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.