It is considered by some enthusiasts as the last "real Citroën" before Peugeot took control of the company in 1976. "Real Citroën" refers to the trademark avant garde technical and design innovation, prized by marque loyalists.
Available models were a four-door fastback, a station wagon (break, or estate car), and a long-wheelbase model built on the break chassis. The CX employed Citroën's unique hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension system.
The CX was initially a huge success in Europe, more than 132,000 being produced in 1978. It found customers beyond the loyal Citroën DS customer base and brought the technology of the advanced, but somewhat impractical, Citroën SM to the masses. Unlike its principal competitors, the CX did not have worldwide distribution—the cost of development and improvements had to be met from a geographically small sales base.
The CX's flowing lines and sharp Kamm tail were designed by auto stylist Robert Opron, drawing upon its precursor DS. Mechanically, the car was one of the most modern of its time, combining Citroën's unique hydro-pneumatic integral self-leveling suspension, speed-adjustable DIRAVI power steering (first introduced on the Citroën SM), and a unique interior design that did away with steering column stalks, allowing the driver to reach all controls with his or her hands on the steering wheel. The suspension was attached to sub frames that were fitted to the body through flexible mountings, to improve even more the ride quality and to reduce road noise—fluids are marvellous at transmitting noise and all hydropneumatically sprung cars suffer from road noise. The British magazine Car described the sensation of driving a CX as hovering over road irregularities, much like a ship traversing above the ocean floor. This suspension was used under license by Rolls-Royce on the Silver Shadow and its derivatives, and the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9.
The CX was a transverse engine design, in contrast to the longitudinal mid-engine layout of the Traction Avant and DS. This saved space; the CX was 8 in (20 cm) shorter than the DS. The CX fastback had insufficient rear legroom to function as a chauffeur driven limousine (a common use for the spacious DS model), so in 1976, Citroën introduced a 10 in (25 cm) longer version, the "Prestige" variant, which used the wheelbase of the longer Safari/Familiale estate. The Prestige offered more rear legroom than any other standard-sized sedan in the world. In 1977, it also gained a raised roofline to improve comfort further. Contemporary reviews of the Prestige were favourable. In 1976 the UK´s Driver and Motorist praised its comfort and interior fitments.
Launch/1974 bankruptcy of Citroën
At launch in 1974, the CX was rushed to market, but with some teething troubles. Some very early models do not have power steering and are difficult to drive.
Originally, the CX was developed as a rotary-engined car—with several consequences. The small Comotor three-rotor rotary engine was not economical and the entire rotary project was scrapped the year the CX was introduced. Also, Citroën went bankrupt in 1974, because it had too many development projects going at the same time; bankruptcy distracted the company from the CX's launch. Finally, the resulting engine bay was too small for anything but a modest four-cylinder engine.
Contemporary reports also indicated that the cost of setting up a new production facility for the CX, on the northern edge of the Paris conurbation, at Aulnay-sous-Bois, played a central part in undermining the company's finances to the point where it was obliged to surrender its independence to the more financially cautious Peugeot company.
The CX was very slowly developed and improved, the key elements it needed to compete successfully in its market segment taking many years to emerge.
The parent company, PSA Peugeot Citroën, was fielding three cars in the executive car segment, the Peugeot 604, the Talbot Tagora and the CX, all competing for PSA's scarce financial resources. Developing and exploiting the CX design was not the top priority. The seeds of PSA's competitive retreat from this traditionally important segment were sown during this period of diffused efforts.
In spite of the DS featuring a 141 hp (105 kW) fuel-injected 2.3 litre engine, at first the CX was only available with 2.0 and 2.2 carburettor engines. In 1977, the GTi was introduced with a modern L-jetronic injection system, with 128 hp (95 kW).
Decent factory rustproofing and an automatic transmission were added in 1980.
The CX eventually acquired a reputation for high running costs, which over time cut sales. Ironically, it was the components standard to any automobile (steel, door hinges, starter motors, electrical connections, etc.) that proved troublesome in service, not the advanced components. The quality of construction improved too slowly to eliminate this perception.
The 1983 turbo-powered 2.5 L diesel engine did make the CX Turbo-D 2.5 the fastest diesel sedan in the world, able to reach speeds up to 195 km/h (121 mph). (Diesels account for more than half the market for executive cars in France.)
Finally, in 1984, the GTi Turbo gasoline model, with a top speed of over 220 km/h (137 mph), gave the CX the powerful engine that finally used the full capabilities of the chassis. Unfortunately fuel economy was poor, and only improved slightly with the 1986 Turbo 2 model.
Although the minor 1985 Series 2 changes did create initial interest from press and public alike, they did little to revive sales, only some 35,000 units being produced in 1986 and the same again in 1987.
While the revolutionary and timeless DS achieved its greatest sales success at the same point in its 20-year lifecycle, the CX design was subject to more intense competitive pressures from other automakers, who succeeded in using the CX design as a template for improvement.
Common parts from the CX were used in other more exclusive cars. For instance, the rear view mirrors of the "Series 2" CX were found on many British sports cars, like the Lotus Esprit and the Jaguar XJ220.
Replacing the CX
Successful competitors in this market segment (Mercedes-Benz W124, Audi 100, and BMW 5 Series) have adopted a cycle of redesign and substantial improvement every seven years. Despite the success of the CX design (and the unbroken legacy of dominance in this segment stretching back to 1934), there was no new and improved "big Citroën" model on the horizon by 1981. CX sales began to slide and never recovered.
Citroën tried to operate independently and design a CX replacement that updated the flowing CX design (in 1980 and again in 1986). Each time, the parent company PSA Peugeot Citroën killed the project and fired the Citroën designers responsible.
Citroën did incur the expense of designing an entirely new gasoline 4-cylinder engine in 1984 for the top-of-range cars—this allowed the CX to go slightly faster at the cost of slightly worse fuel economy. The market demanded either inline-six or V6 engines.
The CX was finally replaced by the XM in 1989. This vehicle was based on the same chassis as the Peugeot 605, styled in a distinctive, angular fashion, and fitted with self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension, featuring new electronic controls and branded Hydractive suspension. It also featured a hatchback and a conventional interior rather than the starship command deck of the CX.
The XM at first achieved annual sales similar to the modest totals of the CX in the last decade of its life, before a total collapse in demand set in around 1994-1995. It was retired without replacement in 2000.
The 2006 Citroën C6, first announced as the C6 Lignage concept car in 1999, appears to be the direct descendant of the CX. The design of the Citroën flagship is directly inspired by the personality of the CX.
The Safari estate, produced from 1975-1991 was joined by the seven-seat Familiale, both taking full advantage of the CX's integral self-levelling suspension to support heavy bodywork.
Both petrol and diesel-powered models were available in various engine sizes including turbocharged versions. The top-end sports model, alongside the CX Prestige luxury model, was the CX 25 GTi Turbo, launched in autumn 1984, rated at 168 hp (122 kW) and a top-speed of 220 km/h (137 mph).
Manual, semi-automatic ("C-Matic") and, ultimately, fully automatic transmissions were fitted, the fully automatic ZF transmission replacing the C-Matic in 1980. Luxury trim-level models were badged as Pallas, and sports variants as GTi. The long-wheelbase models were badged as Prestige (petrol engine) or Limousine (diesel). The factory never produced the CX with both the powerful turbocharged petrol engine and automatic transmission in one car.
The Series 1 vehicles (1974–85) were characterised by stainless steel front and rear bumpers, hydropneumatic suspension as compliant and soft as the DS, a "spaceship" style dashboard featuring a revolving drum speedometer and similar tachometer, and a "stalk-free" layout where turn signals, wiper controls, horn and headlights could be operated by the driver's fingertips while his/her hands remained on the steering wheel.
In July 1985, the styling was revised, and became known as the Series 2. The cars lost some of their earlier distinctiveness. The suspension became stiffer in most models. Plastic bumpers were the most notable exterior change, giving what some say is a more aggressive look, as opposed to the more elegant Series 1 design. Although the dashboard retained the "pod" housing for the instrumentation, it lost the revolving-drum instruments and received a sloping centre dash area, and the radio moved to a position sideways and between the front seats, with the height corrector and heating controls moving to the centre console.
A Citroën design principle was that turning signals should not cancel themselves — this should be a conscious decision of the driver. The CX perpetuated this feature, which is not shared by virtually any other contemporary automobile, limiting the CX's potential use as a rental car.
The CX was frequently used as an ambulance and camera car, applications where the cosseting suspension was especially valuable. A number of CX estates were elongated and retrofitted with a second rear axle, mostly used for high speed bulk transport such as carrying newspapers across Europe. They are known as the "loadrunner" variant. Most of them were prepared by the French company Tissier.
The last CX was the venerable Safari Estate, to this day one of the largest, and because of its suspension, most practical, family cars available in Europe.
The most collectible CX models are the very rare Series 1 GTi Turbo, and the Series 2 Prestige Turbo.
1,170,645 CXs were sold from 1974 to 1991.
International sales and production
The CX was popular in most European nations, and also sold in some Asian and Latin American countries.
In 1984, Citroën sold 2,500 CXs to China and nearly succeeded in getting the "large car" contract that would have made the CX the most common vehicle in the People's Republic. The Chinese government decided to award this contract to Volkswagen, and instead gave Citroën the rights to the "compact car" segment, with what today is known as the Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroën Automobile factory, producing over 100,000 cars a year.
The CX was assembled in South America from 1978-1984 starting with the CX 2000 Super in Citroën's facility of Arica, Chile. The car achieved good sales numbers despite being at the time one of the most complex cars built in the Americas.
In Greece, the only model imported was the 2.5 liter Prestige, which had a relatively large engine and was therefore taxed heavily, the result of which was poor sales.
CX in North America
The CX was never sold in North American markets by PSA Peugeot Citroën, but Americans were still able to obtain the car by other means.
In 1974, the final nail in the coffin of Citroën selling autos in North America was delivered—the decision by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to prohibit passenger vehicles with height-adjustable suspension. Citroën actually built 1974-model-year cars for the U.S., but was barred from selling them. For many years, Citroën had been running into issues where U.S. design legislation fixed older technologies in place, and prohibited certain engineering innovations not invented here, including items in many automobile designs today, like mineral oil brake fluid, aerodynamic headlights, and directional headlights. The wisdom of these regulations has since been reconsidered and most have been repealed in the light of developing technology.
Since the height-adjustable suspension was an integral feature of the CX design, there was no way to engineer around it. Even financially powerful Mercedes-Benz succumbed and had to delete this type of suspension from its flagship 6.9 in the U.S.
A few CXs came to North America under unclear circumstances (some related to diplomatic immunity) during the 1970s, but the situation was eased when U.S. Government repealed the ban on height-adjustable suspension in 1981. As with any other grey market car, the CX could be imported and brought into compliance with the unique design regulations applied by the U.S.
In addition to personal imports, several companies began converting and selling CXs to Americans. These were not "grey market" cars, but officially imported vehicles remanufactured and type approved for the U.S. The importing companies suffered legal harassment from PSA Peugeot Citroën, but despite this, and with no advertising and only a minimal service network, the powerful cult brand of Citroën still managed to sell about 1,000 cars at approximately double the price of the same vehicle imported conventionally.
Today the U.S. Government exempts cars older than 25 years from all design legislation, so most CXs can be freely imported. The Canadian government applies a similar rule after 15 years.
The CX Prestige model was used by the French government, including former president Jacques Chirac. It was the official car of DDR head of state Erich Honecker, who ordered several extended versions for official use.
The CX features in the 1980 film Private Benjamin, starring Goldie Hawn.
Harald V, King of Norway, had a CX in the 70s. The Norwegian government used it in the 80s, as did Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, had a special Landaulet created by Henri Chapron for his 1981 wedding.
The singer Grace Jones sported a haircut shaped like a CX in a prominent series of advertisements for the GTi Turbo in 1985, and included the CX prominently in her 1985 music video "Slave to the Rhythm".
During the Summer 2010 season, popular BBC motoring show Top Gear hosted a challenge to its presenters to build a caravan out of an ordinary vehicle, whereupon Jeremy Clarkson built a three-storey house out of a 1988 Citroën CX Break.
- 1974: August 28: Introduction of the 2000 and 2200 fastbacks, with engines inherited from the Citroën DS — positioned between the bottom of range DSuper and the exclusive DS 23 Pallas
- 1975: CX voted 'Car of the Year' by 49 journalists from 14 European countries. July: Introduction of the long-wheelbase saloon, the CX Prestige October: Introduction of the Estate version .
- 1976: January: Introduction of the 2200 Diesel saloon and estate. Semi-automatic "C-Matic" transmission introduced as an option. July: Introduction of CX 2400 Carburettor model. September: Introduction of the CX Ambulance. October: Introduction of the CX Familiale Estate, a 7-seater version. December: The President of France receives a CX with electronic fuel injection, 5-speed gearbox and a raised roof.
- 1977: May: Introduction of the 2400 GTi with fuel injection and the larger motor from the DS 23. July: The CX Prestige receives a raised roofline and fuel injection as well as a 5-speed gearbox. All CX 2400 models are given the optional extra of a 5-speed gearbox. December: Introduction of the CX 2400 Pallas Injection with semi-automatic, C-Matic transmission and vari-power steering as standard.
- 1978: January: Introduction of the CX 2500 Diesel model. July: CX 2500 Diesel saloons and estates have the option of a 5-speed gearbox.
- 1979: July: Introduction of the bottom of range 2000 Reflex and 2000 Athena Saloons, as replacements for the previous 2000 Super and 2000 Confort Saloons. Reflex and Athena have new 1995cc engine from the Renault 20 TS, with 4-speed gearbox on Reflex, and 5-speed gearbox on Athena. November: Introduction of the CX 2500 Diesel Limousine, which combines the CX Prestige bodywork and the engine and transmission of the CX 2500 Diesels.
- 1980: July: The CX 2400 engine receives a horsepower and torque performance increase. 5-speed gearboxes are standard fitting on the Athena and CX Diesel, Super and Pallas. New gearbox ratios for the CX Estate, GTi and Prestige. Rear aerodynamic spoiler fitted to the CX GTi. September: CX Pallas models (both carburettor and injection) can be fitted with the new ZF automatic transmission as an option.
- 1981: Introduction of the 2000 Reflex Safari, 2000 Reflex Familiale, 2400 Reflex Safari and 2400 Reflex Familiale Estates. July: Cruise control offered as option on the CX Pallas (5-speed manual and automatic), CX Prestige automatic and CX GTi. New enlarged front wheel arches are introduction throughout the range, to allow for the fitment of Michelin TRX tyres. Michelin TRX tyres are standard to the CX GTi and optional to the fuel injected Pallas and Prestige models.
- 1984: March: Introduction of the CX Entreprise models, the CX 20 Entreprise and the CX 25D Entreprise, having only front seats fitted and the rear lined for carrying loads and targeted towards businesses. April: The limited edition CX 20 Leader is launched. 700 examples are produced and the model has the same technical characteristics to the 5-speed CX 20. October: The CX 25 GTi Turbo is introduced — the first genuinely fast CX model
- 1985: March: ABS braking becomes optional to the CX 25 GTi Turbo. July: Introduction of the S2 (Series 2) CX, restyled in appearance. Plastic bumpers, new mirrors and protective body strips are among the most obvious changes from the outside.
- 1986: Introduction of the 25 GTi Turbo 2, with new intercooler and improved performance
- 1989: CX production at the Aulnay-sous-Bois factory ceased. All saloon models discontinued. Heuliez, famous French coachbuilders, were given the contract for continuing to produce CX estate models. Introduction of the re-badged 25 TGI Familiale estate, formally the TRI.
- 1990: Introduction of the 22 TGE Safari, 25 TGI Safari, and 25 TGD Safari Turbo Diesel estates.
- 1991: Last estate models discontinued.
- 2.0 L (1965 cc) I4
- 2.0 L (1995 cc) Douvrin I4
- 2.2 L (2165 cc) Douvrin I4
- 2.2 L (2175 cc) I4
- 2.4 L (2347 cc) carburetted I4
- 2.4 L (2347 cc) fuel-injected I4
- 2.5 L (2499 cc) fuel-injected I4
- 2.5 L (2499 cc) fuel-injected I4 with turbocharger
- 2.5 L (2499 cc) fuel-injected I4 with turbocharger and intercooler
- 2.2 L (2200 cc) diesel I4
- 2.5 L (2500 cc) diesel I4 75 bhp (56 kW)
- 2.5 L (2500 cc) diesel I4 with turbocharger 95 bhp (71 kW)
- 2.5 L (2500 cc) diesel I4 with turbocharger and intercooler 120 bhp (89 kW)