Recipe: take one Citroën AX GT, pour on fertiliser (or chuck a few steroids in the fuel tank) and, hey presto, you should have the new ZX 16v, which spearheads the recently-launched three-door ZX. range. The AX GT is known for its fizzy character; it’s a bit like a kart with a cassette player and a roof. This new ZX comes from the same mould, though it naturally offers a great deal more space and not too difficult, this one oodles more refinement.
The ZX 16v offers a remarkably direct driving experience. The merest touch on the steering wheel brings an instant response. It feels quite nervous until you get used to it. Citroen claims that lift-off oversteer is less prevalent with the sporty ZX than it is with lesser models in the range, but we have our doubts. Over the vast majority of the launch test route the ZX 16v was a real fidget, albeit great fun.
The four-cylinder, two-litre engine is a reworked version (with an iron, rather than alloy block) of the same motor that nestles in the acclaimed (and often undersung) BX GTi 16v, featuring Citroën’s ACAV variable valve timing. The 155 bhp unit is tuned for torque, and the 135 lb/ft peak comes at just 3500 rpm. Over 90 per cent of the maximum torque figure is available all the way from 2500-6500 rpm, so there’s never any need for frantic stirring of the gearlever. It makes for restful progress on British B-roads, with stacks of punch for swift dispersal of trucks and caravans and other monolithic impediments. Beyond the realms of what you need in the UK, Citroën claims a top speed of 137 mph and 0-60 mph acceleration in eight seconds.
All of this has been achieved without compromising a supple ride, and the realistic £14,500 price tag includes effective ABS, central locking, catalytic converter, electrically operated front windows, mirrors and sunroof, height adjustable steering wheel and a decent Blaupunkt stereo.
All in all, it’s a fair chunk of car for the money, although it is not quite as aggressively positioned in the market as the equally new ZX Furio, described by its maker as a ‘warm hatch’. Where will the use of temperature-related analogies end? Will we ever see a ‘tepid hatch’ or a ‘tropical hatch’?
Powered by a 103 bhp 1.8-litre, the Furio is pitched fiercely against the 105 bhp Escort XR3i and eight-valve Golf GTi, amongst others. It offers comparable performance for considerably less money (the Citroen is £10,750, the Ford £13,269 and the VW £13,981), and it is also considerably cheaper to insure, too. The XR3i is in Group 15 (the same as its 130 bhp sister – a potential thief wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart until his foot hit the throttle), the Furio in Group 11. Citroën quoted the example of a 24 year-old male living in St Albans: with a three-year no cliams discount, the ZX would cost £676 per annum to insure, the Ford £1560. Over three years, a typical period of car ownership, the saving would be £2500.
While it obviously lacks the outright brio of both the 16v and the 2.01 Volcane, the Furio is an appealing mixture of comfort, practicality and reasonable pace. It comes equipped with all the niceties of the 16v, bar ABS (which is optional), and it, too, is geared to maximise the available torque (the 113 lb/ft peak is at 3000 rpm). Other vital statistics are a 117 mph top speed and 0-60 mph acceleration in under 10s.
Right now, all three major French manufacturers seem buoyant. Citroën’s UK market share is rising, and in August – the crunch month for the industry – the ZX outsold the VW Golf.
On this evidence, the reason for the present wave of customer confidence is self-explanatory. The Furio represents some of the best value for money we have seen in recent times.