It signalled that Citroën had learned from the reception given the staid Citroën ZX, introduced two years earlier and criticised by contemporary journalists for its lack of traditional Citroën flair in engineering and design. The Xantia addressed these concerns in an updated, conventionally attractive form.
Although the Xantia was not as dramatically styled as the Citroën BX, it was certainly more distinctive than its contemporaries such as the conservative Ford Mondeo and Opel Vectra. The Xantia also used the traditional Citroën hydropneumatic suspension system pioneered in the legendary DS. It was initially only available as a hatchback (liftback) (Berline), but an estate (station wagon) (Break) version built by Heuliez appeared in 1995.
In-line with PSA Group policy, the Peugeot 406, launched 2 years later, used the same floorpan, core structure and engines as the Xantia.
Sales in the UK were strong, though it was never able to match the success of established British favourites such as the Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Vectra.
From an engineering perspective, the Xantia's biggest advance was the suspension. From launch, the more expensive models were available with an enhanced version of the XM's Hydractive, Hydractive II or H2, computer-controlled version of the hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension. This used extra suspension spheres to allow a soft ride in normal conditions, but taut body control during hard braking, acceleration or cornering. The Xantia features an innovation first seen on the ZX and then subsequently fitted to the facelifted XM - a programmed self-steer rear axle. On sweeping curves and tight bends alike, the rear wheels turn in line with the front wheels, sharpening responses and adding to driver pleasure.
In 1995, the Activa technology was introduced, which is an extension to the Hydractive II suspension, where two additional spheres and two hydraulic cylinders are used together with computer control to eliminate body roll completely. This technology is more broadly known as active suspension, and the Xantia Activa has exceptional road holding comparable to true sports cars.