A saloon car Waterloo

Comparing the exceptional Wolseley 2200 and Citroen CX2000

The Citroen CX series was elected the “Car of the Year”. The British Leyland 18-22 series is that company’s own “car of the year”, though its announcement was too late to allow it to compete against the Citroen in that competition originated, and since relinquished, by “Car”. Using the BL top of the range Wolseley 2200 model as a comparison, both four-door saloons are priced around the £3,000 bracket, both are transverse front-engined, front-wheel-drive, both incorporate an enormous amount of seating space for five over-sized people and both feature advanced suspension using hydraulic principles.

The parallel is fascinating, almost another Waterloo, with Lord Stokes as Wellington and M. George Taylor, Chairman of Citroen France, as Napoleon, the battle waged this time on England’s sceptred isle. A more accurate parallel with the Wolseley on engine capacity would be the CX2200, but at the time of writing the latter is not available in the UK and when it is, will be £775 dearer than the Wolseley. Since my test the price gap has widened between the Wolseley and the CX2000, the former now exactly £3,000 against £3,446 for the Citroen. These quality cars are aimed at what in happier times would be a highly prosperous, middle executive sector of the market; in the light of Ford’s current sales difficulties with the once booming Granada (priced right on a par, the manual 3000 XL at £3,039 and the automatic, better appointed, GXL at £3,570) it will be interesting to see whether these less thirsty contenders can generate a new demand. While the 2000 is the bottom of the CX range, the Wolseley is the top of the 18-22 series, so that those with less elastic bank balances can plump for an identical mechanical specification with slightly less luxury in the £2,562 Austin Morris 2200HL.

Both cars have bodies in which space, styling and aerodynamic efficiency were of equally paramount importance in the designers’ briefs. The Wolseley is a pure wedge shape with mainly straight and angular panels, a successor to the fat blob-of-an-1800; the Gallic wedge theme prefers soft curves, an amalgam of GS and SM, much chicer than the Wolseley, looking more expensive, almost exotic.

The 15 ft 2 in Citroen is just over 5 in longer than the Wolseley, but the two, at approximately 5 ft 8 in, are within 0.11 in of each other in width. With the suspension set at normal, the Citroen’s 4 ft 5 in height is 2 in less than the Wolseley and its 6 in extra wheelbase (9 ft 4 in) puts its four wheels fractionally nearer the corners. Both have vast, carpeted luggage boots, particularly the CX, its unobstructed, flat floor (the spare wheel is under the bonnet) holding 16 cu ft, easily loaded without the obstruction of a tail panel. Styling triumphed over common-sense practicality in the Wolseley; the high tail panel is bad enough, but a boot lid which won’t open wide enough to swallow bulky objects and demands that the loader shrinks to the size of a five-year-old to reach inside is just plain stupidity. Of this Wolseley’s few faults, this incomprehensible one is its worst. The side-mounted spare wheel takes some of the space, the useable remainder amounting to 12 cu ft.

In interior space the commodious Wolseley has the edge, surely the most spacious mass-produced saloon on the market? Not that the Citroen can be faulted on this score. Wherever the front seats are positioned there is more than generous rear seat legroom in both cars. Both have wide rear seats shaped for two, separated by folding armrests; third passengers would find little cause to complain about comfort, however. The Beano’s Dan Dare would have felt at home in the Citroen’s futuristic interior, a strange contrast with the Wolseley’s vaguely club-like atmosphere. “Vaguely” because synthetics have taken over from Nature; Velour cloth upholstery instead of hide, real woodwork on the facia panel, but particularly nasty, Ford Granada-like plastic mouldings elsewhere. Thank goodness for the illuminated Wolseley badge in the squashed-down grille — memories are made of this.

The cloth-upholstered Citroen seats are exquisitely comfortable, those of the Wolseley’s slightly harder and less well-shaped, yet just as restful once you’re shaped to them. Separate folding armrests on the inner-edges of both Wolseley front seats create splendid armchairs, that of the driver interfering with gearchanging, so best reserved for motorway travel. Both driver’s seats are cleverly adjustable for height, squab and cushion angles.

Citroen controls sprout at finger-tip distance from the horns of a flying-saucer-shaped binnacle. With practice it’s a good system, except that the rocker indicator switch is non-self-cancelling and the washer trigger needs one pull per short squirt. The Wolseley gets by without such gadgetry — I preferred its conventional Triumph-type column stalks and its powerful four-jet washers. Within the Citroen’s flyingsaucer is an impressive line up of warning lights and a bright-yellow, drum-type speedometer, illuminated when the ignition is on. Citroen have always used a similar instrument on left-hand-drive GSs, but fought shy of it previously for the British market. A Citroen badge fills a matching hole opposite the speedometer, filled by a tachometer on the CX2200. There are conventional round instruments on the Wolseley and again no tachometer. A Radiomobile push-button radio is standard equipment in the generously-equipped Wolseley. The Citroen’s optional radio sits vertically and awkwardly in the leading edge of the centre console where its dial is invisible to the driver. Handy front-seat stowage space is better in the Wolseley which has under-facia shelves as well as a lockable glove box. Both have map pockets in the front doors. Electric windows were noticeably absent on both cars; they are standard on the front doors of the CX2200.

In the hot weather of the test the vast window area of the CX behaved like an efficient greenhouse, roasting the occupants beyond the relief of the ventilation system. Tinted glass, a standard fitment, helped make the Wolseley much more comfortable, coupled with a powerful ventilation system which includes separate cool air ducts for the feet. Those acres of sloping Citroen windscreen are cleared by a single long wiper, leaving unwiped corner areas obstructive to tall people. Water channels down the centre of the concave rear window, the vortex effect keeping the bulk of the glass clear. What had felt a perfectly adequate engine when the CX was introduced to us on the open roads of Lapland last year showed inadequacies of power in normal British road conditions. This 86 min, bore x 85.5 mm. bore, 1985 c.c., straight-four sits transversely ahead of the front wheels, inclined forwards at 30 degrees, driving through a separate gearbox in line to its left. Valves in the alloy cylinder head are operated via short pushrods from a high camshaft in the iron block. This ageing DS23-derived engine runs on a 9:1compression ratio, needing four-star petrol, uses a twin-choke Weber carburetter and produces 102 b.h.p. DIN at 5,500 r.p.m., 112 lb. ft. torque DIN at 3,000 r.p.m. and has to haul 25 cwt. 101 lb., exactly 1 cwt. more than the Wolseley. The Wolseley’s transverse straight-six, seven main-bearing E-series, overhead camshaft engine, sits on top of its integral gearbox above the front wheels. From 2,227 C.C. (76.2 mm. bore X 81.28 mm. bore stroke) it delivers 110 b.h.p. DIN at 5,250 r.p.m. and 125 ft. lb. torque DIN at 3,500 r.p.m. and also runs on a 9:1 compression ratio. Twin SU HIF6 carburetters (a new type with Horizontal Integral Floatchamber) are fitted.

The Citroen engine is much less responsive and flexible than the Wolseley’s demanding more use of gears (of which both cars have four ratios) and generally more effort and concentration from the driver to make it perform adequately. Its four-cylinder noise is well insulated, but to me less pleasant than the very BMW-like, straight-six sound. Crisp, responsive and smooth, though with a hint of excessive engine movement still, the Wolseley’s engine is much superior and as proof of flexibility propelled the car at tickover speed, 6 mph, in top gear with no throttle applied. It is long-legged, lacks some torque for top gear overtaking below 60 m.p.h., preferring third, but nevertheless gives this comfortable car very adequate performance. Although the Citroen’s performance is less effortless, in real terms it is uncannily well-matched with the Wolseley, both reaching 60 m.p.h. from rest in just under 12 sec. It was astonishing how both cars showed a noticeable step in top gear performance at 70 m.p.h. as good aerodynamics took a hand. On our test track the Citroen’s shape showed a mere 2 m.p.h. advantage (103 m.p.h. against 101 m.p.h.) on the straight, tying in well with a claimed 108 m.p.h. maximum for the Citroen, 106 m.p.h. for the Wolseley. Intermediate gearing is almost identical too, both are capable of just over 50 m.p.h. and just over 80 m.p.h. in second and third. Neither has the most pleasant of gear-changes, the clunky Citroen’s rubbery and notchy, the Wolseley’s metallically notchy.

More than enough has been written in the past about Citroen’s constant ride-height, Hydropnematic suspension, now 20-years-old, and British Leyland’s Hydragas inter-connected suspension, first used on the Allegro, now I think more successfully applied to the 18-22 series in place of the old 1800’s Hydrolastic. That brilliant, complex, engine-powered Citroen system with its capacity for jacking the car and being raised for rough roads and obstacles soaks up all road surfaces with a smoothness which even Rolls-Royce might covet. The Wolseley’s ride is firmer, but exceptional by any standards other than Citroen’s. Humps in the road catch out the Citroen, the wheels slow to droop with the road surface as the car goes light; the Wolselev behaves well in the same circumstances.

Quietness is a supreme virtue of these two cars. Tyre and suspension noise is better insulated in the Citroen, but in wind noise (ignoring an ill-fitting nearside door seal on the Wolseley, easily rectifiable) there is little to choose, most of what there is coming from the single Citroen and two Wolseley door mirrors. At steady cruising speeds both engines are quite unobtrusive. Surprisingly the Citroen had one or two rattles and squeaks from interior fitments and a chattering speedometer which those much-maligned Longbridge workers had omitted from the Wolseley.

Where the Wolseley scores over the Citroen more even than in engine characteristics is in steering. An Ad-West power-assisted rack and pinion system is fitted as standard on six-cylinder 18-22 series cars. From lock to lock takes 3.26 turns of the thin-rimmed wheel. The Citroen needs 4.5 turns and at parking speeds is very heavy indeed, particularly when winding off while reversing at low speeds. Around town the thick-rimmed, single spoke safety wheel needs to be wound far too energetically for a car which, let’s face it, is selling on otherwise very genuine merits of luxury. On the open road the steering is fine on accuracy, if a little rubbery in feel, though a rattle from the rack transmitted itself through the column of the test car. Of course, if you were prepared to wait until early 1976 you could order the optional, exceptional, Citroen power-assisted rack and pinion with powered self-centring, a 15 in. instead of 16 in. steering wheel and only 2.5 turns lock to lock. A couple of hundred of pounds no doubt and small consolation to those who would like a Citroen now . . .

Manouevring the big Wolseley is child’s play physically, though its body shape makes it difficult to place while parking, as does that of the Citroen. At first the Wolseley’s power-steering felt over-light, vague and a little “wandery” in the straight ahead position. The more I drove it the more l grew to like it, finding that it has good castor return and much more feel than I’d realised. And around town it was splendid. Stability and precision improved markedly when I’d corrected disturbingly inaccurate tyre pressures on this otherwise well-prepared Press car, 20 p.s.i. and 1.5 p.s.i. on the front instead of 23 or 26 and 19 and 18.5 p.s.i. rear instead of 21 or 24 p.s.i. Both handling and stability benefited from the higher handbook pressures without spoiling the ride. Turning circles between kerbs are 37ft for the Wolseley, 36 ft for the CX, the latter losing its advantage between walls, because of its length.

Both cars have magnificent, safe and very similar standards of handling and roadholding. Both understeer, as one would expect, the Citroen more than the Wolseley, a feel exaggerated by the heavy, low-geared, Citroen steering which suggests that more lock is being used than actually is. The Citroen feels to roll much more than the tauter-feeling Wolseley, though the photographs overleaf dispute this. Through our twisting handling circuit the Citroen was harder work, slightly ponderous, the Wolseley quite”chuckable” between the bends. On the faster bends of our “outer circuit” the Citroen (which has 185 section Michelin ZXs front, 175 rear and a 175 spare) felt more reassuring, but exit speeds were faster in the Wolseley. Practically all the old British Leyland front-wheel-drive traits and vices have escaped the Wolseley, which size for size must rate as one of the best handling front-wheel-drive saloon cars in the World. I found it better in this respect than the Citroen, though the latter has the edge on roadholding. Common to both, particularly the Citroen, is almost complete disregard for bumps in mid-corner.

The performance of the Citroen’s all-disc, high pressure hydraulic power brakes is quite wonderful. There is anti-dive front geometry. As one breathes on that over-sensitive centre pedal (conventional, not the DS button) the effect is of a huge magnet slowing the car down from beneath. Yet the Wolseley’s four-pot, disc/drum, normally-servoed arrangement is only fractionally less effective, a good deal less dependent upon the sensitivity of the driver’s right foot and more progressive for fast driving.

Reading the foregoing I suppose I have made it fairly obvious by specifics that the Wolseley would be my choice. But the choice was much harder at the time. Had the test car been a CX 2200 with power steering the conclusion might have been different, but so would its price, at nearly £4,000. The CX 2000 is let down mainly by its steering and to a lesser extent by the need for more torque. It is a superb car for high speed motorway cruising, preferable to the Wolseley (a poor starter from cold, by the way, though the choke can soon be dispensed with) if nearly all your motoring is in such conditions, but the Wolseley’s characteristics are much more versatile. On economy there was little to choose, the Wolseley averaging 21.51 m.p.g. overall, the Citroen exactly 22 m.p.g., both in conditions varying from heavy London traffic to fast open roadwork. More normal use should achieve 25-28 m.p.g. from both, giving very sensible ranges on four star fuel from the Wolseley’s 16 gallon tank and the Citroen’s 15 gallon tank. Mechanically the cars are quite a contrast, the Citroen all complex sophistication, the Wolseley splendidly simple, a fact which must be reflected in their servicing-costs. Yet the Wolseley has a better detail specification, the power-steering and radio being just two of its quite remarkable “standard extras”.

If the Citroen was worthy of the “Car of the Year” award, the credit must go to the the CX 2200; the 2000 has too many pitfalls. But the Wolseley in my view is the finest car to come out of British Leyland since the XJ6, with a general performance, finish and specification worthy of a higher price. Remarkable value for money, in fact. It is a car the British motor industry should be proud of. -C.R.