Launched in March 1998 - though based on the Xantia first released in 1993 - this mid-size Euro comes available in a choice of sedan or wagon shapes. Pricing for these undeniably quirky French vehicles commences at A$42,990 for the manual 2.0 SX and peaks at A$60,500 for the auto-only 3.0 V6 Exclusive Ergo (plus ORCs). That puts the Xantia well over the dollars of similar-spec local cars made by Ford, Holden and Mitsubishi. However, if it's prestige you're after, the Australian price of the Volvo V70, Alfa 156, Peugeot 405, and BMW 5 series makes the Xantia suddenly seem reasonable... Options for the tested Exclusive include a sunroof at A$2000, leather for A$3000, an ergonomic ('Ergo') pack for A$1500 and metallic paint for an added A$1000. Ours had a tick in just the leather option box.
Effective packaging is an area where the Xantia simply excels - when driving the car at night you could be fooled into thinking it's in the next size up. Headroom is plentiful - even for those over 1.8 metres tall - and there's enough width to enable even the biggest human frame to sprawl out. As part of the $3000 leather option, a softly padded driver's side armrest can be folded down to give even more comfort. The rear seating is also more than ample; passengers comment on how soft and comfortable the seating is and there is a surplus of legroom. And the cabin isn't spacious at the expense of the boot - the rear luggage capacity is sizeable for a mid-sized hatch. The sedan is credited with a 483 litre cargo area, while the estate can swallow an impressive 618 litres. With the back seat folded forward, this increases to a massive 1405 and 1690 litres respectively.
The list of interior features includes an electrically adjustable driver's seat (the controls awkward and confusing to use), anti-pinch electric windows, wood trim, climate control, and steering wheel mounted audio controls. The competent Sony single CD/tuner appears to be dealer-fitted to suit the Australian market - a loud thump from the six speakers occurs each time the ignition is switched off. And with a price tag of around 60k, you wouldn't expect loud bangs from anything,would you? Another electrical bug occurs when the engine is being cranked - a 'dying' tone is emitted from the instrument warning chimes until the engine starts.
So Citroen have certainly done their homework in effective space utilisation in the Xantia - but how does it drive?
There is simply excellent throttle response and torque on offer from the transversely-mounted 24 valve quad cam 3.0 V6. Pushing out a lively 140kW at 5500 rpm, the ES9J4 engine also hasn't got the torque shorts - 267Nm at 4,000 rpm, with 88 percent of those Nm available from as low as 2000 revs. The supremely flexible V6 allows the Xantia to easily keep up with traffic from standstill up to 60 km/h without ever needing to go over 2000 rpm!
The excellent drivability can be attributed to a dual stage intake system and a compression ratio of 10.5:1 - necessitating the use of premium unleaded fuel. The Xantia's owner's manual recommends filling up with 98 RON fuel, but the engine's knock sensing system will adjust for a fuel grade of only 95 RON (unfortunately still higher than our normal Australian ULP!). On the downside, when you explore the upper region of the tachometer, the otherwise quiet and smooth engine becomes thrashy - better to use torque rather than revs.
The automatic Exclusive has a factory figure to 100 km/h of 9.6 seconds, but from seat-of-the-pants experience we wouldn't be surprised if that was closer to 9 seconds flat. A 16.9 second quarter mile is also listed in Citroen's press literature - again, probably a slightly conservative figure. Covering mainly urban driving, the Xantia returned an impressive 11.5 litres per 100km fuel consumption - achieved with no particular economy-style driving.
The "auto adaptive" 4 speed auto trans isn't as refined as the engine. The trans is frequently caught out - both in decel and cornering. When coasting to a halt, the jerky down-changes are harsh enough that the pressure on the brake pedal needs to be adjusted to compensate. To gain respectable throttle control around corners, you really need to be in Sport mode or shifting the 'box manually. We were caught out a number of times by the trans taking a long thinking break mid-corner - which simply compounds the car's inherent understeer. However one plus of the trans is that all forward gears can be easily selected on the run via a Mercedes-style wobbly gate shift lever.
Front wheel drive understeer is the Xantia's main handling characteristic. And with a non-LSD'd 140kW available, it's easy to exit a tight corner with the inside front wheel yowling for grip.
Weighing in at just under a hefty 1500kgs, the Xantia Exclusive is suspended on front MacPherson struts with lower triangulated locating arms, and rear trailing arms complimented with passive rear wheel steering. Probably due to the rear wheel steer, the chassis turn-in is crisp and rear end stability very good. All Xantias use hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension, but the Exclusive also gets computer-controlled Hydractive 2 suspension, which raises and lowers the body. The hydraulics get quite excited at times, the front and rear of the car sometimes moving up or down by 30 or 40mm while waiting at traffic lights...
Citroen have done a wonderful job virtually eliminating torque steer created by the potent powerplant; it's only when leaving the line flat to the boards that the steering wheel twitches slightly. In normal urban driving, the steering is light and easy to handle, but feedback isn't its forte - it's too wooden for our liking. Our test car - with just over 8000km on it - also had a clunk from somewhere in the front suspension. The Xantia is endowed with 205/50 15 Michelin Pilot SXs - which squeal enthusiastically when being booted from a standstill - and are worn on conservatively-styled 15 inch alloys. Braking performance of the Xantia is ultra-responsive. The Citroen uses anti-lock four wheel discs (vented at the front) equipped with pads that offer a huge amount of bite. The result is minimal brake pedal effort and no fade whatsoever during our test.
In terms of driver and passenger safety, the Xantia Exclusive offers dual airbags, energy-absorbing padding in the doors, side impact bars, seat belt load limiters and the aforementioned ABS all as standard. In the case of a heavy impact, there is also an inertia-operated fuel cut-off and a "fire safety procedure governed by the electronic control unit". Another very practical safety aspect of the Xantia range is its superb rain-sensing intermittent function of the front wipers, which enable the driver to concentrate purely on the road. Car security is assured by rolling code remote central locking, an ignition key transponder that communicates with the ECU and "burglar proof" locks. The key, incidentally, features a clever fold-in design that prevents it from sticking into your leg (or any other delicate part of the anatomy!) when in your pocket.
Externally, the up-spec'd Xantia looks chic. As the Xantia brochure claims, its styling is "refreshingly different", mainly through the use of definite lines and an idiosyncratic profile. However it can look awkward from some angles, especially the rear three-quarters. The body is composed largely of high yield strength panels and has better crashworthiness than required by the 2003 European side-impact standards. For added safety, the roof crossmember and centre pillars are reinforced.
Aerodynamic development is obvious in the car's body profile. It features a rear spoiler, front apron and side skirts, flush-fitting doors, a bonnet and windscreen that are gently raked, as well as a uniquely-shaped rear window and deck. Thanks to this and the grunty V6, a top speed of 225-230 km/h is quoted. All Xantias come backed by a 2 year unlimited kilometre warranty, 5 years corrosion warranty and 2 years roadside assistance. We found the assembly and quality of materials on the Xantia to be brilliant. Panel margins are identical, there are no squeaks or rattles, and there's an overall feeling of solidity.
The Xantia is a highly comfortable and safe vehicle that packs a powerful punch. It's well made with many practical features - it just depends if you can justify the price hike over a locally made luxury car.