Chevrolet Citation Overview

The Chevrolet Citation was a groundbreaking car when it bowed for model-year 1980, and at one point was America's best-selling automobile. But as this article makes clear, the Chevrolet Citation is better remembered today as a design failure.

The Chevrolet Citation and the Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick models that shared its basic mechanical layout were the first modern front-wheel-drive cars from General Motors.


1980 Chevrolet Citation cutaway illustration
This cutaway of the 1980 Chevrolet Citation reveals the
transverse engine. See more pictures of the Chevy Citation.

This so-called X-car family was fully up to date for 1980, with a transverse engine layout and an efficient unibody design. All offered four- and six-cylinder engines, but with a two-door coupe and two- and four-door hatchbacks, the Chevrolet Citation had the broadest array of body styles.

First-year sales were more than 800,000, good enough for No. 1 among cars sold in the United States. Demand remained strong for 1982, helped along by the lively X-11 models, which improved on the Chevrolet Citation's already respectable handling prowess.

By 1983, however, the Citation's growing list of recalls, a list highlighted by reports of faulty rear brakes, had begun to take its toll. Sales shriveled.

For 1984, Chevy tried to evoke a fresh start by renaming the line the Citation II. That had little effect, and the Chevrolet Citation folded camp after the 1985 model year, taking with it a reputation as a black eye for GM engineering rather than as the landmark car it actually was.

1984 Chevrolet Citation II
The 1984 Chevrolet Citation II struggled to win sales.

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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1980 Chevrolet Citation

1980 Chevrolet Citation
The 1980 Citation was Chevy's replacement
for the Nova and its version of GM's X-car.

The 1980 Chevrolet Citation was introduced in April of 1979 as a 1980 model. The Citation and its X-car siblings opened a new front-wheel-drive era at General Motors.

While they weren't the first of that ilk from GM (the Olds Toronado laid claim to that title in 1966) or even the first American mass-market front-drivers (the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon beat them to the punch by two years), they certainly proved to be the most influential. Model-year 1980 sales totaled a staggering 1.39 million between the four divisions, and Chevy's version laid claim to the nation's best-selling car (at 811,540) its first year out.

Besides the obvious benefit of wearing the famed blue bowtie, the Citation held an advantage over other GM X-cars in that it offered more body styles. Citations came in three versions: a notchback coupe, three-door hatchback, and five-door hatchback, the last being by far the most popular; Pontiac, Olds, and Buick offered only two each, with Buick and Olds having exclusive use of a four-door notchback sedan.

Citation replaced the aging rear-drive Nova (though that moniker would re-emerge at mid-decade on a Toyota-based front-drive subcompact), which attracted only 90,000 buyers in 1979. By that time, the "compact" Nova's 111-inch wheelbase was three inches longer than the "mid-size" Malibu's and fully half-a-foot longer than the Citation's. Yet the X-car's front-drive mechanicals and modern unibody design resulted in a large interior that rivaled the Nova in spaciousness.

Two powerplants were offered in the Citation. Pontiac's (continued) "Iron Duke" 2.5-liter four (151 cubic inches) made 90 horsepower, while a new 2.8-liter (173 cubic inches) Chevy-built V-6 with 115 horsepower was optional. Four-speed manual and three-speed automatic transmissions were available with either engine.

As if first-year sales really needed a shot in the arm, Chevy went after the younger crowd with the sport-oriented X-11 package. Available on either the two-door coupe or three-door hatchback, it comprised an uprated suspension and bold exterior graphics. Though it was no more powerful than other Citations, an X-11 was satisfyingly speedy with the V-6/four-speed combo.

While the timing of Citation's debut couldn't have been better -- coinciding with a second gas crisis -- it soon became evident that more effort should have been spent working out bugs before the car was introduced.

Several problems surfaced early on, including a leak-prone transmission hose that was linked to a number of underhood fires. That one prompted a recall of 225,000 cars, the first of a long string that would eventually rank Citation and its GM mates among the most recalled cars in history.

1980 Chevrolet Citation X-11
The Citation X-11 was essentially a graphics package
with beefed-up suspension.

1980 Chevrolet Citation Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Citation
2,391-2,474
$4,800-$5,677
811,540

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
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  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1981 Chevrolet Citation

1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11
The 1981 Citation X-11 package created a
surprisingly capable performer.

The 1981 Chevrolet Citation, Chevy's version of the GM X-car, saw few changes after a phenomenally successful start in 1980. The most notable was the addition of GM's Computer Command Control (CCC) emission system, something that all the corporation's cars got that year.

There was, however, one 1981 Chevrolet Citation deletion: The two-door club coupe didn't sell particularly well, so Chevy dropped that body style. Remaining were the three-door and five-door hatchbacks.

Back for 1981 was the sporty X-11, but this year it gained some bite to back up the bark. Whereas it was initially little more than an appearance package, this year it added a high output (H.O.) version of the 2.8-liter V-6 with 135 horsepower (25 more than the base 2.8), along with a lower axle ratio for even better off-the-line acceleration.

Underneath, the X-11 boasted a stiffer suspension that aided handling with little sacrifice in ride comfort.

As with most Chevrolets, 1981's tougher emissions regulations prompted a slight drop in engine outputs -- the H.O. V-6 notwithstanding. The base "Iron Duke" 2.5-liter (151 cubic inches) four lost six horsepower to 84, while the 2.8-liter (173 cubic inches) V-6 went from 115 to 110.

1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11
Chevys's Citation X-11 packed additional
giddy-up and improved handling for 1981.

1981 Chevrolet Citation Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Citation
2,404-2,487
$6,270-$6,529
413,379

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
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  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1982 Chevrolet Citation

1982 Chevrolet Citation
New colors and a horizontal grille
gave variety into the 1982 Citation's appearance.

The 1982 Chevrolet Citation received a number of modest changes for its third year on the market. Foremost among them was a switch from carburetion to throttle-body fuel injection on the base 2.5-liter (151-cubic-inch) four.

Chevy claimed that the change not only improved cold starting but also added about seven percent to the power rating, now 90 horsepower, up from 84. In an effort to improve fuel economy, the optional three-speed automatic transmission got a lockup torque converter, and all models rode on low-rolling-resistance tires.

Body style offerings initially remained the same as before -- three-door and five-door hatchbacks -- but the two-door coupe that was in the 1980 lineup and dropped for 1981 made a comeback in mid-1982. The two V-6 engines carried over, though the "lesser" of the pair gained a couple of horsepower, to 112.

Prices were up by about $500, though Citations actually cost quite a bit less than the new -- and smaller -- Cavalier. But sales took a nosedive, largely due to the X-cars' growing reputation for poor quality that had already resulted in several recalls -- and its problems weren't over yet.

1982 Chevrolet Citation five-door hatchback
The Citation five-door hatchback was the most popular
body style for 1982.

1982 Chevrolet Citation Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Citation
2,442-2,409
$6,297-$7,024
165,557

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1983 Chevrolet Citation

1983 Chevrolet Citation
The 1983 Citation suffered from defects and multiple recalls.

The 1983 Chevrolet Citation was another virtual rerun for the model year. There was little new aside from some minor trim alterations to the dash, and standard low-back bucket seats with adjustable headrests to replace the previous front bench.

The lineup again consisted of a two-door coupe (resurrected in mid-1982), three-door hatchback, and five-door hatchback. Base models came fairly stripped to keep prices down, so cars without one of the optional interior dress-up packages looked like a taxicab inside.

The X-11 sport equipment package returned at a much lower cost ($998 versus $1,744 in 1982) and would be offered on the two-door coupe in addition to the three-door hatchback at midyear. The X-11's 135-horsepower High Output 2.8-liter V-6 engine could now be ordered on any Citation for $300. All powertrains remained unchanged.

Prices went up by only about $50, yet production dropped again, from better than 165,000 to just over 92,000. But price wasn't the Citation's problem. GM's X-cars continued to amass an unsettling number of recalls -- despite being in their fourth year on the market -- and many owners weren't happy.

1983 Chevrolet Citation five-door hatchback
The 1983 Citation looked handsome
in five-door hatchback guise.

1983 Chevrolet Citation Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Citation
2,471-2,566
$6,333-$7,084
92,184

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1984, 1985 Chevrolet Citation II

1984 Chevrolet Citation II
For 1984, the beleaguered Citation was dubbed "Citation II."

The 1984 Chevrolet Citation II was positioned to rally faltering sales for the Citation line. Despite relatively stable prices and a fairly modern design, Citation sales had been declining of late in the wake of suspect reliability stemming from a steady stream of recalls. In an effort to distance the car from its past, Chevy changed the name to Citation II for 1984.

Whether this fooled some people or sales had simply bottomed out, a few thousand more Citation IIs were sold than Citations of the year before, the total coming to about 97,000. It would turn out to be a short-lived recovery, however, as Chevy's X-car was about to make its final curtain call.

Despite Chevrolet's claim to the contrary, 1985 would prove to be the Citation's last season. Nevertheless, it received some minor changes that year: A restyled instrument panel boasted a horizontally mounted radio to replace the odd vertical design used previously, and the two-door coupe was dropped, leaving just three-door and five-door hatchbacks.

Citation's engines also came in for some revisions. The standard 2.5-liter four added roller lifters to decrease internal friction, though horsepower stayed the same at 92. The optional 2.8-liter V-6 also remained at its previous rating, 112 horsepower, while the H.O. 2.8 traded its carburetor for port fuel injection -- and lost five horsepower in the process, now 130.

Citation prices rose somewhat for 1985, and sales slid to a new low: just 62,722. With that, the Citation -- once the best-selling car in America -- dutifully bowed out. It was a sad end to what was once the figurehead of GM's revolutionary X-car program, arguably one of the most influential in its history.

1985 Chevrolet Citation X-11 Sport Package
The 1985 Citation II X-11 Sport Package
had slightly reduced horsepower.

1984 Chevrolet Citation II Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Citation II
2,454-2,581
$6,445-$7,296
97,205

1985 Chevrolet Citation II Facts

Model
Weight range (lbs.)
Price range (new)
Number built
Citation II
2,499-2,603
$6,940-$7,350
62,722

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.