It’s a welcome return for Bangerwatch, PetrolBlog’s equivalent of BBC TV’s Springwatch, only without Kate Humble, Michaela Strachan or any wildlife. Instead, Bangerwatch takes a look at rare and interesting cars that have fallen into Banger territory, seemingly spiralling into oblivion. By giving them exposure as potential Bangernomics project cars, it is hoped that PetrolBlog can save them from extinction.
For the latest episode, and with a little help from the unlikely couple of Claudia Schiffer and Quentin Willson, we pay homage to the Citroën Xsara VTS.
History of species
You have to spare a thought for the Citroën Xsara. When folk wax lyrical about Citroën’s illustrious history, the Xsara is written off as one to be forgotten. An embarrassment from the past that doesn’t deserve to wear the same badge as the DS, SM or C6. Admittedly, it doesn’t show the same flair and imagination of some of the others, but does that mean we should forget about it and allow it to die a slow and agonising death?
Well yes and no. You see, on the whole, the Xsara range is a little on the bland side and doesn’t deliver much to stir the soul. But it does contain a hidden gem, a car that shares its underpinnings with a hot hatch hero that still demands attention today. You may also recall that a naked Claudia Schiffer took one for a spin after uttering the words, “so why wear anything else?”.
I’m talking, of course, about the Citroën Xsara VTS. Whenever I mention my love for the car, I’m greeted with a strange look that suggests I’ve lost my mind. Maybe it’s the rather bland styling or perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of them seem to be finished in Helios Yellow, or Hideous Yellow as a friend of mine once suggested. I must be stranger than I thought, because I think the Xsara VTS looks best in a colour that appears to be a blend of baby sick and custard.
Introduced in 1997, the Citroën Xsara VTS came equipped with the same 2.0 litre 167bhp engine that you’d find in the Peugeot 306 GTi-6. Admittedly the chassis and steering couldn’t quite match the brilliance of the Pug and you’d have to make do with a 5-speed ‘box rather the 306’s six gears, but the Xsara VTS remains a rather tempting cut-price alternative to the Peugeot. It’s also worth considering that at 1,190kg, the Xsara is a shade lighter than the Pug, clearly a direct result of spending too much time in the company of a supermodel. Perhaps Claudia should be parachuted-in, Victoria Beckham style, to lend a hand with the development of the lardy modern hot hatches.
It’s strange that the Xsara VTS doesn’t get more attention today. It handes well and loves to be driven hard and yet it remains largely unloved. The passive rear steering also helps deliver some classic French lift off over teer action. And yet, even with the halo effect of a rather successful WRC campaign car, the Xsara VTS remains unloved.
But then this just makes it more interesting to PetrolBlog. A real wolf in sheep’s clothing, that’s practical, good looking and very, very cheap. The true hero has to be the pre-facelift that were on sale before 2001. They just look better without the frog-like headlights.
Sadly some Xsara VTSs have fallen into the wrong hands and you’ll often see an example fitted with hideous Lexus-style rear lights, a ridiculously large rear spoiler and nasty aftermarket alloy wheels. It’s easy to avoid such examples, simply by not hanging around supermarket car parks in the hours of darkness or staying clear of the ‘loop circuits’ you’ll find in most British seaside towns.
Other examples will be on their last legs, although there’s a surprisingly high number of low mileage, one-owner-from-new cars around. You’ll find these parked on the driveways of suburbia, outside an immaculate bungalow and alongside a nicely trimmed front lawn.
Fortunately the relatively high insurance costs have kept them out of reach of those who would end up parking their prized VTS sideway into a wall or roadside hedge.
What to look for
The cambelt needs to be changed at 40k miles, which is much earlier than the official recommendation from Citroën. Don’t be shocked if it snaps if you don’t get it looked at sooner rather than later. Surprisingly, the electrics are pretty good, although the fuel gauge tends to be a little unreliable. Other than that, owners seem to claim that the Xsara VTS is relatively trouble-free with just minor niggles and age related wear and tear. Obviously check for crash damage and insist on a good service record. If in doubt, grab yourself some Tesco Breakdown Cover once you’ve bought one!
Risk of extinction
The Xsara VTS was never the most popular of cars, with only a maximum of 1,400 appearing on Britain’s roads at its peak a decade ago. According to How Many Left?, there are just 610 left on the road today and with prices ridiculously low, you can bet that this number will decrease rapidly over the coming months and years.
So despite the seemingly healthy number at the moment, the Citroën Xsara VTS is in serious risk of extinction.
Caught in the wild
At the time of writing, there are only 14 for sale on PistonHeads, eBay and Car & Classic, with only three of these being the pre-facelift version. You don’t need to pay any more than £1,000 for a very good example, with even £500 bagging you a tidy runaround for a bit of Sunday morning B-road action. Pick of the bunch are:
Citroën Xsara VTS for £995, with just 41,000 miles on the clock and the same owner since 1999. Being finished in silver completes the wolf in sheep’s clothing look and it just happens to be down the road in Cornwall. Very tempting.
Check out the Citroën Xsara VTS for sale on eBay.
Also, with only one-owner from new, this VTS looks an absolute peach. For sure, it may have done 127,000 miles, but you can bet your life it has been meticulously looked after throughout its 13 year life. It also highlights that these cars can deliver good mileages and owners seem keen to keep hold of them.
Check out the ad for the Xsara VTS on eBay.
The PetrolBlog verdict
It would be fair to say that the Citroën is something of a PetrolBlog hero. Largely unloved, understated, great to drive and cheap as chips – the perfect PetrolBlog recipe. It’s hard to think of many hot coupés from the past ten or so years that could better the VTS, at least not at these prices. Yes, the Ford Puma will always be more appealing, but for something a little different, you can’t ignore the Xsara VTS.
Need further convincing? Well a certain Quentin Willson despised it, calling it ‘ditchwater dull’ and ‘dreary’. Surely that’s enough to encourage anyone to give the Xsara VTS a second chance? Just make sure you go for the baby sick and custard colour. You know it makes sense.
Oh and unless you have a body like Claudia Schiffer, it’s probably best to avoid driving around naked.
And on that bombshell, I’m off to look at the one for sale in Truro…