Boxing Clever (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the 1982 Citroën BX.


Following a successful launch, the BX sold strongly, although there were some early build quality issues that were overcome during the first year of production. A year after launch, the BX range was augmented with the addition of a Break estate version. Production of the estate was outsourced to the French coachbuilding firm Heuliez.

Unusually, the estate retained the hatchback version’s rear passenger doors. This was problematic in that the hatch featured a roofline that fell noticeably towards the rear of the car, and the rear door window frames followed suit. However, in order to maximise load capacity, the estate, although only a little taller overall, was instead given a horizontal roofline. The solution was slightly makeshift: the estate’s additional rear side windows were mounted higher than the rear door windows, with long horizontal air vents below them. The mismatch was partly disguised by satin black trim and paint surrounding the DLO on all but the base versions, where it was readily apparent.

A positive consequence of this aesthetic compromise was that the estate had a very capacious load bay. The tailgate incorporated the central part of the rear bumper, giving a low loading lip. One aesthetic improvement over the hatch was that the leading edge of the rear bumper, where it met the rear quarter panel, was now canted backwards in place of the abrupt vertical junction seen on the hatch.

At around the same time as the estate was launched, Citroën added a diesel engine to the line-up. This was a 1,905cc unit producing 64bhp (48kW) and was dubbed XUD. The BX19D took 15.5 seconds to reach 62mph (100km/h) and had a top speed of 97mph (157km/h). Meanwhile, the larger petrol engine was tweaked to increase its power output a little.

Car Magazine’s Gavin Green road tested the BX estate in 1.9-litre diesel form and his report was published in the October 1985 issue of the magazine. Green was very impressed, stating that “It’s not just the sheer carrying volume…nor is it just the comfort – a traditional Citroën virtue. Rather, the real strength…is that it is genuinely a good car to drive.”  Answering concerns about the diesel engine, he said, “the only rattling is when you first start it and the only smell will be if you stand in someone else’s spilt derv(1) at the refuelling bay.”

Regarding performance, Green said that “Around town you could just as easily be driving a four-cylinder petrol engined car, and on the motorway 90mph [145km/h] cruising is not only possible, but downright pleasurable.” Otherwise, the BX estate shared the benefits and drawbacks of the hatchback, the latter being confined to the “slightly cramped rear, and headroom which could be improved” and the “ugly plastic dash.” Overall, it was “a family car that is hard to beat.”


In 1985, a smaller capacity diesel engine was added to the range. This was a 1,769cc unit producing 59bhp (44kW). It was no ball of fire: the BX thus equipped took 17.2 seconds to reach 62mph (100km/h) and had a top speed of 96mph (155km/h). A turbocharged version of the same engine would follow in 1988, with an increased power output of 89bhp (66kW), reducing the 0 to 62mph (100km/h) time to 10.8 seconds and increasing the top speed to 112mph (180km/h). This made the diesel-engined BX a much more attractive proposition.

There were a number of rather unlikely sporting versions of the BX. The first was introduced in 1985 as the Sport. It was fitted with a 1,905cc twin-carburettor version of the XU engine producing 125bhp (93kW). Its 0 to 62mph (100km/h) time and top speed were 8.9 seconds and 121mph (195km/h).

Externally, the Sport was distinguished by a body kit of questionable aesthetic merit, while inside it had conventional instrumentation in place of the quirky original setup. The Sport was meant to be a limited edition, but Citroën sold a credible 7,500 of them, all in LHD. The handling remained distinctly unsporting, despite some retuning of the suspension. Oddly, there was also a concurrent GT model which featured a single-carburettor version of the same engine with a power output of 103bhp (77kW).

1986 brought a substantial facelift to the BX. An immediate recognition point for the facelifted cars were larger, clear rather than orange front indicator lenses that now aligned with the headlamps at both their top and bottom edges. The profile of the bumpers was now more rounded, while the wheel arches were flared to accommodate wider section tyres. On some versions, the leading edge of the bonnet was raised to create a larger air intake between it and the bumper.


Inside, the idiosyncratic dashboard was replaced with a much more conventional item featuring circular instruments and column stalks instead of the projecting pods of the original. While diehard Citroënistes might have regretted this change, the new dashboard was more sturdily constructed than the plasticky original.

A smaller capacity 1,124cc 58bhp (43kW) version of PSA’s X engine was added to the range for certain export markets where motor taxation was directly linked to engine size. The price paid for cheaper taxation was a leisurely 0 to 62mph (100km/h) time of 17.3 seconds and a top speed of just 93mph (150km/h). The lower powered 1,360cc unit was actually detuned to produce just 54bhp (40kW), to improve fuel economy and differentiate it more strongly from the higher powered unit, which remained unchanged. In 1989, the long-lived XU 1.4-litre petrol engine was replaced by the TU engine, with an identical capacity and similar power output. This was available in both carburettor and fuel injected forms.

A fuel-injected version of the 1,905cc engine was also introduced, although it was no more powerful than the twin-carburettor version, initially at least. The model it powered was dubbed GTi. In May 1987, a 16-valve DOHC version of the engine was introduced, boosting power output to 158bhp (118kW). This finally gave the BX, dubbed, GTi 16V, the performance promised by the exterior embellishments; a 0 to 62mph (100km/h) time of 8.6 seconds and top speed of 136mph (220km/h).

Other BX variants included a Group B rally special, the 1986 BX 4TC that shared little under the skin with the regular BX, having a longitudinally-mounted turbocharged engine. 200 road-legal versions of the 4TC had to be built for homologation purposes, but it was a largely futile effort as the rally car was notably unsuccessful. There was also a 4×4 version introduced in 1988 in both hatchback and estate formats. It was designed as a rural working vehicle and was supplied in basic trim with the 1.9-litre petrol or diesel engines.


Renowned automotive writer Leonard (LJK) Setright drove the BX GTi extensively in France for Car Magazine, which published his assessment in its August 1987 issue. Setright was full of praise for the wide range of abilities the BX displayed during “100 miles of wonderfully fast driving and 30 of deliberately slow passengering [which] proved this latest BX to have a beautiful character. Every face it shows is realistic and convincing: if you thought it a sweet-riding body-cosseter and drove it accordingly, you would never know that it could double as a perfervid roadburner.”

Setright attributed the car’s impressive breadth of abilities to Citroën’s Hydropneumatic system “enabling things to be achieved with the suspension that could not be managed any other way” and went on to explain how the system uniquely allows the ideal of constant spring frequency to be attained. This translated into a car that “swallows rough and smooth roads alike, fast or slow, even in the middle of a rousing corner, without a shock or a sound to mar its equanimity.”

Setright was equally impressed by the power unit, describing it as “a dream of an engine, surpassing in strength and sweetness the best rivals. It is a quietly musical engine, with no overlay of mechanical noise to spoil what is otherwise a very quiet car.” The brakes were powerful and effective, benefitting from the combination of Teves ABS and anti-dive front suspension geometry. Only the proximity of the brake pedal to the steering column on the LHD test car came in for criticism.


The cabin was praised for “such quietness as no BX has ever previously achieved” with supportive seats fitted with adjustable lateral support bolsters and trim and fittings that were “appropriately smart and characteristically practical.” The only serious demerit was the “tack-on body-trimmings around the sills and wheel-arches [that] do nothing for appearances and even less for aerodynamics. At least the car is well finished and not defaced by vulgar graphics.”

The BX in all its versions continued into the 1990s with only modest further changes. By the time it was replaced in 1993(2) by the Xantia, an impressive total of 2,315,739 had been produced over eleven years. The BX was a seminal car for Citroën in that it established the company as a serious player in the heart of the European mainstream market, no longer regarded as an idiosyncratic outlier. Whether or not one views that positively or not will, of course, be coloured by what happened subsequently to the company’s cars and its market positioning, but that is a story for another day.

(1) DERV is an acronym for Diesel-Engined Road Vehicle and was often used informally to refer to the fuel itself.

(2) The BX estate remained in production for a further year until the arrival of its Xantia-based replacement.


Car Magazine

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

46 thoughts on “Boxing Clever (Part Two)”

  1. Don’t forget the BX 19 Digit with full Flash Gordon instrument panel

    On turbo diesels the gap between the ‘short’ bonnet and bumper was the inlet to a fresh air duct through the hollow sound deadening panel to the intercooler sitting horizontally on top of the engine

    Our local Citroen dealer had a couple of old British motorcycles on which I regularly did some necessary work. Every time I needed to get spares he gave me one of his cars for the drive to the dealer which in many cases were BXs. As he needed lots of spars I got the opportunity to drive a number of these cars – the one that impressed me most was a 19 TRS with soft suspension and 125 PS without boy racer optics. It was fast, smooth and comfortable and its only drawback was lots of squat under acceleration, a small price to pay for the soft suspension.
    I never could have lived with the pubertant optics of a GTi, let alone a 16V and always thought that a standard Series 2 already looked bad enough with their bulging rear wheel cover and ill fitting rear bumper to match it (Series 2 BXs had a bulge in the rear wheelarch panel and a corresponding dent in the door to make room for the wider wheels of the ‘sports’ versions and the tack-on panel partly covering the wheel was accordingly pulled out a couple of centimetres and as a consequence the new rear bumper was wider to match this panel).
    BX breaks are funny because the parts made by Heuliez are corroding much faster than the stuff provided by Citroen and the worst rust trap is where Heuliez meets Citroen in seam joining the rear wing to sill.

    1. Good morning Dave. Excellent information, thank you. I agree about the aesthetics: the best looking BX is one without the unnecessary garnishes.

    2. What I always found interesting about the 19 Digit is how small the display really is in relationship to the amount of information displayed. Not how would have designed it, but it’s actually not that hard to read. I guess when the sun is shining it’s impossible to read, though.

      I never knew Heuliez made the Break and wasn’t aware of the specific rust issues. Makes sense, though, as I’ve only seen few BX’s in the last couple of years and none of them was a Break.

    3. Hi Freerk. Yes, there’s a lot of dead space in the instrument cluster given over to warning lights that could usefully have accommodated larger digital displays. Perhaps it was a limitation in the size of LCD displays at that time?

    4. Yes, Daniel, that makes a lot of sense. Here’s the instrument cluster of a Corvette C4. There are three different LCD displays

    5. Here’s the Digit instrument set in action. It displays everything you need in the smallest possible space

      There were a number of customer complaints about the 16V engine being low on power in the Mi16. Peugeot then was asked for an official statement. Their answer was that the engine was unusually sensitive to environmental conditions and didn’t deliver full power in camp or cold weather. Engines with catalytic converter generally tended to the lower end of the power tolerance spectrum. In reality customers should not expect much more than 135 PS but in their eyes this was no problem because sales numbers were so low.

    6. All of the pictured displays are vacuum fluorescent displaya (VFD) rather than LCDs.

  2. I find it surprising that out of the rather large total number of BX to have been made, only 180 407 were estates. But maybe this was a carefully thought over estimation which led Citroën to outsource production to Heuliez?

    1. I’m truly enjoying myself here at the moment, with all these BX articles. Thank you for that.
      Regarding Patriks comment about the break: it’s actually the other way around. Heuliez took the initiative of proposing the BX Break to Citroen, complete with a well thought through production plan. Citroen originally never planned a BX break; PSA we’re in dire straits and developing the BX was a big enough risk as it was. The Heuliez proposal was a welcome addition, but they started developing the break well after the BX was launched. Interestingly, several coach builders (amongst which Heuliez and Bertone) proposed a BX Coupé as well. Tue Bertone version even nearly made it. Citroen wanted to go ahead with it but Peugeot vetoed it as it would have competed in the BMW price range. It would never have sold well but how I’d love to have been able to drive a BX coupé!!

    2. Good morning Patrik. Yes, it does seem a small percentage, given Citroën’s historic association with practical and capacious estate cars. I’ve always thought the BX estate looked a little makeshift, especially compared with the earlier estate models that were much more coherent looking:

      The CX and GS look like they were designed as estates from the outset, not adapted from the saloons.

    3. Hi Maurice. Aha, that makes sense: the BX estate was an afterthought, not originally part of the product plan.

    4. Here’s the BX Bertone coupe. At least they could reuse some of the iffy gimmicks on the XM

  3. The BX facelift could be said to have tidied up the design I suppose, but am the only one to feel its main effect was one of decontenting? The resulting car looked cheaper, somehow, and less sophisticated, even in its more expensive trims…

  4. Trivia: The door mirrors used on the facelifted BX are from the Peugeot 309.

    1. Another trivia: The dashboard of the BX Phase II GTI is shared with the Peugeot 205 Phase II GTI, including HVAC mechanics (the graphics and rotary dials are slightly different for good measure, though…).

  5. Ah, the BX Break, now there’s the car I should have never sold… Makeshift as it looks (a very apt word indeed, Daniel) this car made for a very satisfactory package in total. My 1993 19TZI Break (in effect a GTI with added load bay) carried around a double bass, guitar- and bass amps, the singer and our violin player plus myself around come rain or shine with grace and ease. In terms of character I liked it much more than the leased C5 Tourer Comfort that followed it, although that was a very pleasant machine in itself. Thanks for reviving some sweet memories Daniel.

  6. Over time the BX had an astonishing number of different wheel trims but almost all except for the awful ‘Leader’ items had no ventilation holes. Originally even the rims themselves had no vents because as with all proper hydraulic Citroens the brakes were cooled from the ‘inside’ of the wheel.

  7. The way the doors were reused on the estate version really is a bit of an eyesore, but it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the way they did it on the Volvo 240. That truly was terrible.

    Regarding the design of the BX and the facelift, I love the first version, it looks like a concept car. The facelifted version is much more bland, as is usually the case. It’s funny how a small change, like making the indicators a bit bigger, can make such a big difference.

    1. The most awful example of not integrating saloon doors in an estate without doubt must be the XM break against which the BX break is a relative masterpiece.

    2. Hmm, yes the XM estate isn’t great, although I don’t think it’s any worse than the BX:

      Now, here’s a bit of XM-related weirdness, which I stumbled upon while looking for the photo above:

      The image is titled ‘XM Opron’ and looks like a regular XM that’s been ‘properly’ converted to an estate with new, taller door window frames…or maybe it’s just a nifty bit of Photoshopping? Either way, it’s how the XM estate ideally should have been realised.

    3. By the way, how come Škoda managed to do come up with a much better result reusing the doors on the Favorit/Forman, which has a similar sloping roof?

    4. The XM Opron is a photoshop experiment. The author is a user calling himself Opron who fights his frustration on the brand by creating elaborated photoshop Citroens. He also did an XM coupé based on the Multimédia and some more.
      Opron’s current car is a Hyundai Ioniq 5.

  8. Hello all. For anybody whose appetite for information on the BX remains unsated, Ive just come across this book:

    Not having seen it, I cannot vouch for the quality of the writing, but its available online (you know where!) for the not unreasonable sum of £36

    1. I have this book. There’s one part that doesn’t quite match my experience, though: it says that post-1990 sales of the BX in Greece were rather low, but what I saw on the streets of Larissa, where we lived back then, and on the streets of other cities we visited regularly (Athens, Ioannina, Karditsa, Salonica, Volos) tells a different story: the new taxation system made cars under 1.6 liters more affordable, and the “1.4 kat” version (usually without the equipment bits my dad specified) became ubiquitous. Perhaps it didn’t sell as much as the assembled-in-Greece Nissan Sunny, but it fared respectably.

    2. Surely that Opron XM is stretched as well ? So they had to make special doors.

    3. David: Look at the A-pillar/ windscreen/door. This says GSA to me. Citroen had investigated the possibility of reskinning the GSA as a potential model to sit below the BX. Several proposals were mocked up in full sized form, as detailed in Marc Stabèl’s detailed history of the model. I imagine this was one of them. I rather doubt it bears much relation to the BX.

    4. That makes sense Eóin, a misguided attempt to ‘improve’ the GSA by cutting it’s load capacity with that sloping backlight. Understandingly discarded.

  9. Lovely two parter, Daniel. And I’d forgotten that Dutch fellow’s (with Julian Marsh, the U.K. based Citroen guru) BX book; tempting…

    My BX-perience:

    Having passed my driving test aged 17 in August 1987, a decrepit and rusty Mk2 Escort my only wheels, I was sampled a BX sometime in the September. A salesman neighbour had a brand new, white hatchback. No idea of trim but most definitely a diesel. He’s seen my jalopy sans L-plates and asked if I’d like ago in his new motor – I don’t remember any concerns over insurance or anything and hopped in, amazed I was sat in a brand new car!

    The two things that stick in my mind about the car itself was how idiosyncratic the dashboard and interior seemed to be (he loved it) and also how comfy the seats were compared to the Escort’s vinyl. The drive being short but the ride was most pleasant which he described as “pillowy.” The epitome of my vast driving experience!

    On returning home, I then noticed the odometer. The chap had only received the car at the beginning of August and in those few weeks had amassed over 10,000 miles! I seem to remember the car sticking on the street (when not plying his unknown trade) for around a year, maybe more with goodness only knows what mileage. Sadly I never got behind the wheel of a BX again.

    Today’s lunchtime wander happily found these:

    The off-topic C4 by Loeb appears still a decent runner whereas the rather tired looking BX is now off-road, on SORN, for a year or two. But it’s never failed an MOT, has done 127,000 miles and is a 1.4 petrol. First registration May 1990. Some TLC and it’ll be fine…

    1. Hi Andrew. That C4 still looks fresh, unusually so for a thirteen year-old car with non-metallic red paint. I’m afraid I hate the graphics on the door and rear spoiler though. I have always liked the original C4, in both three and five-door form.

      I think you’re being a bit optimistic about the prospects for the poor BX though. It’s only going one way…👎

  10. Having been a Citroen enthusiast for many years and owning most types from 2 CV’s up to an SM I ended this love affair with a company provided BX diesel.
    My lasting memory of it was a failure of the accelerator linkage return spring on an A road somewhere between Cambridge and Huntingdon , the pedal dropped to the floor, the car accelerated while simultaneously I cut the ignition avoiding locking, steered into a layby and braked to a standstill all as if it had been a rehearsed procedure!
    As this was before wide use of mobile phones plus being an enterprising chap having completed a couple of kit cars I decided to have a go at sorting it myself. The solution being a spring binder on a note pad In my brief case. This got me to a Citroen agent for a proper repair but looking back I wonder which fail safe design would be best ie to accelerate or de-accelerate with such a design, probably the latter.
    In 64 years of motoring I have only had this type failure once so assume its pretty uncommon.

    1. Hi D Gatewood. Well done on having the presence of mind to avoid an accident in those circumstances. You’re right: one would rationally expect the failsafe to be for the car to decelerate if the linkage to the pedal failed.

    2. I alway thought that it was mandatory for car engines to decelerate in case of failure of the linkage. Your BX behaved like an airplane engine where it’s exactly the other way round.

  11. “Externally, the Sport was distinguished by a body kit of questionable aesthetic merit”.

    Was this a flabbergasting lack of aesthetic judgement,
    or just “good old” Protreptike Tehne ?

  12. Another fly in the LHM :

    “A smaller capacity 1,124cc 58bhp (43kW) version of the XU engine” – this is probably a misprint, as the 1,124cc “TU1” is a TU, not a XU (an entirely different engine family).

    1. Hi Alex. Regarding the 1,124cc engine, we’re both right – and wrong.

      My understanding is that here were actually two different engines with the same 1,124cc capacity used in the BX. From 1986 to 1988, there was the XW engine. This was part of the X family of PSA engines (as opposed to XU). It produced maximum power of 58bhp (43kW) and torque of 58 lb ft (79Nm).

      From 1988 to 1991 this was replaced by the TU1 engine. This produced less power at 54bhp (40kW) but more torque at 66 lb ft (89Nm) than the XW engine.

      Regarding your (rhetorical?) question, “Was this a flabbergasting lack of aesthetic judgement, or just “good old” Protreptike Tehne?” I haven’t a clue what you’re on about! 😁

  13. Hi there, from Portugal.

    You mentioned special models for markets where cars were taxed by engine size, and here we had a BX 11 with the AX engine, but also a BX 16Gti with 115 hp (1600cc 205 Gti engine).

    1. Hi Pedro. Thanks for your comment, and welcome to Driven To Write. I believe that the 1,124cc engine was offered in addition to the other engine capacities. The other European markets where it was made available were Greece, Ireland and Italy.

  14. Hi, Daniel. Regarding the 4×4 versions: they weren’t just for rural use, as I have seen elsewhere a BX GTi 4×4 – I can’t recall what the owner said, but I think he said that RHD survivors may be in double or even single digits!

    It seems that the 4TC was so embarassing that Citroen sold only 62 of the 200 road-going versions – one website suggests that Citroen even tried to buy back as many as it could, to scrap them. It appears to have been heavier and lower-powered than rivals, and finished one of its three races. Considering the lack of money, what a waste the 4TC must have been.

    Other unusual versions include a Finnish BX Van, with a large roof pod. All photos of that model seem to retain all rear glass, so I would expect that some of them had the rear seat retro-fitted once the necessary lower tax status was achieved. The Irish BX van, however, retains the rear window but panels over the rear windows and doors. At least a couple seem to have been converted into pick-ups, and a Belgian called Daniel Pijpops made some into Tissier-style six-wheelers.

    1. Good morning Tom. Thanks for the additional information, especially regarding the six-wheelers, which look rather fine:

      Much more interesting and distinctive than a Transit!

    2. Strange, I never saw a BX van in Ireland, and believe me I would have noticed.

  15. Here’s a proposal for the US, courtesy of Car Design Archives. It would have used conventional suspension, to comply with bumper height regulations.

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