This French model was that rare thing in the mid-1990s – a mainstream saloon with character. Now numbers are dwindling, it’s a cast-iron classic investment
How much to pay
• Project £200-300 • Good £500-1150 • Concours £1200-2500 •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
The Citroën Xantia is at a dangerous stage in its life – right at the bottom of the depreciation curve. Because of this, many examples are now being scrapped because people consider minor faults too expensive to fix. And yet, here we have a car that embodies much of what Citroën is about: sturdy mechanicals, fantastic ride and an engaging driving experience.
As BXs are gaining traction on the classic scene, the Xantia is the perfect car to fill that void of starter ‘big Citroen’ for many people, and it’s still modern enough to be used daily without worry. While the rare and technically audacious Activa variant is more valuable, again people don’t always see these as economical to repair. Now’s the time to ‘save’ one, before there are none left.
Your AutoClassics Citroën inspection checklist
All petrol four-cylinder engines are derived from the XU family of PSA units. This means the 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 models are all prone to cambelt failure if the correct interval is not observed. We’d advise renewal every five years or 72,000 miles, whichever is the sooner. XUDs – the 1.9 and 2.1-litre diesels – are derived from the same petrol engine family, and their belt intervals are identical. Diesels are torquey, economical and still fairly quiet – and as such are our pick of the range.
Models with the 2.0 constant-torque turbo, such as the Activa, are prone to failure of the boost-control valve, which will result in the car driving like a naturally aspirated 2.0. A manual boost-control valve is the easiest and cheapest solution, and allows the car to be tuned to your personal taste. Many Activas have probably already had this done.
Some late cars used the 24v ES9 V6 as seen in the XM and the Renaultsport Clio V6. This engine has few issues, barring the occasional dodgy starter motor.
The cars fitted with manual transmissions tend to be fairly sturdy, with no issues in service as far as the clutch or gearbox go. The ’box is not the nicest unit around, but it’s an improvement on previous big Citroën manual boxes.
Automatics use the ZF 4HP14 unit. This is a well served and reliable gearbox, and is unlikely to give grief in service. ZF advises Dexron 3, though many owners refuse to proceed beyond Dexron 2 for safety. If the gearbox has been run with Dexron 2, the service intervals will be shorter than on Dexron 3. Make sure the fluid is red – if not, find out when it was last changed. Don’t be scared to walk away from a car with burning ATF, or which has gone further than 20,000 miles without a change.
Suspension and brakes
Early cars are supposed to ‘sink’, as per early XMs, CXs, DSs et al. Typically they sink from the rear first, so don’t be alarmed if the example you’re viewing is pointing to the stars when you arrive. Check that the suspension will rise and settle to each height in turn, and that there are no nasty noises coming from the LHM pump.
More upmarket examples used Citroen’s Hydractive 2 active system, which uses additional spheres to selectively stiffen and soften the car depending upon the circumstances. Check the system is active, and that the diodes haven’t failed, forcing it into a permanent hard setting. Also, check that a previous owner hasn’t wired it to keep it in soft mode.
Cars with this Activa suspension should shuffle a little at junctions; this peculiar unsettlement occurs as the system attempts to counteract itself, and is quite normal. It’s equally normal to find that the car won’t lean in bends – if it does, something is amiss.
As with all Citroens the brakes are characteristically sharp, although newcomers will find them less scary than those of preceding models.
Fortunately, much of the bodywork is relatively impervious if kept in good order. Rear arches contain rust traps, though, and should be examined thoroughly, along with the sills.
The rest of the car should be OK provided there have been no shoddy repairs. Xantia enthusiasts report that these models are largely rust resistant, and thus are viable all-weather, everyday propositions. Check panel gaps for any signs of accidental damage – anything that’s not straight should be viewed with suspicion. Also check the paint finish, and ensure the colour matches. Poor paint should be treated with caution, as should the presence of filler.
Check for damage to the exterior plastics, too, as it can be difficult to replicate the original finish on the rubbing strips, while bumpers can be scuffed at the corners. Superficial bumper damage isn’t likely to be a major concern, although cracked and split panels will be tricky to replace.
Hatchbacks have plastic tailgates, and paint issues on the top face are common. If your car isn’t fitted with a spoiler, expect cracked paint here.
Xantia trim is rather sturdier than in previous Citroens. The plastics tend not to crack, nor are there many rattles behind the dashboard. The biggest problems you’re likely to find are worn or damaged fabrics or missing trim. Fabrics are hard to source, and we would advise buying donor cars or interiors from breakers when needed.
Most of the trim responds well to a good clean if in poor shape, and there are Xantia experts within the Citroën Car Club who will happily advise and help with trim issues. The optional leather seats make life easier from a retrimming perspective, given that leather can be patched, repaired or replaced by any competent specialist. Most V6 models and many Activas were fitted with leather as standard, and it was optional on the top-of-the-range VSX.
Avoid cars fitted with the keypad immobiliser, or which have it disconnected with the engine running in order to bypass the system. So-fitted cars can occasionally lock you out even with the right code, so while it’s cool to have a car PIN, it’s a world of pain.
- 1993: Xantia launched as replacement for BX. Three models: LX, SX, VSX. VSX features electronic adaptive suspension.
- 1994: Facelift, introduction of anti-sink mechanism for suspension.
- 1996: Activa launched, featuring active anti-roll geometry.
- 1998: Whole range facelifted with new bonnet and grille, plus interior revisions.
- 2001: Xantia range replaced by Citroën C5.
Unless you’re at a Citroën event, you won’t be swamped with interest from others – the Xantia is still a shade on the new side for that. And there are still enough shabby examples for it not to turn heads in car parks. And yet this car has a clean shape and is technically clever, and in years to come we’ll all wish we’d bought one when they were cheap. You can afford to buy well at this level of the market, so do – and enjoy!
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Citroën Xantia Activa