Road impressions: Citroen BX GTi 16v

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Yuppie puppy

Citroen has long been established in Britain, having an agent here as long ago as 1919. I went to Slough in 1938 to collect a road-test 12hp Traction Avant; I remember that the person who handed it over had a finger missing, which drew my attention to the gear-lever which protruded from the fascia and worked in an open, unguarded gate! I drove this Citroen, then a very advanced car, post-haste to Harwich to meet a girlfriend off the boat from Belgium, where her father was in charge of Morris Motors’ affairs.

I was once stuck at Slough wondering how to start a DS19, but then I recalled that the starter on the Leyland Eight was actuated by the gear-lever (to obviate starting the car in gear), and so it was on this unconventional but impressive Citroen. And I once gave the English Chief Engineer a lift there, to get a new coil for his then-novel 2CV, after the British coil had expired when he was on his way to a dance. . .

I must have road-tested two dozen or more Citroens for Motor Sport, but in recent years they have failed to reach me. So it was just like old times when, well conscious of Sir John Betjeman’s notorious poem, I set off to Slough to collect a 16-valve BX19 GTi. It proved an intriguing little motor-car.

Its 1905cc twin-cam engine pokes out 160 bhp at 6500 rpm very smoothly, if somewhat noisily, and the five-speed gearbox is light and slick to use, going only a shade notchily into bottom cog. Performance isquite a revelation, with top-speed around 133 mph, 0-60 mph coming up in 7.8 seconds, a standing-start quarter-mile taking 16.2 seconds, and smooth and quick pick-up from low speeds being ideal for overtaking.

Citroens are still “different”. The BX has the famous hydro-pneumatic suspension, self-levelling and able to raise the car for wheel-changing or rough going. It gives a comfortable ride, too, although not as impressive over really poor roads as I remember from the big Citroens. The power-operated all-disc anti-lock brakes are very powerful, while the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is on the heavy side, with good “feel” and powerful castor-return. The BX is very well balanced for fast cornering, with no understeer, and FWD torque-steer can only be induced on truly uphill, slippery surfaces.

The theme of the BX GTi is quick, comfortable, safe motoring. Its front seats hold one well, their squabs adjusted with big knobs on their front right the permanently-lit instruments are easy to read (except the digital clock when dimmed with the car’s lamps on). You have the luxury of an oil-gauge which also gives an instant sump-level reading, plus oil and water thermometers.

Cruising at 60 mph at 3000 rpm in fifth gear, these dials read approximately 80° water heat, 6-bar oil pressure and 60deg oil temperature. I was reminded of how hard we flog our modern cars from cold, relying on today’s oils, when it took some six miles for the BX’s oil to reach working temperature!

Here is a five-door Citroen in the tradition of the make — whether or not you like the angular Bertone styling of the BX. It is very well equipped, with central-locking actuated by remote-control electronics in the ignition key, electric windows all round, with convenient switches and a quick drop to the driver’s window, electric sun-roof, towing hook, split folding rear-seat squabs, Blaupunkt stereo, tinted glass and rear-compartment heating. The door pockets are somewhat small but there is a big cubby which locks, unlike that on my Sierra. The locked flap of the 141/2-gallon tank acts as the tank-cap.

Gear-ratios are well chooses, with fifth more of an overdrive than on many cars, the engine needing to run at 2000 rpm or more for results. The single-arm wiper has intermittent action, and the rear wipe/wash is equally effective; the spoiler outboard of the blade is visible in the mirror. The Cibie lamps have rather a cut-off on dipped beam. Important switches are well placed on the ears of the fascia binnacle, and there are two substantial stalk-controls, on the right for wipers, on the left for turn-indicators (with twist lamp selection, which I like).

The test-car had Michelin tyres, as expected — 195/60 VR14 MXVs on alloy wheels. In spite of the performance and cornering of this twin-cam 16-valve BX, which helped me to do my fastest-ever run home from Stow-on-the-Wold, fuel consumption was exceptional at 33.6 mpg. The suspension can be lively at times, very faintly affecting straight-line running, but generally this small Citroen is very well balanced.

Its specification and full equipment must be weighed against its price of £12,669. However, in my view, it is a pity that it has the same engine and gearbox as the forthcoming Peugeot 405 Mi16, and a similar floor-pan, when Citroen and Peugeot were once highly-individual makes in their own right . .

Citroen is suggesting that this BX is a better investment than a Cavalier or Montego, well suited to fleet-buyers, and certainly any rep using one should be able to complete his rounds very rapidly! I enjoyed my reacquaint ance with the make, but note that Citroen’s Andy Goss calls the BX GTi “the ultimate yuppie car”, so perhaps it is time I gave it back! Citroen sales in Britain improved by 34% last year; does this mean that yuppies are on the increase? WB

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