A special appeal
From the point of view of a road tester, assessing any Citroen model is a task fraught with more hazards than usual. The word idiosyncratic might have been coined specifically with the respected French marque in mind. Truly, owning and driving a Citroen is not only a way of life, it is also a state of mind. Devotees are incredibly loyal to the company, if not necessarily fanatical motoring enthusiasts. It can be argued that Citroen’s name and reputation was founded not on the production of an invigorating, high performance sporting saloon, but on levels of ride comfort and accommodation which the buyer would find impossible to find elsewhere on the market, at any price.
Citroen owners are loath to change their marque loyalty. On the other hand they seem more than content to buy a succession of variations on a single model, a factor which must surely have accounted for the longevity of the Light 15, and the DS and the CX range — the three large saloons which have served this manufacturer so effectively since the Second World War. It is over 10 years since the CX range finally supplanted the DS, but there is obviously still plenty of life in Citroen’s current big saloon yet as our recent experiences with the CX25 GTi turbo definitely indicate.
Free-revving, long-legged performance has always been a hallmark of Citroen CX behaviour, the earlier models being relaxed and reassuring at high speed although they had to be rowed along quite energetically to get them up to speed in the first place. The advent of the CX25 GTi turbo changes all this, endowing this capacious four door saloon with a top speed in the region of 135 mph and 0-60 mph taking around 9 sec.
The 93 x 92 mm, 2,500 cc four-cylinder engine is equipped with a Garrett T3 turbocharger which boosts its output to a very respectable 168 bhp (DIN) at 5,000 rpm, and the incorporation of new integrated electronic ignition has helped contribute to significantly improved torque figures of 217 lb/ft (DIN) at 3,250 rpm which makes the car more flexible, less frantic and altogether a more relaxed proposition in traffic.
Although the engine performs well enough, and revs quite freely, it is not the smoothest engine in its class. But it has been matched suits turbocharger extremely effectively and there is no obtrusive throttle lag to make life tedious: in fact, there is only a slight whine from the turbine to indicate that this is not a normally aspirated machine, even though the performance very definitely suggests otherwise.
Few people would deny that the Citroen CX has an attractive, wind-cheating profile which set standards of aerodynamic excellence in the mid-1970s that many other cars have even yet failed to match. Lack of wind noise and impressive directional stability are aspects of this Citroen’s behaviour which prove hard to dislodge from one’s memory, but there are other features of its road manners (dare I say quirks?) which requires little more acclimatisation.
In terms of interior equipment, the CX has grown up considerably since its arrival on the market. The velour-trimmed seats are supportive and unquestionably luxurious, offering splendid levels of comfort although, with energetic cornering in mind, we would have appreciated a little extra lateral support. The fascia is dominated by a single spoke steering wheel of distinctly Citroen style, while the old digital instrumentation has given way to a neatly laid out selection of legible circular dials for speedometer, rev counter, turbo boost, water and oil temperature and oil pressure functions. Tinted windows are standard all round and the whole interior is re-styled in predominantly black trim. At each outer extremity of the instrument binnacle immediately in front of the driver are a selection of controls which can easily be reached by the fingertips when the driver has his hands at the traditional ten-to-two position. I confess that I remain totally bewildered that such a well-equipped car comes with flashing indicators that have to be manually cancelled, although, having said that, they are no hardship.
The gearchange controlling the five-speed ‘box feels a little rubbery at first acquaintance, but once you learn to utilise the full length of clutch travel, selection of the individual ratios becomes no problem at all. Dramatic, tyre-burning starts invoke a measure of sudden torque reaction from the front-wheel-drive configuration, but once on the move the legendary Citroen stability takes over and progress is confident and reassuring. Strangely, the CX25 GTi turbo does not feel particularly quick off the mark, but when its progress is checked against the stopwatch there can be no questioning its competitiveness
Citroen’s excellent hydropneumatic suspension system incorporates height correctors all round, enabling the suspension to maintain constant ground clearance no matter what load is being carried by the vehicle. In the case of the GTi turbo, the specification includes stiffer anti-roll bars and dampers all round and the result is a ride sufficiently firm to complement the car’s performance but not harsh enough to detract from the inherent comfort provided by the hydropneumatics system. The wormer in which this Citroen suspension soaks up the bumps never falls to amaze some and a trip up a local farm track which connects two sections of tarmac lane could be accomplished in comfort at around 40 mph in conditions where 15 mph is a spine-cracking affair in a Capri 2.8i.
Initially, trying to drive energetically whilst getting used to the variable feel, rack and pinion power steering demands a great deal of concentration. Once on the move the steering is finger light, increasing in feel as the speed builds up, but there is an inevitable temptation to use excessively large wheel movements at first acquaint The problem is that one tends to grip the wheel too tightly and it takes quite a time before you realise to relax and feed in lust the most gentle input with one hand whilst steadying the rim with the other. Once this technique has been mastered — and it does take some time — the GTi turbo can be thrown into corners with a reassuring degree of confident abandon, understeering progressively and rolling quite considerably, sustaining high levels of ultimate adhesion thanks to its 210/55 VR390 Michelin TRX radials mounted on wide alloy rims, the trims of which are of a flat design for low drag.
The braking performance is well in keeping with the rest of the car’s performance with discs all round, ventilated at the front, solid at the rear. There is a powerful servo which tends to catch out the unwary: one barely needs to brush the brake pedal in order to unleash the most generous decceleration. What is more, because maximum rear brake pressure is controlled via the suspension system, the GTi turbo maintains normal braking performance under all load conditions.
A week in the company of this top-of-the-range Citroen brought me to the stage where I was just feeling confident and familiar with its very particular handling qualities. It is not a car like a high performance BMW or Ford where one hops in and feels safe and secure, well able to get the most out of it, within a few miles. It is one of the few cars left in which one has to consciously adapt one’s technique to produce the best of its character. Drive the Citroen GTi turbo like any other large saloon car and progress will be ineffective, possibly disappointing. Concentrate hard, make the effort and the experience becomes rewarding — not to mention relaxing and highly efficient.
With a 15 gallon fuel tank, the GTi turbo is capable of covering somewhere around 430 miles on one fill-up, an average consumption of just below 30 mpg which is clearly quite feasible on a lengthy run. Ducking and diving in and out of London’s rush-hour traffic, mixing a smattering of Motorway cruising with some acrobatics through tiny rural lanes, the GTi turbo returned an average of 25.9 mpg during its time at Standard House. That seemed impressive enough to us, bearing in mind the ease in which this oh-so-very French performer can cruise for mile after mile in the region of 110/115 mph.
Bear in mind, also, that this is a very well equipped high performance saloon. Standard equipment includes electric windows front and rear, front and rear head restraints, central door locking, laminated windscreen, front brake pad wear warning light, rear sun blinds, tinted windows, rear spoiler, height adjustable driver’s seat and front driving lamps. All of which adds up to a quite impressive package with a price tag of £12,990, taxes paid, particularly for those with a life-long devotion to this manufacturer of technically sophisticated French cars. — A.H.