Where’s the progress? ZX vs Qashqai

Two vehicles landed on my driveway in December. One of them cost me just £4 (though its total non-raffle price was £120). The other was a loaned car with a brand new value of over £24,000. One is a Citroen ZX diesel, that’s over 20 years old, has covered over 112,000 miles and has a 71bhp non-turbo engine. The other was brand new Nissan Qashqai N-Connecta 1.5dCi with a 108bhp turbocharged engine. One has a kerb weight of 1035kg. The other has a kerb weight of 1365kg. One of them has about six buttons on the entire dashboard. One has more than that on the steering wheel alone. Here’s the thing though. Strip away with glitz and baffling gadgets and does the Qashqai actually deliver a better driving experience than the leggy Citroen? No, I’m not sure it does.

A fine looking motor.

Yes, we’ve pitted a £120 Citroen against a £24,000 Nissan.

This was proved to me when, halfway through the Qashqai test, I jumped into the ZX for a drive on the fast, flowing A roads of mid-Wales – where I’m fortunate enough to live. Both cars have had a fair degree of ingenuity in order to make them handle well. The ZX has passive rear wheel steering, courtesy of compliant bushes, that make it grip surprisingly well, even on skinny Chinese ditchfinders.

The Nissan has Active Trace Control and traction control. The former brakes the inside wheel if it detects you’re getting a bit hoony, to encourage the car to track around the corner rather than understeer into the scenery. Traction control ensures wheelspin is avoided when you gun it.

Here’s the thing though. Both cars have enough grip to corner very well indeed, regardless of the technology employed. To get the Nissan’s tech to cut in, you have to drive in a particularly unsociable manner. Ignore all this, and the truth is that both cars have slightly numb steering, but then both turn in eagerly, and go where you point them. Both cars are pleasant to drive quickly and both feel like your nerve will ask you to slow down before the grip vanishes.

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Better than the ZX, in some ways, but certainly not all.

Yet, the Citroen does all this while keeping the ride composed, something the Nissan cannot match. It’s not bad, but there is an endless jiggly sensation on some surfaces that is entirely absent on the same roads in the ZX. I reckon the 18″ wheels can’t help with this. The Citroen wears 13″ wheels with plenty of sidewall. The tyre is an important part of the suspension – sadly, this seems to have been forgotten by modern manufacturers and buyers. A Tesla Model S on 22″ wheels, with sports suspension, is absolutely terrible.

The Nissan arguably has the advantage in braking, with extra force applied if you do an emergency stop, backed up by anti-lock braking. It’ll even apply the brakes for you if it detects you’re about to hit something. I did get one warning (a parked car I fully intended to go around), but it never applie the brakes when I didn’t want it to. I’ll let it have that, even though I don’t mind non-ABS braking. It has the edge in safety as well, though I was glad not to put this to the test. There are more airbags than the Citroen has head restraints. Visibility is pretty bloody awful though, as is the modern way. A posts are hugely chunky, waistlines have risen up and you really do need the neat parking camera to slot the Qashqai into a space. With the ZX, a huge glazing area makes it a doddle to see out, even if the single windscreen wiper does leave an annoying unswept area in the top corners of the windscreen. You have to (shock horror!) operate that wiper yourself, whereas the Qashqai has automatic control of its pair of wipers. That’s a real boon in Wales, where rain conditions can change on a regular basis – not that they always responded as well as I’d hoped. Sometimes, I had to manually intervene, which is more annoying than just operating the wipers yourself.

In terms of space, the Qashqai does possess a very nice driving position, but both cars lack a rest for the clutch foot. The rear seat in the Nissan is also quite firm. The Citroen has softer seats, even if they aren’t overly supportive. The ZX also has a much lighter interior, thanks to its sunroof – standard equipment in 1994. The Qashqai can be specified with a panoramic roof, but it’ll cost you £595. I reckon it’s worth it.

When it comes to performance, obviously the Qashqai walks it. It’s not actually that brisk, and some may prefer the 136PS option for a bit more overtaking grunt, but it’ll leave the ZX for dead. With no turbocharger, you have to gently wind the Citroen up to a cruising speed, and maintaining pace uphill can be tricky. You have to use that excellent handling to allow you to maintain momentum – it’s rather like a 2CV in that regard. So, your foot tends to be mashed into the carpet in a way it just isn’t in the Nissan.

The Qashqai is also more peaceful (though not by a huge amount) at motorway speed, with its engine turning over at 2000rpm rather than 3100. That makes quite a difference, even if the ZX still manages to seem refined and fairly quiet at these speeds.

But, I can’t escape the fundamental problem that the Qashqai does not do the basic concept of driving any more competently than the Citroen. In fact, it’s worse in some areas. Yes, it is a good car, and you wouldn’t be disappointed if you bought one, but does it (or any of its rivals) really justify the price tag? I’m not sure it does. Where is the progress? The Qashqai feels like a car of the 1990s, but loaded with tech – much of it simply unnecessary.

In terms of economy, it’s not very far ahead of the ZX at all (50-55mpg seems a reasonable expectation from either), though I will concede you get usefully more performance. But does it leave the ZX feeling like a disappointment after I’ve driven a Qashqai? No, emphatically not. I also like the fact that the ZX can be fixed with a few tools and a bit of know how. I know this, because I’ve already had to fix bits – that can be an issue with a 23-year old car that you hopefully won’t get with a brand new one. Therefore, most people will consider the extra £24,000 well worth paying perhaps.

I can’t blame people for wanting that security, but I think I can blame manufacturers for being a bit lazy. Where has the development been in the past 20 years? Sure, engines have more power, but they also have terrifying complexity and have become something the enthusiast daren’t go near, while arguably deliverying little advantage over the cars of two decades ago. What will a Qashqai be like to own in 24 years’ time? Horrendous I imagine.

This is why I’ve drifted away from brand new vehicles. My interest just isn’t there. Except for electric vehicles. These interest me because they DO move the game along. Significantly. There IS exciting new technology at work here. You DO get a driving experience which feels markedly different to anything with a conventional engine. There is huge excitement here, and I feel it every time I jump aboard a vehicle with an electric motor.

I’m afraid that otherwise, I’ll still to my cheap old bangers thank you very much.

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My personal choice? Bangers, not Qash.

New ZX: More issues

Having successfully managed to get home in my new, £4 Citroen ZX, the problems didn’t end there. I headed out to get supplies on Sunday morning, and the tensioner noise I’d noticed when we first saw the car seemed even louder. At least, I hoped it was the tensioner. Preferably the auxiliary belt one.

I decided it made sense to investigate. After all, this is not a good noise.

First step was to remove the alternator belt. That would confirm whether I was dealing with a minor issue or a major one. In other words, if the noise didn’t go away, then it was likely there was a cambelt tensioner or water pump failure. Not much fun. Of course, access was pretty horrible. Citroen are the specialists in awkward access.

I've missed Citroen engine access...

I’ve missed Citroen engine access…

Removing the tension was difficult, as the bottom bolt holding the tensioner was very reluctant to move. In the end, I opted to remove the alternator instead.

Alternator removed, there's the problem pulley.

Alternator removed, is that the problem pulley?

With the belt now removed, I started the engine again.

Yes, that’s pretty conclusive I’d say. I then gave the alternator and power steering pump a spin by hand. Nice and quiet. The tensioner for the auxiliary belt was another matter entirely. It was grumbling even at slow speed. There we go then. Nowhere to buy one on a Sunday afternoon, so an online order was duly placed with GSF Car Parts.

Given I couldn’t drive it anywhere, I spent some time on Monday giving the ZX a wash. It really is a fine looking motor.

A fine looking motor.

A fine looking motor.

I like how it’s unmistakably a Citroen, despite being very conventional, and very Peugeot under the skin. Like the XM, Bertone had a hand in the styling, though Citroen’s own stylists were very hands-on at this time, producing their own proposals that influenced Bertone’s work. Mind you, a different design language was on its way, and the ZX was the last Citroen introduced with a single windscreen wiper. Well, until the Toyota-based C1 and Mitsubishi-based C-Zero, and they at least had the decency to have a pantograph single wiper. This means no unswept area right in front of the driver’s face.

I digress. Today, the new tensioner arrived. I thought fitting it would be easy, so did some page-proofing before heading outside with the new part. Straight away, there was a problem. Unbeknown to me, the bottom mouting bolt had actually sheared off as I removed it on Sunday. Oh dear. A proper solution at this stage would have been to drill out the remains and tap the thread out to something larger. That probably meant removing the bracket for the alternator and power steering pump, which meant disconnecting the latter. Sod that.

So, I came up with a bodge. Applying tension to the tensioner left space above the bottom right angle to get a nut in. I used washers as spacers as the bolt I had was too long to start with. It would have been trying to apply too much tension. My first attempt failed, with a squeal disiplaying the lack of tension quite adequately. I reduced the washer count and had another go. Success!

Fantastic bodgery.

Fantastic bodgery.

Incidentally, I couldn’t get the new belt to fit, so the old one has gone back on for now. Perhaps I’ll replace it at some point. Perhaps I’ll do something better than my bodge. Perhaps I’ll never get around to it, the belt will snap and it’ll take the alternator belt with it…

Until next time!

A tale of four Citroens – new car!

I’ve sold several cars via the raffle system on a favoured car forum – members only deals linked to the Lotto bonus ball. A dreadful Volvo 740, the Honda Prelude and a Mitsubishi Colt were sold by this method, with a great deal of success. I’ve also taken part in a few raffles too, as a hopeful buyer. Without luck. Until now! EDIT – Video now available here.

When a Citroen ZX was offered up for just £2 per ticket, I had to have a go. In fact, I had to have two tickets. Value! £4 spent, with two lucky dips. Now, following the Lotto draws is annoyingly difficult, so I wasn’t really paying attention. Then, the forum thread was updated to reveal that I was the winner. Oh dear. I then had to break the news to my wife…

Surprisingly, Rachel was sufficiently interested that she decided to accompany me on the collection caper. Perhaps it was because I said I’d sell the RAV4 to make room for the new arrival, and she wanted to make sure that I really did…

That itself went very smoothly, when a friend agreed to have it as it seemed ideal for his needs. I don’t doubt that. It’s a great little car, albeit one that isn’t very comfortable for long journeys. Which was unfortunate, as I agreed to deliver it most of the way to him, by leaving it with his dad in Sutton Coldfield.

So, that’s what we did yesterday morning, timing our run to perfection to avoid the hideous traffic chaos of both Newtown and the M6/M5 interchange. Remarkably, we got there in 2.5hrs. That’s an impressive average of 48mph!

Bye bye RAV4. First Citroen of the day next to it.

Bye bye RAV4. First Citroen of the day next to it.

A lift to the train station, in Citroen number 1 of this adventure, was much appreciated. We got a slightly earlier train into Birmingham, so I foolishly decided we’d have a quick nose about the City Centre. This required us to walk very, very fast, and occasionally run back to the station, where we got to the platform with minutes to spare. We hopped aboard a Cross Country Trains Voyager, where the catering chap was making apologies for the lack of service previously – the exact same thing happened the last time I travelled on Cross Country. Thankfully, we had beef sandwiches and drinks with us. Nae bother.

After some time, we reached Reading, and eventually managed to find our way out of the station and down to a subterranean car park hidden beneath. There, we found Citroen number 2.

Olympic Blue! A favourite colour, on this BX14. Citroen number 2.

Olympic Blue! A favourite colour, on this BX14. Citroen number 2.

The owner promptly delivered us to Citroen number 3, which is the one we were driving home in. That was meant to be all the Citroens on this trip, but it turns out we’d meet one more…

Citroen number 3 - my new £4 car.

Citroen number 3 – my new £4 car.

There was a bit of a wait while I sorted out bureaucracy – change of owner, vehicle tax and insurance. I also did a few videos, most of which were rubbish. After a check of the levels, I declared the car probably alright, and we headed straight onto the M4 motorway. I did notice a bit of a droning noise at speed, but thought it was probably due to cheap tyres. In this, I was quite wrong.

Still, we covered over 100 miles without issue, other than slight discomfort due to the seats. I need a bit more lumbar support than these seats provide, though I say that about pretty much every car, so maybe the problem is me. After over three hours of driving with only a brief stop for fuel, I’m probably not being very kind to my back.

Hereford was horrible – traffic everywhere. At least I could be glad that the clutch is fairly light and the gearchange remarkably pleasant. I’m used to PSA diesels being a bit rubbish in this regard. At 112,000 miles, it’s pretty much run in for one of these.

Herefordshire would not get any better. It started raining, and then the car began to feel very wayward. As we drove, pretty briskly, through the enjoyable curves of the A480, I felt the car begin to move in unexpected ways. Its progress began to feel interrupted, and it was feeling as if the rear end was steering. ZXs do indeed have passive rear wheel steering, but this was far stronger than that. As we limped towards Kington, it stepped slightly out of line while I was driving on a straight. Already, my speed had dropped. It now dropped further, especially as the tired wiper blade was making vision rather tricky.

We pulled in to a car park and I quickly assessed the car. Neither front wheel had play detectable in it, and the nearside rear was ok. The offside rear? Bloody hell! No, that was not right at all. Rocking the top of the wheel back and forth, I could feel the hub moving in a way that hubs should not. I could see the hub nut dust cover moving with the wheel, so that ruled out loose wheel bolts (though they were checked anyway). We were tired and hungry, and went in search of food while pondering our next move.

Handily, we had friends a few miles away, and they very quickly offered to put us up for the night. We could limp there, down a largely single-track road, in relative safety. We’d investigate in the morning.

And, this morning, investigate we did.

Investigating the rear wheel bearing on the new ZX, while Citroen number 4 looks on.

Investigating the rear wheel bearing on the new ZX, while Citroen number 4 looks on.

Well, if you’re going to break down, break down near a friend who owns the same car, has a load of tools for them and knows where to get parts!

It didn’t take long to form a diagnosis. On removing the hub nut dust cover, we could see metal fragments. We dashed off in Citroen number 4 to see if we could purchase a solution. My friend Adrian let me drive his ZX, which is a much later, turbo diesel version of my new car. This was an unexpected pleasure, even if it did remind me of the turbo lag my ZX does not have. Mind you, this ZX also didn’t have a horrible droning noise…

We found a garage that was open, were just about in time to request a ZX wheel bearing be added to their van delivery for that morning and agreed that they would fit it to the drum. Back to the car, off with the drum and sweep up the wheel bearing parts…

Yes, that wheel bearing is pretty knackered!

Yes, that wheel bearing is pretty knackered!

We think one or two of those rollers had broken up completely, with the heat generated from the failing bearing them removing any grease as it overheated, leading to it pretty much destroying itself. This causes a droning noise… It also causes the wheel to try locking up, which might explain why it felt like the car was occasionally losing power the night before. It also allowed a huge amount of play at the wheel, hence the curious handling.

With the drum off, we went back to the garage, who had now received the new bearing. It was pushed in, money was handed over (and I bought a new wiper blade) and we returned to the car, refitted the brake drum, put the wheel on and pretty much drove straight to a local gig that we were very keen not to miss. Thankfully, we arrived ten minutes before it was due to start. It was rather enjoyable, and THEN we finally made it home.

Home at last!

Home at last!

I’m very thankful to our friends Adrian and Ellie for helping us out when all seemed rather bleak. That truly is what friends are for. Now the editor has helped me out so selflessly, perhaps I should join the club whose magazine he edits…

A full review on the car itself will be forthcoming. Suffice it to say that I think it’s a good’un. It even managed to liven up an otherwise rather boring collection caper!