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road test: Young at heart; Citroen hatch is a thriller.

Byline: With MIKE TORPEY

CITROEN is banking on Sax appeal to attract buyers to its latest hot hatch, the C2 VTS -- and there are no prizes for guessing the target audience.

For five years the French manufacturer's ``enfants terrible'', the Saxo VTR and VTS, ruled the roost as the UK's top selling performance superminis.

Fun to drive and an affordable price, they sold by the shed load as more than 65, 000 of the little thrill makers were snapped up by predominantly young male drivers.

Now Citroen has got its kit off for the lads again with this range topping C2, and the good news is that it costs pounds 1, 000 less than the Saxo VTS did at launch, yet features more goodies.

The C2 shape doesn't appeal to all, some feeling that the offset back half looks almost cut and shut.

Love it or loathe it though, the designers have completed a slick job with the VTS while not going overboard. So much so that -- discreetly placed badge apart -- the 16-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, subtle rear spoiler and chrome tail pipe are all that set it apart visually from the standard car.

Inside, things are more sporty with the likes of two-tone black bolstered seats, aluminium gear knob and drilled pedals all specific to the new model.

A common criticism with cars of this size is insufficient rear space, and occupants of the Citroen's two individual back seats don't do well for leg and head room. Rear access is awkward too.

But it's on the road where the VTS comes into its own. The engine is the same 1. 6-litre unit found under the bonnet of stable mate the VTR, but upgraded to produce 125bhp.

And while its power peaks at 6, 500rpm there's a decent spread of torque lower down the rev range and short ratio five-speed gearbox.

This car's road holding is first class, much of it due to a much firmer suspension and stiffer antiroll bars, something sure to appeal to Citroen's key customer base.

Typically, that's males aged 25-35, many looking to make a first step into the performance car market but with an insurable package.

Thanks to safety features like electronic stability programe, anti-lock brakes, four air bags and hazard warning flashers that activate automatically under heavy braking, the VTS commands a Group 8 insurance rating -- a full eight levels below the Saxo equivalent.

And with the offer of the first year's free insurance for buyers over 21, it's a tempting package, especially taking into account standard spec like air-con, electric windows, height and reach adjustable steering, immobiliser and CD player with steering-mounted controls.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 19, 2004
Words:442
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