Citroën ZX 16v: The Hot Hatch The 90s Forgot

Major Waffle 90s cars Citroën
There are just four examples of the Citroën ZX 16v taxed in the UK. Is the hottest version of the Citroën ZX hatchback endanger of extinction?

The Citroën ZX 16v is on the verge of extinction. While you weren't watching, numbers have slipped to a critical level. Right now, there are just four examples of the Citroën ZX 16v on the road.

That isn't enough. Granted, there are another 46 listed as SORN (including PetrolBlog's example), but there's no guarantee that they are in roadworthy condition. If the Citroën ZX 16v was an endangered animal, people like Amanda Holden and Michael Sheen would be appearing on TV asking for our help.

The 16v is the forgotten Citroën ZX. Mention the Volcane, and enthusiasts erupt with nostalgia and desire. A couple of weeks ago, the deputy editor of Practical Classics posted a picture of a Citroën ZX Volcane on Twitter. It looked fantastique.

Friend of the show Russell Wallis responded by saying it's “definitely my favourite flavour of ZX.” This seems to be a view echoed by many enthusiasts.

Volcane: The Great Pretender?

Citroen ZX Volcane 2.0i

Giles Chapman has written a book called Cars We Loved in The 1990s. I'll be writing a review in due course – and Club PetrolBlog members will get a chance to win a copy. When it comes to cars, Chapman has forgotten more than I'll ever know, but even he appears to have forgotten the Citroën ZX 16v.

“The three-door Volcane was the Citroën ZX in its sportiest guise – perfect to impress a colleague,” he said.

In fact, the 16v was the Citroën ZX in its sportiest guise. Three doors, 15-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured wheel-arch extensions, plus front and rear spoilers combine to create a look that's more 1980s than 1990s. In profile, the styling is a match for any hot hatch. The little kinks in the B-pillar give me the fizz.

The 150hp 2.0-litre 16v engine is a peach. That's 27hp more than the 8v version of the same engine found in the Volcane. Top speed is 137mph, while the zero to 60mph sprint is polished off in eight to nine seconds, depending on the source. In reality, it feels quicker than that.

CAR magazine criticised the ZX 16v for being “curiously uninvolving” and lacking the encouragement to explore the “undeniably high limits”.

I'm biased, but I've never found the ZX 16v to be ‘uninvolving’. It's a touch more focused than the Citroën Xsara VTS and far more involving than my old Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The 2.0-litre 16v engine is a gem that's rightly lauded in the Peugeot 405 Mi16 and 306 GTI-6.

ZX 16v: Mercury Rev

Citroen ZX 16v red

I'll save the review of my Citroën ZX 16v for when it's back on the road. For now, the question must be why has it been all but forgotten?

The name didn't help. The decision to give it an insurance-friendly badge was hardly surprising, but the Volcane sounded more exciting. Maybe Peugeot was keen to let the 306 GTi-6 hug the French hot hatch limelight.

Citroën took a lowkey approach to the marketing of the ZX 16v. In the 1994 brochure that came with my car, there's little to suggest that it's the performance flagship of the range. The car chosen for the front cover? The Volcane.

It also faced stiff competition. The ZX 16v was way down the pecking order headed by the likes of Golf GTI, 306 GTi-6 and Escort XR3i. In common with the rest of the ZX range, the 16v was and is criminally underrated and under-appreciated. It won't be long before the Citroën ZX follows the Citroën BX to the brink of oblivion.

I'm open minded enough to appreciate that the Citroën ZX 16v wasn't the best hot hatch of the 1990s. I'm also willing to accept that my love of all things French leaves me open to accusations of blinkered bias.

However, it's PetrolBlog's duty to ensure that cars like the ZX 16v remain on the radar. Maybe it's time to fast-track my 16-valver's return to the road. It's definitely my favourite flavour of the Citroën ZX.

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