When Citroen launches a car, Europe sits up and takes notice. Models like the 2CV, the CX and the more recent Xantia have now passed into motoring folklore. Individualism has become a Citroen trademark. But not in the case of the Saxo.
For internal reasons, the designers were forced to base it on its sister supermini in the PSA group, Peugeot's 106. Conservatism was the order of the day. The Saxo's predecessor was of course the lovable AX. The car that drove along the Great Wall of China. The car so chic that it even had a bottle-holder designed for your Perrier. It was young in heart, spirit and clientele.
The Saxo, in contrast, has attended finishing school - and it shows. Where the AX was flimsy, it feels solid. Where the AX was utilitarian, the Saxo feels plush. Where the AX was poorly equipped, the Saxo can now offer almost everything you could want.
The car was originally launched in May 1996 in three-door form in 1.1i (LX and SX) and 1.4i (SX and VSX) versions. In October 1996, the five-door models were introduced, as was a 90bhp 1.6-litre automatic. The 1.5-litre normally aspirated diesel variants also made their debuts and former LX models were rebadged 'X'.
In January 1997, the two hot hatch Saxos were introduced - the 90bhp VTR and the 120bhp VTS. A year later in January 1998, the range got its first facelift, with a new grille, clear indicators, revised rear lights ad a key transponder immobiliser to replace the previous keypad system. Flagship 'exclusive' models replaced the old 'VSX' variants. A second facelift followed in October 1999, again with a new grille, bonnet and front wings plus some detail trim and equipment changes. Automatic transmission was now optional only with the 75bhp 1.4-litre engine. In Spring 2000, an entry-level 1.0-litre FIRST model was added to the foot of the range, while the trim designations were revised to go from FIRST, through Forte and Desire to VTR and VTS. Later that year, the 1.0-litre engine where used was replaced with the 1.1-litre unit. Early in 2001, the VTR got an uprated 98bhp engine. The C2 replaced the Saxo in 2003.