BY JONATHAN CROUCH
It seems hard to imagine the Citroen family without an Escort-sized car, but the truth is that until 1991, the French concern didn't have one. The ZX changed all that and was an instant success in Britain. It heralded a new era of well-built, quality Citroen hatches; the larger Xantia and ultimately the latest Saxo have followed that tradition. Now, ZXs are plentiful on the used market and are a solid buy.
Models Covered: ZX 3/5 DOOR HATCHBACK - 1991- NOVEMBER 1997ZX ESTATE - MARCH 1994-APRIL 1998: (1.4 3 & 5dr Hatchback, Estate [Reflex, Avantage, Aura, Leader, SX] / 1.6i 5dr Hatchback [Avantage, Aura] / 1.8i 3 & 5dr Hatchback [Furio, Aura, SX] / 1.9i 5dr Hatchback [Volcane] / 2.0i 3 & 5dr Hatchback [Volcane, 16v]/ 1.9 D 3& 5dr Hatchback, Estate [Reflex, Avantage, Aura, Leader] / 1.9TD 3 & 5dr Hatchback, Estate [Avantage, Aura, Volcane, Leader, SX])
The original 'ZX Collection' was launched in June 1991 with 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines, plus a 1.9-litre injection unit for the sporty Volcane. Buyers chose between Reflex, Avantage, Aura and Volcane trim levels. A 1.9-litre normally aspirated diesel followed in the September of that year and a turbo diesel was launched the following summer. In the autumn of 1992, three-door models arrived (including a potent 16v 2.0-litre version) and the Volcane's 1.9-litre engine was replaced with a 2.0-litre unit. A so-called 'warm hatch' Furio model, powered by a 1.8-litre petrol engine was announced and the same engine was made available in plusher Aura version of more standard five-door models. Estate models arrived in May 1994, with a choice of 1.4-litre petrol or 1.9-litre normally aspirated or turbocharged powerplants. There were many special editions, but these are rarely worth much more than £150 over normal book price. The range received airbags and a minor facelift in 1994. In the autumn of 1996, the range was rationalised, with just two levels of trim - Leader and SX. The hatchback range was replaced in November 1997 by the stylish new Xsara (pronounced 'Sa-Ra'), though the estates continued into Spring 1998 before they too were replaced by a Xsara version.
What You Get
From a driver's point of view, this was one of the best-handling compact family hatches around in its day. It may be no oil painting to look at, but the ZX is practical and well built. Also, due to that conventionally sprung suspension, there are none of the traditional Citroen worries about complicated mechanics and astronomical service bills. It still rides well though.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Avoid basic Reflex spec cars. If you can stretch to a model made from 1994 onwards, you can expect a driver's airbag and seatbelt pre-tensioners. Search out cars with power steering - the standard system is very heavy. Check the single windscreen wiper and all electrics, including the central locking and windows. Beware of blown head gaskets.
(Approx, based on a 1990 ZX 1.9 Turbo Diesel [non ABS] excl VAT) A clutch assembly is around £150, a full exhaust system excluding the catalyst can be up to £350. Front and rear brakepads are close to £50 and an alternator is about £100 (exchange). Starter motors retail at close to £180, a radiator is about £125 (exchange), and a headlamp about £70.
On the Road
Extremely good to drive, despite the absence of the air suspension system found in larger Citroens. You find yourself relishing country B roads, despite the car's humble pretensions. The passive rear wheel steering helps here. There's fuel economy to consider too; the diesel returns between 40 and 60mpg.
French sense - particularly if you opt for the diesels.