MOTORING / Auto Biography: The Citroen ZX Estate in 0-60 seconds

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The Independent Culture
THERE'S an advertising campaign currently running for the Citroen ZX Estate, featuring the neat, jaunty machine snaking its way snappily along a mountain road. The slogan goes: 'The Citroen ZX. Now with improved load-holding.'

This is a coy reference to the subtext of the ZX story, which is now legible even to those who know next to nothing about automobilia. The ZX, so it goes, has become famous for its secure agility in a stylish package, at the end of the car market that just breaks five figures. When the original version came out, it traumatised Citroen buffs by eschewing the company's legendary pneumatic suspension (the kind that pumps itself up like a lilo when you start the engine) - apparently in favour of rep-car conventionality. But then Citroen showed that they could still keep something up their sleeves by using a passive rear- steer feature that kept the car happily on track without the occasional queasy roll of some bigger models.

The ZX Estate has retained these features more or less intact; it's still as surefooted in most road conditions, still has a rakish, cutting-edge look, and now has the load-carrying room to enhance such non cutting-edge activities as supermarket shopping, salesman supporting and long-weekend logistics. Hence the ad. The ZX is already famous in the mountain-goat department. Now it can do all this while still looking as if artists who know their way around a toolbox were behind it, rather than corporate operatives who occasionally dabble in expressing themselves: by loosening their ties, for example.

Into the bargain, you can carry a family holiday with you. The ZX Estate is surprisingly good on load space, because the suspension intrudes into the load-bay very little. Its virtues lie in the way it has distributed the space rather than just the size of the hole you can throw things into, and the height in the back makes loading bulky objects easier than it usually is in high-speed models. Driving is comfortable and quiet, and negotiating bumps at low speed only marginally inferior to the orthodox ZX.

With legendary flair, Citroen has cracked the problem of designing an estate with aesthetics to match those of its parent hatchback, while detracting hardly at all from the handling poise. Of engines available, two are diesels. The turbo-diesel version is outstanding. A car that's leapt to being a class leader already, it is ideal family transport for those on non-Merc incomes and likely to go over big with fleets, too.

GOING PLACES: Lively, four-cylinder 1.4 petrol version. Turbo-diesel is sharper and more fun - 12.6 seconds to 60 mph for petrol 1.4; 10.9 seconds for turbo-diesel. Nice gearbox in petrol version.

STAYING ALIVE: Terrific ZX road-holding, better than all its rivals in the class and hardly affected by its modi

fied estate-suspension, except fractionally under cornering pressure with no load. No airbag (yet) but brakes uprated from ZX; anti-lock pounds 750 extra. Side-impact door beams, seat- belt tensioners, good visibility, and steering rake-adjustment.

CREATURE COMFORTS: Comfortable seating, good steering, though driving position a little upright for some. Rear legroom and headroom so-so. Load space excellent. Split rear seats, with completely removable cushions.

BANGS PER BUCK: Electric front windows, slide / tilt sunroof, electric door mirrors and remote central locking on Avantage models. You get the usual non standard-sized Citroen stereo with a standard roof rack and luggage-covering blind. Price: pounds 10,970

STAR QUALITY: Classy design and excellent load-carrying, with ZX handling and performance levels undimmed. Very good value.

TURKEY QUOTIENT: Some cheapo fittings, limited rear headroom and legroom.

AND ON MY RIGHT: Vauxhall Astra 1.4i ( pounds 10,855): standard airbag, rugged build, less stylish, more ponderous handling, and noisier. Ford Escort 1.4L ( pounds 11,110): boring- looking but practical, noisy engine, no comparison on the handling. Volkswagen Golf Estate 1.8 ( pounds 11,999): high build quality, very safe, quiet and untiring, but narrower load space and not as lively.

(Photograph omitted)