Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 66%

Even when the Saxo was launched it was outdated, thanks to its roots lying in the then-five-year old Peugeot 106. Yet while fresher designs from rival car makers have often put the baby Citroen at a disadvantage, the Saxo has always found plenty of appeal among young buyers who want cheap transport that’s also fun to drive. However, you don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy a Saxo; it’s a car with plenty of appeal. Even better, you don’t have to delve too deeply to find this appeal.

1: Looks 8/10

In some ways the earlier Saxos are better looking, as the droopy nose that characterises the facelifted Saxo isn’t entirely successful from all angles. What’s more important though is that the basic proportions are spot on, and if you buy a Saxo that’s closer to the top of the range rather than the bottom, you’ll get a few nice sporty touches such as wheelarch extensions, driving lights and alloy wheels to lift things.

2: Looks inside 4/10

If there’s one class where interiors have improved massively in recent years, it’s the supermini. As a result, it can come as no surprise that the Saxo’s interior is rather dated – even the facelifted cars from 2000 appear to have been driven straight out of the ark.

Sportier Saxos get a few shiny highlights to lift the dowdy interior, but you can’t escape the rather low-rent plastics or outdated layout of everything. Having said all this, the Saxo’s dash is okay ergonomically, so it’s easy enough to use – it’s just a shame it doesn’t look better.

3: Practicality 7/10

The Saxo isn’t a large car, so you can’t expect too much in terms of carrying capacity. However, that hatchback configuration counts for much, with up to 954 litres of load bay space on hand with the rear seats folded flat. With so much room available, it’s a shame that the rear seats don’t have a split fold facility on all editions – if this is important to you, you’ll need to find a reasonably high-spec car.

4: Ride and Handling 10/10

This is where the Saxo makes the most sense, as its lightweight bodyshell ensures strong performance and superb agility, even with the smallest engine fitted. The steering is light and precise, with excellent feedback and weighting that’s just about perfect, even though it’s a power-assisted system on all but the entry-level 1.1-litre edition.

Rewarding handling isn’t compromised by over-firm suspension, as in typical Citroen fashion, there’s a surprisingly cosseting ride. This is despite the car’s short wheelbase and light weight; it seems that French automotive engineers really can work miracles

5: Performance 8/10

Snap up a 1.1-litre petrol Saxo and you can still expect a top speed of 101mph; select the brilliant 120bhp VTS edition and you can crack 126mph on the track. Such strong performance is largely down to the Saxo’s light weight – the most basic edition tips the scales at just 805kg.

The VTR tested here will crack 115mph with its 90bhp 1.6-litre engine; it can also despatch 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds. While this latter figure doesn’t sound very impressive, it feels quicker, and using the revs to make progress is no hardship as the engine thrives on revs so happily.

Even the 1.5-litre diesel will almost manage the ton, although it takes a leisurely 15.6 seconds to get to 60mph from a standing start. That’s why we’d recommend a 1.4-litre petrol Saxo; it’s barely any thirstier than a 1.1-litre edition but it’s nippier through the gears and more relaxed at speed.

6: Running costs 8/10

Unless you buy a Saxo that spends most of its time in the garage, running up costly repair bills, you should be able to run one for peanuts – at least if you stick to the lesser models. Opt for the range-topping VTS and you’ll have to live with group 14 insurance plus CO2 emissions of 201g/km, while fuel consumption could be as high as 30mpg – which isn’t very impressive for a car of such diminutive proportions.

The 1.6-litre VTR, as tested here, has an official combined fuel consumption figure of just under 40mpg; that’ll soon drop with hard driving, but at least it’s achievable, because the VTR can be pretty rapid if you want it to be.

Buy a more mainstream Saxo and 45mpg economy should be yours, along with cheaper road tax and more palatable insurance costs – most Saxos have an insurance rating of just four or five. If ultimate frugality is your aim, you’ll be wanting the 1.5D model; drive with care and 70mpg is within sight – although it’s not the smoothest of powerplants.

7: Reliability 6/10

Although some Citroens can be a nightmare to own, the Saxo generally isn’t too bad. However, that’s not to say that problems never crop up, because there are all sorts of niggles that can afflict the Saxo. One of the most common issues is with poor running of the engine because of ECU faults; even approved dealers can struggle to sort these.

Brakes can also go out of adjustment, while the shoes at the rear can separate, leading to the brakes sticking on. Brake servos can also fail, leading to a lack of assistance, while seat sliding mechanisms also fail and balancing alloy wheels can be tricky; feel for vibrations at certain road speeds.

As if all this isn’t enough, the Saxo’s popularity with young drivers means they’re often crashed, so check any car’s history before you take the plunge. And finally, if you’re looking at a 1.5-litre diesel model, watch out for excessive smoking under acceleration; these engines suffer from the cylinder bores wearing prematurely.

8: Safety 3/10

With the Saxo based so heavily on the Peugeot 106 of 1991, you can’t expect too much of it in terms of crash resistance – especially when it’s such a small car. It’ll be just as well if you don’t hope for too much, as the Saxo achieved just two stars in the EuroNCAP crash tests.

Even late on in the car’s life there was no standard ABS, except for on the range-topping VTS edition. You’ll search in vain for ESP or multiple airbags – all cars got one for the driver, but again, it was only the VTS that received more than one.

9: Equipment 5/10

While more recent budget superminis come loaded to the rafters with fripperies, the Saxo is an old-school tiddler, which means the equipment levels are relatively sparse. It’s not completely devoid of toys though, with all models getting a manual sunroof, immobiliser and CD player.

However, you have to move further up the range before you can expect electric windows, remote central locking or power steering. It’s not until you get to the VTR, as tested here, that you’ll find alloy wheels fitted – and only the range-topping VTS gets heated door mirrors.

10: X-Factor 7/10

Despite the fact that the Saxo has been around for so long, it’s still a great package for anyone who wants some cheap transport that’s also stylish and fun to drive. The irony however is that this is a car which appeals particularly to younger drivers, thanks to its affordability – but its lack of crash resistance means this is just the sort of driver who should probably stay well away from the baby Citroen.

Key facts

Model tested: Citroen Saxo VTR
On the road price: £9,975
Price range: £6,995-£11,810
Date tested: March 2009
Road tester: Richard Dredge