Review – La boîte de merde

Back in December, my Audi was terribly un-German, and broke down as near as damned it to Christmas Eve. Luckily my best mate kept me out of the creak by lending me his runaround he’d bought while he does up his CRX, unfortunately, it’s a Citröen Saxo VTR, in gold. Lurvely.

It’s never going to get off to good start in this reviewers hands, as I dislike French cars, and particularly some of the smaller French cars. I’d already driven this a few weeks earlier just to run an errand in it, and even with just 100bhp it was torque steering and tramlining, it was so bad I even double checked the back to make sure I hadn’t really just driven a Vectra.

It’s also got some tough competition to live up to, for many years I ran a mk2 Golf GTi 8v, still (at least in my book) a decent benchmark for the small hot hatch, so how does it compare? Well in VTR spec it’s more luke warm than hot, with a fairly mild 0-60 of 9.4 secs, it feels ok nipping about town, but as soon as you get it in to the country it quickly starts to feel rather sedate, the 8v lacks punch or low down torque to really get it going, nor does it really give the chassis too much trouble, besides the aforementioned torque steer in first. It has a slightly soft ride, but handles reasonably enough through the twisty stuff, but that softness means it isn’t as sharp and planted as some of the better hot hatches. Steering is power assisted and a bit on the light side for my liking, but it keeps the driver pretty well posted about what is happening up front.

Dual carriageways were another matter though, once at the average cruising speed, the back end never felt as planted as it should, whilst most cars you feel you could happily push on faster, the Saxo was saying really shouldn’t.*

The interior feels classic Citröen, cheap! Whilst with central locking and electric windows it ticks the basic equipment standards, it all felt rather flimsy, the handbrake felt like if anyone grabbed it in any ernest, it would pull right off in their hands. The seat back helps to increase the sense of speed by rocking forward as you brake & back as you accelerate. Driving position is classic Italian, offset to the left and with the pedals really close together. I’ve no idea how the youth of today drive these in size 12s, as even in my size 8s I was heeling & toeing without even trying. Most of the layout is easy to find (not that there’s much to choose from), but there are some oddballs, the headlight adjustment is clearly an afterthought hidden away near your right knee for eg.

I know why these sold well, launched at a time when hot hatches were in the doldrums so no serious competition, the Golf had become fat, the Fiesta looked horrid, and then in a masterstroke of genius, just as insurance were going through the roof, Citröen gave them away on finance deals and chucked in a years free insurance to anyone over 18. They sold like the proverbial gâteau chaud. It’s still only a group 7 now, so still a teenagers favourite, despite all the ribbing me & the owner have given this car in front of him, it’s already sold to a teenage lad as soon as the owners fixed up his CRX.

Looking at Auto Trader at cheap cars, you can see why they still appeal, for all the “they’re built of cheese” & “it’s a chavmobile” go find a sub 10second car, that you can run on peanuts, that your peers will respect (even if no-one else does), and that the insurance company won’t take your arm, leg & a kidney to insure…

*It should be noted this review is based on a car with over 100,000 miles on the clock, two tyres of one brand on the right, and two completely different brands on the left, and any other quirks of doing a review on a 10yr old plus car…

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