at anything other than idling speed, a pretty quiet car by any standards). Although its acceleration figures reflect the shortcomings of flexibility shared by all diesels (the real punch is only delivered within a comparatively narrow rev range), the gearshift is so slick that it hardly matters. Shrewd choice of gear ratios makes the car a quick and purposeful performer once under way, and the overtaking acceleration times at cruising speeds are entirely comparable with petrol performances.

Where all Xantias score highest is in the sense of space inside, and also in their exterior styling. It's a very roomy car, even for the leggiest occupants. The very high quality of insulation imparts a distinct luxury-auto feel, and the furnishings and fittings are classy. Good build quality, not always a Citroen virtue in the past, is a strong additional sales point, and the design of the bodywork - with its slit-eyed headlamps and subtle curves toward the rear - gives the car considerable charisma.

At pounds 14,200, the Xantia turbo-diesel is a rolling definition of how to go diesel painlessly. The computer-controlled suspension of the top-of-the-range VSX model is an option that's well worth saving up for.

GOING PLACES: Quick and flexible turbo-diesel engine spinning the wheels via excellent, well-spaced gearbox with delicate shift. Flag-down standing start acceleration OK but unremarkable (0-60mph in 13.4 secs), but mid-range overtaking times fine (50-70mph in approximately 9 secs in fourth). State-of-the-art noise insulation standards, making this one of the quietest mid-price diesels in the business.

STAYING ALIVE: Much better crash protection than formerly at Citroen. Side-impact beams and subframe completely rethought. Safety standards slightly lowered by unavailability of airbags even as an option (lost points to the Mondeo). Anti-lock braking only standard on the upmarket SX and VSX models. Very good ride, particularly in urban use. Safe and predictable cornering behaviour on standard models, adjustable tautness and resistance to pitching on top-of-the- range models equipped with Hydractive II. Superb visibility.

CREATURE COMFORTS: Not especially thrilling in its interior design, but has very good, supportive seats. Split folding rear seat, good headroom and boot-room. Rear legroom well up to standards for the class. Good driving position with height-adjustable steering.

BANGS PER BUCK: Excellent equipment levels, even on the cheaper models. Anti-lock brakes, power steering, remote central locking, electric mirrors, windows and tilt/slide sunroof all standard on the SX and VSX models. Fuel consumption average to good by diesel standards: 37.2mpg (town use), approximately 40mpg at maximum legal speeds. Price: pounds 14,200.

STAR QUALITY: Extremely good-looking, stylish, comfortable and well-conceived car, leading the field in terms of refinement among the turbo-diesels. Good specification and a lively performance.

TURKEY QUOTIENT: Interior unexciting, airbags unavailable, some switch positioning eccentric.

AND ON MY RIGHT: Peugeot 405 STD ( pounds 16,935) - more conventional and slightly sharper handler, orthodox body shape, more expensive. BMW 325td (pounds 18,950) - smooth, refined turbo-diesel with all the BMW charisma and handling prowess, but much less roomy and a lot costlier. Vauxhall Cavalier TD (pounds 13,090) - brisk performance, much-improved specification, not so spacious, Cavalier anonymity.

(Photograph omitted)