Citroen has taken the 1.9-litre ZX Turbo Diesel model it launched last year in more downmarket guise, and remarketed it as a hot hatch. This is a crafty move. Can't drive a GTi because of the purchase price, the fuel bills and, worst of all, the insurance? Buy a turbo-diesel instead, with body-coloured bumpers, sports seats, and a leather-covered gearshift. You'll get zippy performance in the safety rather than the rubber-burning range (the 50-70 mph overtaking burst in top outpaces a Ford XR3i), and still save a fortune at the pumps and cut the insurance costs by half.
Does it work? 'Course it does. Citroen, as everybody now knows, made a spectacular breakthrough with the original ZX, which boasted mountain-goat handling and enough off-beat characteristics to be worthy of the chevron badge. The company's 1.9 XUD diesel unit is a winner, too - a genuine rival to mid-range high-performance petrol engines. Put the chassis and the power unit together, add a few refinements such as sports seats and hipper-looking exterior cosmetics, and it amounts to a very far- sighted marketing ploy.
Yet, refined as it is, nobody will be fooled into thinking that this is anything other than a diesel - on tickover at least. It still sounds like a ballbearing in a zinc bucket until it gets under way. Once you're moving, though, that turbo whistle on acceleration has all the charisma the enthusiastic driver could want. We've compared it for price and performance with some of its turbo-diesel rivals below, but it could just as easily be put up against some petrol GTis.
GOING PLACES: One of the best turbo-diesel engines in the business - quiet, flexible, quick and especially refined at cruising speeds. 0- 60 mph in 10.3 seconds, 50-70 mph overtaking speed in 10 secs. Excellent pulling power above 2,000 revs.
STAYING ALIVE: Rigid, vibration- free bodyshell, galvanised against corrosion. Build-quality good, visibility excellent. Disc brakes all round, but anti-lock brakes not standard. No optional airbag provision. Steering and handling precise on twisty roads, secure in the wet, eager in turns - slightly stiffened to sportier standards on this model, but without sacrificing comfort.
BANGS PER BUCK: Good specification including power steering, electric front windows and tilt/slide sunroof; alloy wheels; body-coloured bumpers, mirrors and door-handles; sports front seats. Frugal fuel consumption, with turbo model comparable to regular diesel - 39 mpg in town, 45 mpg at constant motorway speeds. All for pounds 12,995.
CREATURE COMFORTS: Enough bold curves inside for this still to be a Citroen, but furnishings plain. Padded and supportive front seats to sports specification; excellent adjustability for driver. Average rear legroom for class. Boot space expandable by split-folding rear seats.
STAR QUALITY: Quiet, good-looking, safe and stylish hatch, with now famous ZX handling prowess. Turbo D compounds ecology and economy virtues with brisk performance.
TURKEY QUOTIENT: Almost non- existent, save for loss of engine torque under 2,000 revs, and a gearshift (on the test car at least) which is uncharacteristically stiff for a ZX. Diesel clatter still audible at idle, though barely so in regular use.
AND ON MY RIGHT: Fiat Tipo Turbo Diesel ( pounds 11,397): cheaper, comparable performance, lower specification. Volkswagen Golf 1.9 Turbo Diesel ( pounds 12,575): slower, duller handling, less stylish. Rover 214 SLD Turbo ( pounds 12,465): closer, but drab and not as sharp on road.
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