Road Test: A dedicated follower of fashion: These days Citroen eschews idiosyncracy in favour of accomplishment. The Xantia saloon brings new standards to fleet customers, reports Roger Bell

CITROEN describes its Xantia as 'the car to eclipse all others'. Can France's new middleweight really be that good?

Not the top 2.0 16V, which disappoints as much as it dazzles. Handling and roadholding are brilliant, the roomy interior free from the tattiness that once marred French cars. Refinement and performance are short of expectations. It falls to a lesser model, the test 1.8SX, to justify the advertising hyperbole.

The Xantia, one size up from the highly successful ZX, replaces the BX that lifted Citroen from bit player to stardom in Britain. Ten years ago, Citroens were seen as quirky and untrustworthy. By turning its attention to accomplished cars rather than idiosyncratic ones, under Peugeot's wing, Citroen has since dramatically increased its share of the UK market (first-quarter sales were a record 22,490). It looks set to do even better with the Xantia, aimed at the heart of the lucrative fleet market, which accounts for 70 per cent of all sales in the upper-medium sector.

By July, there will be 15 models on offer, six of them diesels, costing from pounds 13,000 to pounds 17,000. Engines, all with four cylinders (and all bar one with eight valves when 16 is de rigueur), range in output from 71bhp to 155. Some models are available with automatic transmission. All reflect Citroen's endeavour to please throughout Europe, not just in France.

Without its give-away chevrons, the Bertone-shaped Xantia is not as distinctive as Citroen make out, though its hatchback tail, profiled to look like a saloon's, is an interesting feature. The styling follows rather than leads fashion. It is in the suspension department that the newcomer bucks convention - and eclipses its peers. Top models have a computer-controlled system, developed from the luxury XM's, which automatically adjusts between firm and supple. The 1.8SX has a simpler self-levelling set-up, using gas/oil 'springs' inherited from the BX. It works brilliantly, like a magic carpet. No class rival smooths away bumps so well as the fluent 1.8 Xantia.

Comfort of such quality is usually achieved at the expense of sharp handling. Not here. The 1.8SX's nifty assisted steering is aided by ZX-like rear suspension that 'points' the wheels into corners to improve response and stability. You get the best of both worlds - comfort and agility - at the wheel of this car. Brakes that respond too sharply for indelicate feet are a legacy of Citroen's old habits.

Performance is indifferent, as the Xantia's safety-first weight stops it being too lively. The 1.8's engine is impressive for being quiet, rather than potent. Nor is economy anything special: its two main rivals - 1.8 versions of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Cavalier - give better mileage, according to official figures. Neither provides as much passenger space, however, the Xantia's exceptionally long wheelbase stretching rear leg- room. Boot space is adequate.

Soft furnishings and smart decor make for pleasant cabin ambience, with thoughtful detailing. The radio, for instance, can be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel - other manufacturers please copy. Although there is no air bag, the solid, rattle-free 1.8SX is comprehensively equipped, nicely finished and well protected against theft: entering a PIN number on a keypad immobilises the engine. In a class of high achievers, the 1.8SX certainly shines.

SPECIFICATIONS

Citroen Xantia 1.8SX, pounds 13,295. Engine: 1761cc, four cylinders, eight valves. Power: 103bhp at 6000rpm. Transmission: five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 116mph, 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds. Fuel consumption: 25.9mpg (urban), 46.3mpg (56mph), 37.2mpg (75mph).

COMPARISONS

Ford Mondeo 1.8GLX, pounds 13,155. The best new Ford in ages, available as four-door saloon and same-price five-door hatchback. Anonymous styling but well made, comfortable, pleasant to drive. Lacks Xantia's modest flair.

Mitsubishi Galant 1.8GLSi five-door, pounds 13,150. Smart, roomy and comfortable. Performance and economy of 16-valve engine better than Xantia's.

Nissan Primera 2.0SLX, pounds 13,100. Good driver's car with strong Xantia-beating performance from 16-valve engine. Crisp handling, beautifully made.

Peugeot 405 1.8GR, pounds 13,085. Still competitive despite its age. Smarter inside roomy cabin after recent facelift. Same engine as Xantia, so performance and economy indifferent. Crisp handling, comfortable ride.

Rover 620i, pounds 13,995. A Honda Accord attractively dressed and well assembled by Rover. Looks and feels classy, even as base 2.0. Up-range models more powerful, faster. Cabin design and decor excellent.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?