The Citroen ZX celebrates its thirtieth birthday in 2021. Will anyone remember to send a card?
The 1978 Citroën Visa came as a pleasant surprise to those who expected the Double-Chevron’s highly distinctive identity to be crushed under the weight of Peugeot’s conservatism and financial rectitude. Although heavily based on the Peugeot 104, the Visa retained more than enough Citroën quirkiness to be accepted as a spiritual heir to cars such as the Ami and Dyane. Likewise, the 1982 BX and 1989 XM models were both unlikely to be mistaken as anything but Citroëns.
Citroën had lacked a mainstream C-segment competitor since the demise of the GSA in 1986. It had hoped that the Visa and BX ranges might be stretched to fill the void. Although both were strong sellers, PSA recognised that they were missing potential customers, so work began in 1986 on a true replacement.
This time, quirkiness was rejected in favour of a wholly conventional design and mechanical package. The platform and running gear would be shared with the Peugeot 306, which was also in development and would be launched two years after the debut of the new Citroën. This included the TU and XU petrol engines ranging from 1.1 to 2.0 litres and the 1.9 litre XUD diesel in both normally aspirated and turbocharged form.
These inline four-cylinder units were installed transversely and mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. Front suspension utilised the ubiquitous MacPherson struts with an anti-roll bar, but the rear received a fully independent setup using trailing arms and torsion bars, with an element of passive rear-wheel steering(1), rather than the cheaper beam axle featured in many C-segment hatchbacks.
If the new Citroën was to be mechanically mainstream and unadventurous, perhaps it might be distinguished by quirky, individualistic styling? Citroën again turned to Bertone, the Italian carrozzeria that had styled both the BX and XM, but there would be no reprising the distinctive design themes of those models. Instead, what emerged was a disappointingly Euro-generic design that could easily have been sold as a Peugeot. In fairness to Bertone, they were kept on a tight leash by Citroën’s chief designer, Art Blakeslee, and his team, who co-authored the new design.
The only even slightly unusual feature (on the five-door hatchback and estate) was the rear quarter treatment. A third light incorporated into the C-pillar was positioned so that, visually, it connected with the tailgate rather than the rest of the side glasses. Unfortunately, the opportunity this presented was squandered because the glazing in the tailgate did not wrap around to meet the trailing edge of the third light.
The three-door hatchback did without even this flourish but was instead embellished with an uptick to the lower DLO line either side of the B-pillar, below which was a vertical door handle recessed into the trailing edge of the door. The car’s dimensions placed it squarely in the C-segment mainstream, with a wheelbase of 2,540mm (100”) and overall length of 4,070mm (160¼”)
The new model was named the ZX and launched in five-door hatchback form for mainland Europe in March 1991, with UK and Ireland RHD sales following two months later. It had the misfortune to arrive on the market at the same time as the new Über Mercedes-Benz, the W140 S-Class, which promptly stole all the headlines. Even without that gate-crasher, the ZX would have had a tough time raising the pulse and temperature of the automotive press.
Car Magazine opened its feature on the new model with the damning quote: “It’s not a Citroën.”, allegedly uttered by a French motoring journalist and accompanied with a Gallic shrug. The reviewer went on to state that: “The ZX, in any of its manifestations, is not a car for Citroënistes. There’s nothing out of the ordinary in the way it looks, the way it drives, the way it feels. It has none of the Citroen spirit; instead, it has been designed to be made cheaply and to sell in large numbers, just like a Ford.” According to the reviewer, Blakeslee rebuffed this criticism by citing the conservative tastes of typical C-segment customers and arguing that quirkiness simply does not sell to these buyers, at least not in the numbers that Citroën hoped the new model would achieve.
The reviewer did acknowledge that the ZX seemed sturdily constructed and had a much higher quality interior than earlier Citroëns, similar to the Volkswagen Golf(2), but rather less stark and more colourful. It was also a notably roomy interior, on a par with the Fiat Tipo, with firm but comfortable seats. On some models the rear seats could be slid fore and aft(3) to optimise rear legroom and boot space.
The sporting Volcane version of the ZX was, however, a disappointment. It was fitted with the engine from the Peugeot 205 1.9 GTI and shared that car’s verve and responsiveness. Performance was fine, with a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of under 9.5 seconds and a top speed of 127mph (205km/h). However, the engine noise and “horrendous” vibrations quickly became very tiresome. This was all the more disappointing because the car handled and steered very well. Ride quality was stiff and lumpy at low speed but improved at higher speeds. The ride and handling compromise was one of the best on a hot hatch, thanks in part to the long wheelbase.
The comfort-orientated Aura version was more satisfying. Its 1.6 litre engine, also fuel injected, felt eager and it had a slicker gearchange, more progressive brakes and a more supple ride than the Volcane. Overall (and somewhat surprisingly) the reviewer rated the ZX as “vastly superior to the new Escort and Astra, more entertaining to drive than the Renault 19 and has better engines and a smarter interior than the Tipo.” It was, however: “…a sorry day for those who believe a Citroën should offer a unique driving experience.”
The ZX got off to a good start in terms of sales, which were boosted by the arrival of the three-door hatchback in August 1992 and five-door estate in May 1994, when the range received a minor facelift. This added a driver’s airbag and seat belt pre-tensioners to the car’s standard safety equipment. In the autumn of 1996, the range was rationalised to just two trim levels, a prelude to the replacement of the model a little over a year later by the Xsara(4). Anyone hoping that the latter would return some individualism to Citroën’s C-segment model was sorely disappointed: even in comparison with the ZX, the Xsara was deeply, drearily conventional.
The ZX did, however, enjoy a long afterlife in the Chinese market where it was the first Citroën to be manufactured by the Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroën Automobile joint venture. It was sold as the Fukang and carried either Dongfeng or Citroën marque badging. Chinese market saloon and LWB saloon versions were developed by French engineering firm Heuliez. There was even a crew-cab pick-up derivative. The saloon versions continued until 2003, when they were replaced by a heavily facelifted model called the Elysée. The hatchback version received a similar overhaul in 2009 and both continued in production until 2013, which was 22 years after the ZX was launched. Total production was 2,637,100 units.
The ZX and its Chinese cousins may have been disappointingly mainstream and unadventurous Citroëns, but they were solidly built, reliable and pleasant to drive cars that deserve not to be forgotten in the company’s colourful and occasionally traumatic history.
(1) This system would cause an issue with wear in the rear axle assembly at higher mileages.
(2) This comparison would be with the Golf Mk2 as the Mk3 would not be launched until August 1991.
(3) On models with this feature however, the rear seat bases could not be folded forward to achieve a flat loading floor when the seat backs were dropped.
(4) The ZX hatchback models were discontinued in November 1997. The estate remained on the market until the spring of 1998.
44 thoughts on “Z-List or X-Factor?”
I owned one of these 20 years ago in my first year of University. A 1.6i Aura, it was largely unremarkable – I can recall very little about it other than the aforementioned sliding rear seat and that it was quite plush. I can’t entirely remember why I bought it; it replaced a Visa Decap’ and was succeeded quite quickly by a Eunos Roadster bought from a classmate’s mother who was, at the time, a stripper at Norwich’s premier “gentlemen’s club”. The ZX’s main appeal, I think, was that it wasn’t an Astra or an Escort and it represented better value than the rather dour Golf I could have afforded.
Looking at the image in the article though, it has dated well. The sharp lines and slightly unusual proportions have an ageless quality that the contemporary Ford or Renault lack. The Astra of the time was quite individual if a little dumpy. It seems delicate where the Golf had weight. Dynamic criticisms notwithstanding, the Volcane had an understated purposefulness about it.
Good morning Jeff and thanks for your recollections. “Norwich’s premier gentleman’s club” really make me laugh out loud. Although we live in Suffolk, Norwich is just 20 miles away and not the sort of city I would associate with such venues. It put me in mind of Norfolk’s most famous son (after Admiral Nelson) Alan Partridge:
Ah, the ZX (which the motoring press seemed convinced would be called FX – a potentially more interesting moniker?).
I was studying in France when it was launched and I remember the word ‘fade’ being used quite a lot in the press over there and also on ‘Turbo’ which was the French equivalent of Top Gear at the time (maybe it still is?). I remember wanting to like it and managing to see Citroën in the long front overhang and the suggestion of a wheel spat in the rear wheel-arch. I also recall that, apart from being panned for being ‘not a Citroën’, it was well regarded in its class, frequently topping tests until the 306 turned up with its lovely looks and bit of extra refinement, at which point it was game over.
Looking at it now, it’s rather refreshing, with clean lines, simple surfacing and a tidy interior. It does look somewhat insubstantial, but it’s much, much nicer than what came next, which was the awful Xsara.
This was the start of an era when Art Blakeslee became more and more defensive about ‘his’ designs (not that I am sure they were his, and, as others have pointed out before, he was under no illusion about the desired direction from above about no more cranky Citroëns). However, I’d take this over the current C4 and example of which I finally saw on the road the other day … my daughter’s unfiltered reaction was simply ‘wow – ugly!’.
Good morning gentlemen. Daniel, I beg to differ on the subject of Norfolk’s most famous sons – that Partridge fellah comes in third after Allan Smethurst (the singing postman). But to the ZX: as JL and SVR have noted, time has treated it well and it is clear why it sold as well as it did. Find a sound survivor, if you can, and it would surely be worthy of preserving.
30 years ago I was into Saabs (affordable at three years old and superior to anything on the road in my price bracket) and only once drove a ZX which I recall as perfectly adequate and apparently well assembled. And then in 2002, on holiday in a remote spot in Kintyre, our Passat disgraced itself; the garage in Lochgilphead lent us a ZX estate (1.9 non-turbo diesel) for the three days it took for parts to arrive from Glasgow and be fitted. The ZX was showing well over 100,000 miles but no obvious corrosion and was a pleasure to drive; sure-footed, remarkably few rattles and proof that Citroen had perhaps not yet lost the plot after all.
Not a Citroen. I mean, clearly it is, but it’s not ‘a proper Citroen’. No argument from me on that one.
It was of course a Peugeot, available at a discount. But with Peugeot’s trailing arms underneath it, it was also a bit of a wild ride. There are probably fewer than a hundred ‘Volcane’ hot ones left, if that, because most were thrashed, crashed or stolen.
In four door form, it was also China’s generic taxi for a long time.
Good morning Daniel, interesting post. Poor mid-range Citroën hatchback, it has gone through so many changes of personality throughout the decades:
1. ZX: Clean, efficient, and rational, but rather plain and boring. Like mid-quality vanilla ice cream: Not bad and if you’re craving for something sweet, then ok, but otherwise, look for better brands. Curious detail: Back when they were a common sight, on almost every ZX, one or both of the strings that hold the boot shelf up would hang outside, over the rear lights.
2. Xsara: Lovely name, but otherwise unremarkable and made worse by its restyling (or rather “de-styling”). Like cheap ice cream aimed at children: An uninviting mix of flavours but I guess edible if there is nothing else in the fridge. Curious detail: On most re-styled Xsaras still roaming around, the top chevron on the grille is missing.
3. C4 first gen: An inspiring breath of fresh air, with interesting exterior styling on the 5-door changing to bold and original on the 3-door. In both cases, the exterior design enjoys strong themes and clean execution, albeit with a slight lack of dynamism. Like pistachio ice cream from a street gelateria. Good, even delicious, but never as good as the best from Italy. On the C4, the fixed hub steering wheel is a puzzler that took me quite a while to find out how it works (via a planetary gear set) and the only real interior drawback is the boring instrumentation with no tach, but even that is well executed, as the centre LCD screen is backlit by the sun during the day and during the night you can see it from the front. Curious detail: The C4 Mk1 dashboard resembles the one on the pre-restyling CX, down to the shape of the floating centre instrument bin that resembles the also floating one on the CX. Cool!
4. C4 second gen: An un-car. Interior styling boring but at least not too bad, but the exterior is just boring, period. Like a low fat, low sugar, sorbet, why bother eating it? A wasted opportunity by Citroën and besides, why did they suddenly become so conservative and insecure after the original C4? It’s not like it was a failure, far from it, the Mk1 C4 was actually quite popular. Curious detail: None.
5. C4 third gen: Oh, where to begin? Talk about overwrought styling. Maybe the rear is passable, on accounts of its strange, three-dimensional lights and raked rear window, but the sides are a festival of lines, dents, swashes, and flame surfacing. This is that giant banana split ice cream from a cheap, loud restaurant, overflowing with all the toppings and syrups. A quarter of the way through, you’re close to catatonic from all that sugar. I’ve seen the C4 in a dealer showroom and out in the streets among other cars and I’ve really tried to like it, but just can’t. I mean, it’s got presence and novelty factor, but it’s just too confusing and overdone. Curious detail: In a dealership I checked it out and was appalled at how difficult it is to get in, the height between the door sill and top of the door opening is too shallow and the door sill itself is much too wide. Weird for such a large, tall car.
Oops, sorry for such a long post!
Good morning Cesar. Like Charles, I’m craving an ice cream after reading your comment. Excellent summary of the different generations of Citroën’s C-segment offerings. Well observed on the parcel shelf strings! I’m sure I’ve seen exactly what you describe more than once.
Thanks Daniel and Charles for the comments. This is what I mentioned in my post above. Notice how the C4 Mk1’s dashboard mimics that of the early Cx on the dip of its top surface as it drops away from the base of the windscreen, and then of course the floating instrument pod. I see a resemblance, do you? I wonder if it was ever mentioned in the press kit, or in some interview with the designers during the launch of the car in 2005:
Hi Cesar. I see what you mean, but the CX, ironically, looks much more futuristic with its floating ovoid shape and ‘cyclops eye’ instruments. Your photo reminded me that the distinctive Citroën single-spoke steering wheel never featured in the ZX.
Have you noticed the difficulty of the area where the dashboard meets the doors and A-pillar base is? The CX is a great interior but that junction is not so pleasing. It seldom is. Buick in the 90s were keen on having flow across from the door caps to the dashboard top. I quite liked that type of solution.
Cesargrauf – a genius comment that had me laughing out loud at points 4. and 5. Thank you – brightened my day. Oh, and I 100% agree with your analysis too!
Another car which seems much more attractive in retrospect, than it did at the time. I think a Renault badge would suit it better than a Citroën one. That said, the design has aged well, and has a chunky, practical look to it. The saloon isn’t bad, either. A friend had a diesel ZX and it seemed to be indestructible; well-finished, too.
Interesting to see some of the designs which they considered:
I really fancy an ice-cream, now.
Hi Charles. Thanks for posting those ZX concepts. I’m sure that the second and third photos in the right-hand column illustrate what the designers envisaged, wraparound glazing encompassing the tailgate and rear quarter windows. It’s a shame the production car compromised this idea.
That Bertone concept (looks like its on a trailer in the picture of the rear 3/4) is clearly meant to relate to the XM, but it also looks like the ARG’s AR6 concept which was binned in the late 80’s in favour of the R6 which became the Rover Metro launched in the early 90’s. You can find photos here: https://www.aronline.co.uk/concepts-and-prototypes/austin-ar6/
Two of the concepts have a distinctive rear side glass and both address the failings of the realised design. One is visually continuous with the rest of the DLO and the other has a very marked step. The actual car falls between them and looks indistinct. I think the realised car takes the XM-ish concept and waters it down to near imperceptibility. With all due recognition of the difficulties inherent in the post of chief designer at Citroen, Blakeslee repeatedly seemed to lose control of the designs. The C5 is another mash of ideas watered down. So was the Xantia (less extremely so). The only remotely interesting thing about the ZX 3-door was the pointless bump in the DLO above the door handle, a strange instance of expressiveness that jarred with the quietness of the rest of the car.
SV: Thanks for the link. Those line drawings are really lovely. In some of them there is a box in the background with rounded corners. That´s a tracing of the ellipse guide sheet they used to draw the wheels.
The history is classic Austin Rover Leyland BLMC. The formula is that head of design X produces a radical and (in hindsight very credible) proposal that is rejected by some Blimpish senior director or canned because they could not raise the money for development. “In tests, the AR56 design was shown to reverse ageing, cure chronic illness and used only 1 gallon per 100 miles. However, the chief of corporate affairs said the upholstery reminded him of his first wife and so cancelled the programme. He instead to decided BL would offer two new colours and optional heated rear window in the Ital range.”
The AR6 is unusual in that considering it was not made and not very far advanced, it looks convincing. I would not be surprised if some of the ARG people who worked on it had links to former UK-resident A. Blakeslee who was at Chrysler at one point. Or am I being fanciful?
It´s very disturbing to realised five years have elapsed since someone said to me at work “the ZX is twenty five now” and I went and wrote a small article about it. It seems like about two years ago.
The second disturbing thing is the revisionism. It´s obvious we are starved of calm, sane designs these days. That doesn´t mean we can look fondly at the diluted watery cup of flavourless swill that is the ZX. The third pane in the side glass is still wrong whatever brand it was. That Citroen offered a bland car like that is the main offence which 30 years of penance ought not to annul.
Whilst your general point is undoubtedly valid (and it’s tempting to say that almost anything from the period would be preferable to the overwrought and often shockingly aggressive designs that are now so common), I can see some actual merit to the 3-door version of the ZX; it’s a neat-looking thing. A university acquaintance who had driven one commented on it having very good road manners too.
In fairness to Bertone, I think this is what they probably had in mind when they positioned that rear side glass directly abutting the tailgate shut-line. Original first for comparison:
Mmh, I see what you mean. I wonder though if it would have been technically and economically feasible back then to go the whole way with the rear glass and make it wrap over the D-pillar and meet with the third side glass. Then it would have been something special!
One of the design features I like the most on the old Fiat Brava is how they made the rear glass go over the metal, removing the metal shutline for the top of the tailgate. Subtle and not the first thing you notice, but so elegant:
Of course for the Zx’s rear glass to do that would require a rather small radius over the D-pillar, and I wonder if that would have added cost.
Nowadays they could cheat by covering the tailgate metalwork either side of the rear window with high-gloss plastic cappings. That’s how the Mini achieves its floating roof look:
Citroen themselves have concealed the tailgate frame really well in the Xantia, Xsara, C5 I and C4 III – in photos of the C4 with a tinted rear windscreen I can’t see the frame at all, for a while I wondered if it had a GS-style boot!
Wow! that fixes it instantly! The rear/side profiles actually make sense to ‘read’ now that they’re not so featureless and uneasy; the original car has too many dissonant shutlines to be altogether coherent in the rear 3/4. The front is still bland and Renault-like, though. Perhaps an offset logo and some inward chamfer could fix it, a la BX?
Well, the ZX is no beauty. Ok.
We’ve just come back from a walk and I could see all the puffy metal parked everywhere – my eyes aren’t watering because of the wind. Just horrible.
In comparison, the ZX is a beauty.
I really need a drink now – for medical reasons.
(The solution of the tailgate window is really very well done. And the rear lights are always a joy for me. Simply great).
The furthest I am prepared to go with this ZX idolatry is to say the package and road manners were not without merit. What were the alternatives? There was the Ford Escort Mk, VW Golf Mk 2, the Renault 19, Lancia Delta, Mazda 323 (BG), Alfa 33 and Opel Astra F (now thirty years old too!). The pick of the crop´s the Astra F or the Golf. The rest were pretty dire or banal.
We have to judge the car as it was and not as Bertone hoped to aspire about its final shape. So, as it is, the DLO graphics are mediocre.
bee tee double-ewe, the Lancia Delta staggered on for three more years after the ZX was launched. Goodness, that really was a geriatric car at the end. Or was it that like the White Hen its audience felt it offered something the others genuinely didn`t?
I had a look at Mobile.de. An ordinary Lancia Delta from 1990 costs 5000 euros and an Integrale costs from 33,000e up to 80,000e. 2000e gets you a 1999 ZX Reflex in good condition.
I think I would take the Delta or the Astra, depending on the trim/upholstery. Really, I´d be silly to choose the Lancia.
Here’s an explanation for the Delta situation, copy-pasted from a Jalopnik comment:
“…People only remember the Integrale, but the base Delta was a really good and important car for Lancia.
In fact, I would even argue that the Integrale was partially responsible for Lancia’s demise. Due to its success on Rally courses and in the showrooms the Delta II’s release kept being pushed back further and further. The car was ready to be released in 1988, one year before the similarly styled (and commercially very successful) Dedra’s 1989 Launch. It eventually came out in 1993, hardly changed from the original 1988 designs and therefore already outdated. After a period of massive success for Lancia this marked the beginning of the end.”
I haven’t been able to find any further info about such a scenario but it makes a lot of sense to me, also considering that Fiat have launched the Tipo before the Tempra; when I first saw the Delta II, I thought that it was admirable how they’ve managed to make a Golf-like evolutionary design using the Dedra’s doors. But the distinctive rear door shutline of “these doors” and also the rear quarterlight, the subtle crease and even the handles, look like they have been evolved from the first Delta’s features, and making the doors work for its successor could be the starting point for their design (and the Dedra and even the Tipo had to deal with it). Personally I like the Delta II a lot, especially its rear end, and I think it could have caused quite a big stir in 1988.
Considering the ZX, I remember that I’ve found it very disappointing at first – not just for the design per se and the lack of character, but also because it reminded me quite a bit of the Yugo Florida/Sana (a surprisingly nice design, but not quite a great reference… even the dashboard has some similarities) and not enough of the ZX Dakar Rally car that was already around for a while – of course the arrival of the three-door remedied that but perhaps it should have been part of the range from the very start. Afterwards it grew on me, though not too much – indeed there is a pleasing calmness to the design and I like the distinctive features of the three-door, while the estate is a very decent “practical” design (and probably it was the last Citroen, or even the last car, to feature flush hubcaps without any holes?).
The Integrale was an unplanned success and fulfilled a very special purpose.
When FIA banned Group B rallying Abarth looked for a suitable car and found the Delta HF4WD that had been designed without any ambitions for motor sports. The first Group A Deltas were modified HF4WDs that used series production material , the later Integrales were pure homologation specials where production followed the needs of Rally sports for bigger wheels and more suspension travel.
When the Integrale ruined Lancia then in truth it was their engagement in rally sports that ruined them. When you look at what happened after the Integrale’s end one has to ask why they stayed in that sport for so long. Did World Champion titles really help in selling White Hens?
C’mon, someone out there has £400 to spend with a ZX shaped heart – don’t they?
I’m off for ice cream: cherry bakewell flavour
A Ford Focus Mk1 is the place to go for a brilliant and cheap set of wheels. I agree the ZX is cheap and if I had to walk to buy my next car and had 400 pounds only and wanted a red car and it had to be French and have a Z in the name then there is no question I might think carefully about considering the option of perhaps short listing this car.
I’ll just have the ice cream…
Richard – “There was the Ford Escort Mk, VW Golf Mk 2, the Renault 19, Lancia Delta, Mazda 323 (BG), Alfa 33 and Opel Astra F (now thirty years old too!). The pick of the crop´s the Astra F or the Golf. The rest were pretty dire or banal.”
Is there no place for the 1989-95 Rover 200/400 R8 (and Honda Concerto) in that list? Nobody expected anything quite so good from the Rover-Honda Alliance and it set the class standard for most of its brief production life – admittedly against mostly aged and half-hearted competition. The ZX and 306 were its only serious rivals – bettering the Rover on chassis competence, and offering better versions of the XUD diesel for less money.
The Tipo (160) deserves at least a mention in the roster of the damnable – an ugly, uncomfortable and shoddily built car, despite what the comics told us at the time. I drove 800 miles in a day in one, and the best I can say for it is that on that occasion it didn’t break down.
I’d also rather have a first generation Delta – Amazing how long it remained in production, but it was a “class act”, as we had a right to expect from Camuffo, Giugiaro, Lampredi, and Giacosa.
Robertas: thanks for that. I did not observe due diligence and so left out the Rover and the Fiat. The 200 you have in mind is the second generation running from 1989 to 1995. Fiat sold the Mk1 Tipo from 1988 to 1995. Would I be very out of order to suggest that the person in the middle market who might consider the Rover might not have considered the ZX at all? However, the Tipo and ZX do seem to be comparable cars. The Rover person, I feel, would have been considering upper-range Escorts and Astras and Golfs sold with CL trim (VW´s higher spec level?). That said, customer preferences are often hard to guess and we will never know the kind of selection criteria, just the final sales figures.
It seems you agree with me that the Delta/Prisma were not playing the same rules as the others. I think I argued here that Lancia should sell better cars on longer product cycles and it seems like that they´ve really been doing that anyway (though often not through choice). I had a look for a Prisma and found an ad that made a point of illustrating the Zegna label on the seat fabric:
I know Dante Giacosa was nearly ten years retired by the time the Delta arrived, but it has loads of 128 legacy.
One thing I forgot to pick up on: “The platform and running gear would be shared with the Peugeot 306, which was also in development and would be launched two years after the debut of the new Citroën.” That’s quite a time difference (and quite a difference in styles, of course).
I think the 306 is pretty; however, someone at work got one, and a colleague’s first reaction was that ‘It looks like a Maxi’. I can see what they mean, from the rear view.
I can´t really find it easy to agree with the Maxi comparison. The 306 takes a high place in my last of really neat, pretty and serious examples of industrial design. It´s really subtle, very calm and yet absorbing. It´s like the Focus Mk2 in that regard. No matter how many times I see these two cars they capture my attention and I find my eye and mind engaged.
Don’t forget the 306 was a fantastic drive. Even versions with feeble 75 of 88 hp engines allowed you to make progress at a rate that put many bigger and more powerful cars at shame and it all came with excellent comfort, particularly at low speed and on small bumps. The chassis setup of this humble car was simply incredible, one more art that has been lost completely at Sochaux.
This vehicle would probably have received thunderous applause if it had not been launched as a Citröen. At that time the product substance that was realised here was in great contradiction to the brand values that had been anchored until that moment (and it was made unmistakably clear to one that these would experience a massive devaluation in future strategies – which unfortunately then also came true).
What the PSA has put on the wheels here rather reminds me of a disposable product from the ranks of the BIC Group. Just for fun, let’s imagine that this vehicle had actually been labelled with the BIC Group badge. In other words, a label that stands for everyday objects that are rigorously and consistently targeted at pure utilisation. Well, on second thought, I actually don’t really feel that strange about this idea.
After all, the Citröen ZX was nothing more than a vehicle with the essential basic functions and no claims to any distinctive features or extravagance in detail. Something that, in its days as a Citröen, probably gave the brand’s aficionados a feeling of utter blandness, would have worked perfectly well as a BIC.
In that case, Bertone probably would have received due applause for that design, too. After all, the simplicity embodied here, which certainly has its pleasing moments, corresponds in my eyes much more to the utility design practised by BIC with its skilful reduction to the essentials. For which I have great respect. After all, the classic BIC lighter from 1972 and the transparent hexagonal BIC disposable biros from 1950 are part of the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art in the Department of Architecture and Design.
Good morning, Mark, and thank you for your thoughts. Having a marque identity as strong as Citroën’s is certainly a double-edged sword when you try to do something different. The ZX was a perfectly competent and in some respects (handling) outstanding. Would it have sold better without the aura/baggage of the Citroën name? That is indeed a moot point.
Mark N: Funny you should mention BIC. DTW haven’t quite covered everything in the known universe, but we are working on it…
Interesting that you mention the idea of a products company like BIC selling a car; I definitely see where you’re coming from and it makes a lot of sense to my eyes how the industrial design of the ZX could very much be positioned as a timeless, generic, geometric sort of shape to be sold as a cheap disposable good without changes for many decades. Certainly not much genetic Citroen in the design, but thanks to Bertone it has airs of ‘Italian appliance’, much like the Giugiaro Yugo Sana/Florida or the I.DE.A. (Spada) Tipo as others here have mentioned (less in shape, but more in the detailing of the latter). Back to the idea of a BIC Car, it’s akin to how Muji (essentially a Japanese IKEA meets Target sort of store) tried selling their own ‘generic’ car in the ’90s as the ‘1000’, an unbadged Nissan Micra K11 in a sort of off-white cream color with unpainted bumpers:
I just adore the austerity of it, right down to the functionalist tri-color rear lamp housings. It reduces the car to the level of appliance to a frightening degree and really makes you reconsider the emotion and passion we put into these four-wheeled contraptions.
Many thanks for another interesting article. Although I was never in the market for ZX, I always thought it a neat design.
You really shouldn’t have included the link to Citroenet as my employer will be very unhappy at the amount of “research” I have to do instead of real work.
As an avid CAR reader from the 70’s and 80’s one particular article comes to mind… the comparison between the GS and the ZX 1971 to 1991. Citroenet provides the link:
ps i will reserve my comments for the Delta II for another time!
Hi Mark. Citroënet is indeed a delightful rabbit-hole. Happy burrowing!
I agree! Citroënet use is known to drop work productivity at an alarming rate! 🙂