The Citroen BX has long been a very popular car. Having been introduced in 1982 as a solid replacement for the Citroen GS, the Citroen BX lasted a strong 12 years until it was discontinued in 1994.
The Citroen BX came in rear-wheel drive five-door hatchback and sedan variants. Although conceived and introduced as a large family car with a relatively modest 1.4L engine, a number of high-powered variants – such as the GT and GTi – were also introduced in the mid-1980s. They were joined by the highly popular turbo diesel and four-wheel drive versions by 1989.
In June 1986, a journalist for Car Australia magazine sung the praises of the BX GT19, saying that the car was “welcome in Australia [having earned] itself a place on our list of most desirable road cars”.
The BX's desirability was no doubt enhanced by the fact that it had attractive standard features and optional pieces of kit that went beyond those of its contemporaries, which contributed to the longevity of the BX range.
When introduced in 1982, the BX dispensed with the air-cooled ‘flat-four’ GS engine, giving buyers the choice of 1.4L, 1.6L, and 1.9L petrol engines, all of which were paired with manual gearboxes. In 1983, diesel versions were introduced in 4-speed automatic and 5-speed versions.
The 1.4L engine had very little power at 46kW and a torque of 109Nm, whereas the 1.6L version had a little more under the bonnet at 66kW and a torque of 131Nm at 3500rpm. These cars were economical; the 1360cc version, released in 1984, could use 6.19L/100km at 120km/h.
The BX19GT had much more impressive specifications, with deceptively modest 1.6L and 1.9L engines featuring all-alloy construction, a single belt-driven overhead camshaft, and Weber carburettors to produce 66kW and 75kW respectively. Indeed, the 1.6L version had a top speed of 194km/h – impressive for an engine of its size.
These statistics owe much to the weight of the cars. The heaviest of the GT models (1.9L) weighed in at a mere 1000kg, aided in this respect by fibreglass hatch and bumpers (plastic on lower-end models). These GT versions were lauded by critics for the smoothness of ride and for the way they were able to cruise even at higher speeds.
This smoothness was clearly enhanced by the forward-thinking hydro-pneumatic self-levelling Macpherson Strut suspension, which allowed the vehicles to maintain a constant ride height. The Macpherson suspension could be found on every BX model ever produced and set the range apart from its rivals.
Another reason for the smoothness of the BX is the presence of the four-wheel disc brakes, which prevented lockup. These are particularly useful at higher speeds, although the brake pedals on later models had a quirky switch-like response, which could to lead to over-braking if the driver was not used to this particular characteristic.
Steering on the lower-end models sometimes produced the understeer so common on rear-wheel drive cars, but it was still not as much as that of the Holden Camira, for example. Steering was obviously improved on the four-wheel drive model produced in the late 1980s.
In 1987, a 16-valve version of the BX GT was launched; it was ground-breaking in the sense that it was the first car to be produced in France with a 16-valve engine. It hda a DOHC twin-exhaust port cylinder head and anti-lock brakes based on those found in the Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Group B rally car. Producing power of 120kW and torque of 177Nm and reaching 100km/h in 7.4 seconds, this version was an impressively fast car for its time.
Standard on every BX was the Pluie Route Nuit dashboard that sought to give the driver immediate access to all of the car’s controls by placing them logically around the steering wheel, allowing the driver to keep his hands on the wheel at all times.
Standard kit on earlier models and lower-end models, barring the ahead-of-its-time suspension, were minimal, with an AM radio being all that one could hope for.
That being said, easy maintenance was always an attractive feature on the BX. The gearbox could be removed without affecting the engine, and the bumpers could be quickly unhinged and reattached.
On the higher-end GT models, electric windows and air-conditioning came as standard. Optional extras on the early 1990s models were electric windows and mirrors, as well as remote-controlled central locking, air-conditioning, power sunroof, and leather upholstery, which could be installed on request.
Competition included the Holden Camira as well as the Ford Sierra and Peugeot 305. While the Ford Sierra proved very popular, with its Cosworth variant certainly outclassing the BX in terms of acceleration and power, the BX was less expensive and quirkier. It also had a charmingly idiosyncratic style that was very in line with the nature of the Citroen brand.
The Peugeot 305 was very similar in many respects to the Citroen, but lacked the fuel economy and much of the charm of its Citroen counterpart. The same was true for the Holden Camira, which also compared unfavourably in terms of ease of maintenance and safety features.