Car reviews - Citroen - Xsara - VTS coupe
Edgy, spirited performance
Room for improvement
Rawness, gearbox, heavy steering at town speeds
6 May 2002
By BRUCE NEWTON
THERE'S nothing too delicate or subtle about the Xsara VTS Coupe. It is unabashedly a sports performer of the raw school.
Hard suspension, noisy engine, heavy steering. It's like time warping back to the 1970s.
But the damn thing works and works really well. It is a car that can't help but remind you of the original Honda Integra Type R - focussed and definitely not for everyone, but lots of fun when you want to go for a blast.
However, while it is reminiscent of Honda's hurricane, it is not in the same class - which is in some ways good news. For instance, it is a lot more liveable even if it does have a hard edge.
The VTS Coupe, which is actually a hatchback, is the 2.0-litre big brother to Citroen's 1.6 VTR Coupe and a close relation to the Xsara five-door hatch range, which consists of 1.6-litre auto and manual and 2.0-litre automatic.
But the VTS is alone in getting this hi-po 2.0-litre, which courtesy of some cylinder-head and crankshaft modifications produces 124kW at 6500rpm and 198Nm of torque at 5500rpm. That is virtually identical to Renault's terrific Clio Sport, but the letdown for the VTS is it is almost 200kg heavier.
Hence the claimed acceleration figures are 8.7 seconds to 100km/h and 0-400 metres in 16.3 seconds, roughly a second off the Renault.
Now some people might pooh-pooh the comparison because the Xsara measures up to be a bigger car - but pricing is the same, they are both powered by 2.0-litre engines and are both three-door hatches.
While the Citroen feels less lively than the Clio it still has a real go, spinning up in the revs quickly and dropping off just as quickly. It does get pretty raucous with a strong exhaust note that is not unlikeable, but it retains its composure.
Emphasising its hot intentions, the VTS only comes with a close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox that, thanks to its tighter gearing, actually means you are revving harder at 100km/h in the 2.0-litre than the 1.6 VTR.
The shift is not all that pleasing, however, being pretty stiff and two-stage. You can also miss the shift if trying to push through the gates quickly. The clutch has quite a late take-up too, which takes a while to adapt to.
The all-independent suspension feels firmer in VTS compared to VTR, although the front MacPherson strut rear torsion beam set-up itself is unaltered. The Australian importer says there are no spec changes but European reports say the VTS has uprated anti-roll bars. Driving the two cars back-to-back tends to confirm the latter report and suggests even more has been done.
The firming up translates to sharp, near neutral handling and a high level of grip that is controllable on the throttle. There have been reports of "on the limit" lift-off oversteer, but we did not encounter that during our test drive.
The steering is variable assistance rack and pinion, which feels just too heavy at town speeds and is much more at home on the open road. It is quite tactile, you get a reasonable amount of feedback through the wheel and there is some kickback typical of front-wheel drive, particularly on bumpy corners.
So in the driving it is not hard to pick VTS from VTR, but the job gets harder when it comes to styling and presentation.
The main external differences are alloy wheels - although tyre size stays the same at 195/55 R15 - full colour matching, a discreet rear spoiler and VTS badging.
In terms of features, the VTS adds anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), automatic windscreen wipers with rain sensors, trip computer, leather steering wheel and velour and alcantara upholstery.
That is in addition to the VTR's standard air-conditioning, an audio system with a single-slot CD player, remote central locking and power front windows.
There are also splashes of faux carbon-fibre and polished metal-look plastic, but the presentation of the instrumentation and switchgear is pretty plain without any real tricks, quirks or innovations. At least the nice big sports front seats do a good job of holding you in place.
It is very dark in the cabin and there's too much hard plastic, reducing the impression of quality. And where are the cupholders? That's a reflection of a general dirth of decent storage capacity. CDs, for instance, will struggle to find an appropriate home.
But luggage capacity is acceptable for a car of this size, Citroen claiming 408 litres in total with all the seats up. There's a high entry lip but inside is a flat space without much wheel-arch intrusion. Drop the split/fold front seats and capacity balloons out to an impressive 1190 litres.
Access is easy into the back and quite capable of looking after a couple of adults - or three kids - for at least a little while. Happily, there's headrests and lap-sash safety belts all round, as well as dual frontal and side airbags for both front seat passengers.
Visibility is questionable. Looking forward it is fine but the "shoulder check" by the driver is not all that valuable because of the proximity of the B-pillar and the slope of the C-pillar - the latter also making it hard for little people to see out from the back seat.
But that slope and slippery shape also gives the Coupe much of its attraction. It looks distinctive and, thanks to those large headlights and chevrons front and rear, is unmistakably a Citroen.
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