A hydropneumatic hot hatch might sound like a contradiction in terms but, as Alex Robbins finds out, it’s anything but
Alex Robbins
9 March 2018

Have you heard of the Citroën BX GTI 16v? I’ve no doubt that you, as an esteemed reader of this august publication, have.

Time was, nevertheless, that you could ask that question even of a proud car enthusiast and be met with a blank stare, such was the obscurity to which the BX GTI 16v plunged at the nadir of its exile to the bargain bin.

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That it was even there is a pity. Numbers were culled drastically as the hot BX’s cheapness encouraged many a Peugeot 205 owner to buy one, strip the engine out and scrap the rest of the car. After all, taking a car with a suspension system optimised primarily for comfort and turning it into something with a propensity for being thrown hard at corners can’t result in anything worth saving. Can it?

Climbing aboard today, it’s easy to be disparaging at first. The interior is a sea of brittle plastics, and the door handles feel as though they’ll snap in your hands, while the driving position perches you high up in the car and places the large, heavily canted steering wheel low over your knees. But look deeper: that wheel has a direct effect on the front wheels, shifting the nose around deftly; the suspension, while comfortable, is stiffer than in many hydropneumatic Citroëns; and the engine thrums encouragingly. This bodes well.

Let’s talk about that engine, the part of this car for which so many of them gave their lives. It’s quite a thing. Shared with Peugeot’s 405 Mi16, it kicks out 158bhp, right up at 6500rpm – 500rpm short of the red line. If that sounds reminiscent of a Honda VTEC engine, so it goes in the flesh; in fact, there’s a similar sense of a switch as the car comes on cam around the 4500rpm mark. The engine note gains a flintier edge, singing its way up to the red line, charging ever harder and urging you to wring its neck. The sound and the speed are little short of electrifying.

But how can a car with Citroën’s roly-poly suspension system cope with such a rorty powerplant? Better than you’d think – miles better.

In fact, the suspension’s give and softness make the BX GTI 16v quite unlike any other hot hatch to drive. Sure, there is a bit of lean in corners, and under heavy braking the tail rises despite the front end’s anti-dive properties, but the extra squidge absorbs mid-corner bumps, making the BX GTI 16v resistant to deflection.

Together with the quick, precise steering and free-shifting gearbox, it makes the BX GTI 16v flow from corner to corner, its strong brakes scrubbing off just the right amount of speed each time, and that magnificent engine hauling you out with just a whiff of slip from the inside wheel. The car dances on its toes – light, nimble and precise, but always with the backdrop of that muscular, rev-happy powerplant.

With dynamics like these, it’s a car that deserves far more recognition than it once had. Fortunately, that’s the case today, with BX GTI 16v prices on the rise. Finding one isn’t easy thanks to their paucity; owning one requires frequent fettling, as is often the case with older French cars – though it should be noted that the BX is generally easier to keep in good order than some other Citroëns.

Do all this, though, and the rewards are great: a 1980s hot hatch not yet caught in the current maelstrom of mad prices; what’s more, one of the more unusual, and one that’s as exciting as they come.

Things to look out for: 

Rust can be a problem. Check rear subframe mounts, C-pillars, inner front wings, scuttle trays, front door shuts, windscreen surrounds and boot floors.

The suspension isn’t as complex as its reputation would have you believe, but check for leaky pipes and make sure the car sits right – its height correctors might need adjustment.

Trim is brittle, hard to come by and highly prized, so check you can get hold of any snapped, cracked or missing pieces before taking the plunge.

What we said then: 

“Overall, the BX GTi 16v is very enticing, with enough performance allied to high equipment and comfort levels to represent good value. It may have one or two faults but has tremendous appeal for the family man who likes to drive quickly. As one road tester put it: ‘This is everything a BX should be, and a bit more besides’.”

Electrics can be flaky at this age, so expect flickering warning lights to be a regular part of your life. They’re usually not serious but some might be, so it pays to get them checked out regardless.

Years produced 1987-1993 Price range £1000-£7000 Power 158BHP

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Comments
15

9 March 2018

Lovely..but s you say, getting very hard to find nowadays. This one is on my 80s-90s bucket-list collection.

"has tremendous appeal for the family man who likes to drive quickly"...oof, you'd never get away with that today!

9 March 2018

Always loved the BX, the original interior was far more interesting than the facelift version. I loved the way it sat on it's haunches at rest and then rose up from the ground when you unlocked it. Proper drama. I love old french cars and this would definitely be in my collection... if I had a collection.

9 March 2018

Totally agree with you about the original dash. The original front indicators looked better as well, those facelift ones are far too conventional.

XXXX just went POP.

9 March 2018

It just doesnt look good to my eyes. Pug 405 mi16 please. Or Saphire Cossie

9 March 2018

Thanks for this slot, such it's a welcome relief from reading about some tecno-fest saloon where you now have to wade through a lot of mumbo jumbo about menus and settings and 48 volt systems blah blah I like the simplicity of this era. "But look deeper: that wheel has a direct effect on the front wheels, shifting the nose around deftly"..good compliant suspension is or used to be the key to good handling and ride..not so much the "pile drivers" that I read about these days...bit of an "old fogey" comment I know.   

GBM

9 March 2018
Had a BX GTi Auto in the late 80's and adored it. The combination of easy performance and languid ride was compelling. Immersive in a way you just don't find today. And to think the market couldn't hack the 'complex' suspension system (Which was totally reliable). A bit ironic given what manufacturers are putting in their cars today!

9 March 2018

I had a new 8v BX GTi in 1989 and did 100,000 trouble free miles - apart from one broken clutch cable which broke 250 yards from the specialist who serviced it for me. Fantastic cars (16v more so). They are brittle because they were designed that way. We surely all know by now the beenfits of lightness when it comes to performance and handling and economy and comfort, adn steering response, etc. 

And jamesf1 - if your don't like the looks, just think of it as a 4-door Countach - same designer! Marcello Gandini.

I still look for another one from time to time...

9 March 2018

If you are buying any BX these days, buy  a full set of new gas sheres, unless they have been recently changed (don't forget the accumalator) and, as well as checking all the hydraulic pipes, check the rear suspension arm bearings as wear affects both ride and geometry.

Citroëniste.

9 March 2018

I always admired these, but preferred the 405. The trim might be a little fragile, but mechanically they go on and on. I have an MI16 with over 160,000 miles on it, and it just keep on going (although i now add very few extra each year). The BX seemed to sell much better as an 8 valve version, and really isnt much slower. 

Autocar, keep the Past Master thing going please. Next week can we have the Xantia Activa as a 'Past Master'? Not a lot of them left either.

9 March 2018

I had a BX 19 GTI auto. It was comfortable, roomy and fast in the real world. The combination of suspension that absorbed bumps without deflecting the car off line, steering with feedback (remember that?) and fantastic brakes was an alround brilliant combination on twisty B roads. It had character that brought a grin to my face.

It went on forever too. The plastics were flimsy to feel, but didn't break. The clang when the doors shut and the wobbly plastic tailgate were reminders that it was light. Also there was a need to get out contact cleaner for electrical terminals occasionally to keep everything going, but nothing to to cause it to ever fail start or finish a journey, or expensive to replace.

In the end it was killed by a predatory Nissan. I still miss that car.

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