Citroën presented the ZX 16v at the 1992 Paris Motor Show where it was billed as a replacement for the range-topping 2.0-liter Volcane model. Although the Volcane was peppy and well-equipped, it paled in comparison to more performance-focused competitors such as the Renault 19 16v, the Peugeot 309 GTi and the Opel Astra GSi 16v.
Only offered as a three-door hatchback, the ZX 16v was fitted with wheel arches all around, a lowered and stiffened suspension, side skirts and aggressive bumpers front and back. The front bumper came with a set of fog lights, a feature which was optional on lesser ZX models, and the trunk was adorned with a big spoiler.
The 16v was not designed for those trying to keep a low profile. In addition to a wide palette of available eye-catching colors such as bright red, the car was fitted with fairly big 2.0i emblems on both fenders and on the trunk lid, as well as equally big 16v emblems on both C-pillars.
Inside, the 16v was equipped with model-specific equipment such as bucket seats but it lacked the dynamic-looking gauges and the motorsport-inspired trim pieces that were found in many of its competitors. As a result, the dashboard was rather bland and differed little from the one found in less expensive ZXs, earning the car a healthy dose of criticism by journalists.
In its defense, the 16v followed the path blazed by the Peugeot 205 Griffe and came standard with upmarket equipment such as power front windows, power locks and an alarm system for most of its production run. Leather upholstery, an airbag for the driver, a sunroof and air conditioning could be ordered at an extra cost.
The press kit handed out by Citroën at the 1992 Paris show claimed that the ZX 16v packed 155 horsepower but engineers couldn’t push the four-banger to that amount without compromising its reliability. When it landed in showrooms across Europe, the 16v’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder made 150 horsepower and 137 lb-ft. of torque.
Power was sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. The 16v reached 62 mph (100 km/h) from a stop in 9.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 133 mph (215 km/h).
Like the rest of the ZX lineup, the 16v received a shot of Botox in 1997. The upgrades were minor and mostly limited to a new grille and more modern-looking alloy wheels, but Citroën took advantage of the mid-cycle refresh to make much-needed changes under the hood.
Engineers shoehorned the Peugeot 306 S16’s four-cylinder into the ZX 16v’s engine bay, giving the hatchback a potent 167 horsepower and 142 lb-ft. of twist. While French-spec S16s benefitted from a six-speed manual transmission, the ZX had to settle for a five-speed unit. Period reports claim that the six-cog unit wouldn’t fit in the ZX’s engine bay; however, a transmission with six forward gears was unheard of in a French hot hatch at the true story is likely that Peugeot didn’t want the ZX to steal the spotlight from the 306.
With the help of the more powerful engine the ZX 16v reached 62 mph from a stop in 8.5 seconds and reached 136 mph (219 km/h) but it was too little, too late. The ZX 16v was phased out in 1998 and replaced by the Xsara VTS.
Thoughout its production run, the 16v was the most powerful version of the ZX lineup so it is no surprise that it was also the most expensive. In 1996, it carried a base price of 139,100 francs while a base-model ZX started at 89,400 francs. That same year, the cheapest third-gen Volkswagen Golf cost 73,900 francs and an eight-valve three-door GTi retailed for 119,900 francs.
All photos were kindly provided by Citroën’s archives department.