Group test – Audi 100L5S, Citroen CX Athena, Peugeot 505Ti. Quality not quantity. Soaring fuel prices have hit the big car market but we look at three newcomers offering large car luxury with two-litre economy. If there is one sector of the market that is going to increase in importance as petrol increases in price, it will be the two litre class. For — like it or not — more and going to receive orders from above indicating that as running costs have got to come down, so that thirsty three litre is going to have to go.
And of course fuel bills hit the family man as hard, if not harder than his neighbour with a company cars, so although he needs a car large enough to carry all the offspring, it has to have a modest thirst. Again the two litre fits the bill, for the modern car of this capacity can — and does — combine speed, comfort and good accommodation with modest drinking habits.
Last year saw the announcement of perhaps the most important newcomer to this class for some while — the Peugeot 505 — and it is this car that forms the centre of this group test. All three contenders are around the two litre mark and cost around £6700. And more importantly perhaps, they were all designed as underpowered versions of normally bigger engined cars.
Taking the newest first, we have chosen the Peugeot 505 Ti to represent the French company’s latest offering. The 505 range is made up six models with three different engines. There are two diesels (the GRD and SRD), two carburettor 1971 cc models (the GR and SR) and a pair of fuel injected versions using the Peugeot/Renault cooperative Douvrin engine of 1995 cc, designated Ti and STi.
The Ti tested here is, mechanically, virtually identical to the STi, the only difference being the Ti’s lack of a five speed gearbox, but it is in equipment levels that the STi justifies its bigger price tag: items like electric windows, tinted glass and an electrically operated sunroof are missing from the humbler Ti.
Up against the Peugeot comes another car from the same company, the Citroen CX Athena, Citroen being part of the giant PSA group that also includes Talbot on its letter heading. But although the two cars are made by the same firm arid both even use the same engine — albeit without fuel injection in the CX — they are as different as chalk and cheese. The conventional, conservative
Peugeot has a three-box shape and a front engine driving the rear wheels, while the Citroen’s traditional appetite for eccentricity continues with the Athena. The ingredients include a slippery shape and front wheel drive.
Last but not least comes a German car combining unusual technical ideas with conventional looks and style. The Audi 100 L5S clothes its unusual five cylinder engine in a straightforward three-box shape. Drive is to the front wheels and in this version of the 100, the engine has a single twin- choke carburettor as opposed to the fuel injected 5E models. In the showroom, prices favour the CX at £6578 with the Audi at £6690 and the Peugeot topping the scales — just — £6699.
With three cars developing similar power outputs and with similar weights to carry around, it is hardly surprising that times against the clock are close. The car with the highest power output and lightest weight — and the one, therefore, with the best power to weight ratio — is the Audi. Thatfive cylinder engine develops a respectable 115 bhp and the car weighs in at 23 cwt, which compares with the Peugeot’s 110 bhp and 23.7 cwt and the CX which develops 106 bhp and tipping the scales at 24.2 cwt.
However, the facts just go to prove that power to weight ratios are only part of the story for we were able to record shorter times for the Peugeot than for the Audi. The reason is down to the gearing, for the 505 has remarkably ‘tall’ gearing. By the time the Audi is doing 60 mph, some 11.7 seconds after a standing start, the car is firmly in third gear. The 505 on the other hand takes just 10.5 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standing start and does it in two ratios — no time consuming extra gear changes are needed here!
It came as no surprise that the least powerful of the trio, the Citroen, should be left slightly behind against the clock taking 12.1 seconds to reach 60 mph, but it should be borne in-mind that the technically advanced CX comes into its own at higher speeds, a tribute to that beautifully slippery shape. It takes exactly the same time to cover the standing 400 metres, 1 8.4 seconds, as the Audi and has a virtually identical top speed as the German car.
Clutch slipping starts and gear changes right at the red line are unfair on any car, but particularly so on the Citroen, the hydro- pneumatic suspension lurching up and down as the gear changes are made. But of far more importance in everyday driving are the figures that show how quickly the car will accelerate in top gear. And here the CX scores. It’s the only one of the trio to have an overdrive five speed gearbox as standard,though a quick glance at the figures would show that the Audi with only four speeds also has what is in effect an overdrive
It is the Citroen that provides the best all-round cruising ability with a five speed ‘box to help economy and keep down noise, but with a fourth ratio that is ideal for overtaking. The 505 lacks the fifth ratio of the 505 STi and it shows in use — motorway cruising could do with that extra ratio for a more relaxed drive. But no matter how many ratios are avail-able, the oddly shaped gear lever is a positive hindrance to gear changing.
The Audi approach is unusual, for as the top gear times show, that fourth ratio is designed more with economy than overtaking power in mind. It makes for a comfortable motorway car but overtaking has to be carefully planned, and momentum must not be lost.
Handling and ride
As is usual with modern cars all three have a understeering attitudes in-built, particularly in the case of front wheel drive cars. The CX conforms to the typical French pattern with tyre squealing understeer and masses of body roll, the car seeming to lurch and wallow around if asked to travel through a series of bends at all quickly. This feeling is not helped by the very sensitive power steering that needs just two and half turns from lock to lock and which has a strong self centring action … let go of the wheel and the steering will abruptly set off straight ahead with accompanying lurches. But despite all that, once mastered it is easy to feel quite at home in the car … indeed one of our readers taking part in a survey centred on the long term progress of a staff CX Safari reported in this issue said: “It takes 2-3000 miles to get used to the car, but once accustomed to it, there is nothing like it.” Life with an Audi is an altogether more deliberate affair. It handles well, but in the same way the innovative five cylinder engine imparts a curious ‘lazy’ feel to the driver, so does the steering. In the cheaper version it is unassisted and with nearly five turns from lock to lock is a mite ponderous. However, a typically German taut feeling allows the press-on driver to enjoy the handling of the car. But the real delight of this trio is the Peugeot. French it may be, but soft and roly-poly the 505 is not. It has rear wheel drive, itself unusual for a French car, and cornering on the limit is a joy. The steering — all imported 505s have power assistance as standard — is one of the best examples of its kind, giving plenty of feel at all times.
The car’s behaviour is near neutral under normal conditions, reverting to slight oversteer when pushed hard. This combination is fine in the dry but in the vyet care is needed — we were surprised just how willing the rear end is to step out of line, though it must be added that correction is swift and
Ride comfort falls into two camps, but there is one overall winner. Peugeot have long been makers of fine riding cars and the 505 is no exception. Using tried and trusted parts from 504 and 604 models, the 505 ought to be good … and it is. The ride is taut, firm and yet supple giving just the right compromise between comfort and driveability without ever becoming wallowy or unmanageable. The car is an object lesson in how it should be done. With the Citroen, on the other hand, comfort has beenallowed to take the upper hand, and although no-one could ever accuse a CX of being uncomfortable, the magic carpet feeling is one you will either love or loathe. It is ironical that all the hydropneumatic wizardry of the CX is matched and outclassed by simple Old steel springs and the trailing arms of the Peugeot.
Falling somewhere between the two is the Audi. It is by no means an uncomfortable car but distinctly firm after the CX — no bad thing for those who suffer from car sickness, perhaps.
Seating, too, displays the origins of the cars. The CX has soft — too soft — seats, while the Audi’s are firm to the point of being hard. The Peugeot’s are half and half, not too firm, not too soft and the best of the bunch. The 505’s front seats are well shaped giving support where needed and allow an excellent driving position. A good stance behind the wheel can be found in the Audi, too, and the general opinion was that the Audi’s seats were ideal for long runs. Perhaps because the average German bottom is larger than the average French one, the Audi’s seats are a trifle flat and wide. Still, they support well enough.
As well as being over-soft, the CX seats do not give a good driving position. Like the Audi they have a seat height adjuster but no matter how much adjusting is performed the taller driver will either rub his thighs under the steering wheel or hit his head on the roof.
The man who needs enough room to hold the family but will be worried about the cost of running a limousine need look no further. All will sit five, though the back of the CX is a little tight on shoulder room, and head and leg room front and rear is generous in all, with the possible exception of the Citroen where precious inches are lost in rear headroom to the stylists pen. All have long wheelbases around the nine feet mark, with the Citroen having a massive 112 inches between front and rear wheels, and all especially the Audi have light and airy no good being able to carry the family without their luggage, and once again all three are more than able to cope with most of the family’s needs. According to manufacturers figures, it is the Audi that wins the space as our tape measure shows there is precious little to choose between the German car and the Peugeot. Their shadow each other all the way along the line. Citroen boot is more unusually shaped, but worse for that. It is rectangular with no obstructions and ideal for all loads. Inside there is plenty of oddment space, the CX having large door pockets as well as a large glove box. Audi designers, too, have been generous with inside oddment space, the glovebox being augmented with two large parcel shelves running the length of the dashboard, as well as a pair of rather shallow door pockets. The 505 is also well catered for with the best sized glovebox of the bunch — though rather flimsy — as well as door pockets.
Living with the cars
Sadly one area where all three fall down badly is in heating and ventilation — strange considering the advances that have been made in these areas over the past few years. The Audi driver is faced with a complete bank of air outlets as he sits behind the wheel — the only trouble is it is virtually impossible to get fresh air to the face at the same time as keeping the lower part of the body warm. We found the Audi quite stuffy in this respect. Greater things were hoped for from the Peugeot, after all the 305 heating and ventilation is quite superb. We were disappointed. The controls are difficult to regulate and draughts rather than fresh air plague the interior.
We were not expecting greatness from the CX, we know that of old. Lack of ventilation is its greatest weakness: particularly noticeable in the summer is the heat from the engine that penetrates the cabin. However, the Citroen is by far the most pleasant to live with in terms of equipment levels. The Athena features five speeds, electric front windows tinted glass and an electrically controlled door mirror in the standard package.
It also has a low loading sill so heavy items can be slid into the boot and do not have to be lifted over a lip. However, there are aspects of the car that do not work. The futuristic instruments may look good but are difficult to read, though the minor controls are excellent. They all work from the instrument binnacle and really are just a finger’s stretch away. The spare wheel is mounted beneath the bonnet out of the way of luggage and actually changing a wheel is helped by the hydro-pneumatic suspension.
Reasonable equipment levels can be found in the 505, though it does lack the obvious showroom glitter of the STi version. The Ti does feature internal adjustable headlights and rear view door mirror, as well as those excellent stalk controls styled with just a little help from BMW — Peugeot’s new stylist came from the German company and at last he has brought some sense to the controls. However, a bank of switches on the centre console — largely blanks on the 505Ti — are awkward to see and reach.
Unlike the Citroen, the Peugeot has a fairly high loading lip to be overcome before items can be placed in the boot. Fortunately the spare is carried in a cradle beneath the boot so loads do not have to be moved in case of a puncture. The, Audi has a similarly high loading lip and the added disadvantage of a spare mounted on the boot floor, so everything does have to be disturbed in an emergency.
In the equipment stakes the I Audi really does fall at the bottom of the trio, lacking even the power steering of its competitors. A headlamp washer system is standard, however, along with an interior adjustable door mirror and tinted glass. The Audi uses no less j than four stalks for the minor controls which although it sounds excessive, in fact works well. However, we question the recent deletion of a temperature gauge in favour of an econometer — a vacuum gauge by any other name. Although we found ourselves taking note of the econometer’s needle and found good mpg returns as a result, we would still like a temperature gauge rather than relying on a warning light.
Commuting in all three will provide no- headaches with the proviso that the Citroen needs to be fully warmed up before it will run smoothly. The other pair are quite happy to work from the word go, no matter what the weather. Noisiest of the group is the Peugeot. The engine feels and sounds positively harsh when pushed hard.
The impressive thing about all three of these cars is their apparent disdain for the petrol pumps. During our time at the wheel the Audi refused to drop below 25 mpg and the Peugeot below 22 mpg. Only the Citroen managed to drop below 20 mpg at that was due to a lengthy session at the test track — it did return the highest figures of over 31 mpg on a long and gentle motorway trip. The Audi does have the slight advantage of only needing two star fuel.
Insurance costs are all pretty similar, and are more than com-parable two litre British cars would be. The same story goes for spare parts which generally speaking are higher than for home grown cars. Warranties, however, are betterthan usual. The Peugeot may only have an ordinary 12 month/unlimited mileage cover, but the Audi features six year antirust cover and Citroen guarantee their suspension system for two years or 65,000 miles.
All three also follow the modern fashion in having extended, 10,000 mile intervals between major services.
It is worth remembering that in this class of car the four cylinder engine is running up against engines of five and six cylinders and if there is anything that dulls the pleasure of the 505, it is the unrefined and obtrusive nature of the Douvrin engine. It is ironical that the same engine powers both the CX Athena and Renault 20TS and in these cases sound deadening and different installations combine to mask the problem — it is something that Peugeot could and should look at if the 505 is to be regarded as a serious executive
That aside there is really very little we can find to say against the car. It is quick, reasonably economical and extremely comfortable. It also handles well and gets on with the job in hand with the minimum of fuss and bother. To our eyes it is the leader — but not the clear leader — of this trio. Following closely behind is the Audi, a car which follows the same idea as the Peugeot but with the added technical interest of five cylinders under the bonnet. It makes the car almost as smooth as a six and certainly as economical as a four judging by our figures.
What it does lack is that indefinable and totally subjective thing called character. It is also not quite as comfortable as the 505 although is marginally the roomier of the two.
Character is something the oddball CX has in abundance. Much has been written about the car and in truth it is one of those cars drivers either like or loathe, there are no half measures with the car. Our opinions are that in many ways it is too clever by half the 505 has as good a ride without all the complexities of the Citroen system. Still it remains a car with a heart and is immensely satisfying to drive well for it rewards smoothness. Drive a CX badly and every little mistake is magnified. If it’s straightforward sensible motoring you need, go for the Peugeot or Audi. For something quite different try a CX.