Bangerwatch: Citroën Xsara VTS

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.

Citroën Xsara 2.0i VTS Coupé on PetrolBlog

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.

Habitat

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.

Rear of Citroën Xsara 2.0i VTS Coupé

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.

Citroën Xsara 2.0i VTS Coupé in the city

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:

Silver Citroën Xsara VTS for saleCitroën 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.

Red Citroën Xsara VTS for saleAlso, 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…

More information

Have a look at the Citroën Xsara Owners Club and the French Car Forum for more information.

 

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

18 comments

  1. August 21, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    “nicely trimmed front lawn”

    I bet Claudia Schiffer has one of those. ZING!

    Reply
    • August 21, 2012
      Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

      Oh, and good bangernomics choice, but not sure I could bring myself to spend money on one. I’ll leave this one for someone else!

      Reply
    • August 21, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ba’dum tish. 😉

      Reply
  2. August 21, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    I remember this being something of a sleeper, overshadowed by the Saxo and the Gti6 as you say and being ‘only’ 95% as good which should be more than enough for 99% of us. I think Citroen probably bought a few million dodgy fuel gauges in the 90s. Great car to have for banger money and I would imagine pretty easy to look after.

    For the sake of health and safety I think it should be pointed out that even if you do have a body like Claudia’s (and it’s not locked in the boot) avoid plastic seats when driving naked. Especially in summer.

    Reply
    • August 21, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      It sounds like you’re speaking from experience there, Simon…

      Reply
      • August 21, 2012
        Simon Hingston

        Me. Shorts. Land Rover. OOOOW. No not me.

        Reply
  3. August 21, 2012
    jorgeperedo

    Citroën is one of those auto brands that many people on my country would like it to be available, but so far it has been no more than a dream…

    Reply
  4. August 22, 2012
    Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

    I actually think the rally version was one of the best looking rally cars of recent years. It was squat and purposeful. Shame the road going version was far less aesthetically entertaining. Superb underdog to the the ‘cult hero status’ 306 GTI-6 though.

    Centreless wheels can be a bit of a pain to balance if I remember correctly.

    Reply
    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Agreed. I also think the fact that it’s less aesthetically pleasing makes it all the more appealing! 😉

      Reply
      • August 22, 2012
        Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

        True. Stealthy! So long as it’s not in ‘I haven’t consumed enough water today’ yellow.

        Reply
        • August 22, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          Ha! It’s a definite Marmite colour. You’re clearly in the ‘hate’ category!

          Reply
  5. August 27, 2012
    Ton D. (@Tonsty)

    Excellent timing Gav! I’m still in the process of replacing the daily driver, and despite your great suggestions earlier on, I’m now more leaning towards something cheap (so as to be able to spend more money on the Porsche and other hobbies…). Tomorrow I’ll try to test drive two Renault Clio 2.0 Sport (Phase 1). But.. The Xsara in Hideous Yellow is less than half the price and hence should be considered! If I buy one, I’ll buy it in baby sick and custard, cause it’s hideous regardless of colour anyway!

    http://link.marktplaats.nl/582029209 ?

    Reply
    • August 29, 2012
      David Milloy

      Ton, I reckon you’ll find that the Xsara’s looks become more appealing once you own one. The VTS is the one to have performance wise but can be a mite prone to lift off oversteer. The earlier (two litre, 180bhp) versions of the C4 VTS are worth considering, too.

      Reply
  6. February 8, 2013
    Jonas

    Salute You Gavin, most appreciating of You giving this car attention as well has been one of the greatest rally versions ever. During the years 1982 to present this is definately my best car, both financially and HAPPY TIMES … got the first version VTS and would like another one, maybe to add turbo and and make it even more low to the ground to fly high with The Speed La Désse ;- (Désse=DS=The French Godess, models ID/DS)

    Reply
    • February 8, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Hello Jonas. Rather envious of your early VTS. Still think about getting one myself.

      Any pics online – would like to see one on Swedish plates!

      Reply
  7. November 8, 2014
    harry

    I had (tears) a 1998 1800cc import (roi) loved that car, loved the colour, bit understeery, but for the money I had (have) pure class. ECU gave up Jan 2014, 3months after a new clutch (125000 miles), £125 for scrap,more tears,thanks for the review.

    Reply
    • November 12, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      £125 for scrap? Sad times 🙁

      Still on the hunt for a pre-facelift VTS. Few and far between these days.

      Reply
  8. August 6, 2016
    Aiman

    The car mags I read back in the day – CAR, Evo – always seemed to rate the 306 GTi-6 higher than the Xsara VTS. This was often due to some arcane reason such as slightly more “steering feel” or the Pug being “more fluid” and less snappy at the limit.

    Reply

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