COAL: the Blue Citroen Saxo 1.6L VTL (1996)

A Saxo VTL in the “Grand Pavois” metallic paint – mine was very similar (from classifieds)


The Saxo was the adult version of the Citroen AX. Derived from the Peugeot 106 – itself derived from the AX, it had lost some of the extreme characteristics of its ancestor (it was significantly heavier, built from more solid components but with a diminished aerodynamic finesse). If the entry level versions were still equipped with tiny engines (950cc), the top of the line Saxo VTS was graced with a 16 valve 1600 cc engine good for 120 hp, and was competing in the GTI class. The Saxo was available with gasoline as well as diesel engines, and could be had with an automatic gearbox and ABS brakes.

Its styling was pleasantly neutral (some will say excessively conservative – particularly for a Citroen) but it was particularly nice in metallic blue, and the interior was of reasonably good quality and devoid of the quirkyness of the Visa and GSA of the past.

Saxo VTL (from a Citroen catalog)


The one I bought was technically a “used car” – it was part of the demo fleet my local dealer had bought for the launch of the car, and by French law, those cars can’t be sold as new if they’ve been in the demo fleet for more than 3 months. The Saxos of the demo fleet were all painted in the “Grand Pavois” metallic blue, and so was mine. It was a VTL model (2 door, with a 1600cc/90hp fuel injected engine and a 5 speed manual). It was one step below the 16V (it did not have the flared fenders nor the 16 valve engine) but it was already seriously quick – I could routinely drive the 265km between the Brussels office of the company I was working for and my condo in Paris in less than 2 hours – averaging more than 130km/h between Anderlecht and the 12th Arrondissement. Trying to do the same now would probably send me directly to jail.

That, and my rather agressive Parisian driving style,  particularly impressed my American colleagues, one told me once that I would get shot if I drove like that in Atlanta.


The Saxo dashboard – from a Citroen catalog. Mine did not have the keyboard in front of the gear lever but otherwise was very similar


Compared to its predecessors in my personal fleet, the car was better in every category – performance, comfort, fit and finish, reliability. It also felt solidly built, which was a change after the AX. It became my wife’s car after we got married and she sold her Rosa Mexicano (pink) Renault Twingo.

I can’t associate any long distance trip or even any epic week-end with this car – Belgium was probably the farther it went, and it was for business. It spent most of its time in commutes or running errands around Paris and Valence. I could not find any photo of our Saxo either – which says a lot about the dispassionate relationship we had with this car (the pictures of this post were copied from catalogs or from classifieds).


Citroen Saxo in its metallic blue glory. The headlights were redesigned for the 2000 model year.


The VTL was only sold for two years, primarily on the French domestic market, and it seems to have totally disappeared from the second hand market – I could not find any – but  the VTR version and the VTS 8 Valve versions (same engine, but with the flared fenders of the VTS) still are represented today.

We finally sold the Saxo when we moved to the US (we could not bring it with us obviously), with approx. 120,000 km on the odometer. Over the 6 years we had owned it, its only unplanned visit to a dealership was for a water pump failure, probably caused by the precautionary replacement of the timing belt a few days earlier. So much for preventative maintenance.

This Saxo was not a car you loved passionately and regretted selling for the rest of your life, it was just a reliable and dependable appliance, a sort of French Toyota. Sayonara.