Remembering the Chevy Citation

One of Chevy’s most influential, though long-forgotten cars is the Citation. Manufactured between 1980 and 1985, the Chevy Citation was a best-seller, and among the first X-body compact cars offered as mainstream front-wheel drive vehicles to consumers.

Although the Chevy Citation has not been produced in three decades, you might still be able to find one with some help from a source of Lexington used cars.

The Chevy Citation is Born


Introduced in 1980, the Chevy Citation was a welcomed response to foreign-manufactured rivals like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The United States was in the throes of its second gas crisis, and the Chevy Citation came along in time to replace the Chevy Nova.

Compared to the other compact cars on the market at the time, the Chevy Citation had an edge when it came to body style. The Chevy Citation offered more body style choices than any other compact car, with three versions produced, including the notchback coupe, the three-door hatchback, and the five-door hatchback, which ultimately proved to be the most popular of the three.

The first run of Citations were best-sellers with the 1980 model year returning more than 800,000 in sales, make the Citation the number one selling car in America at that time.

Equipped with a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, generating 90 horsepower, or a 2.8-liter V6 engine, able to produce 115 horsepower, either engine was operated by a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.

Despite strong sales, Chevy still upped its own game by releasing a sporty X-11 package with an updated suspension and eye-catching exterior, featuring stripes along its sides, a black grille, white lettered Goodyear tires, and striking body accents. Marketed to the younger generation of drivers, the X-11 featured the V6 engine paired with the four-speed manual transmission.

The Citation was groundbreaking, really. Despite its compact size, the Citation matched the much larger Chevy Malibu sedan’s passenger space, and featured a trunk equal in size to that of the full-size Chevy Impala.

Consumers and auto experts alike were so impressed with the launch of the Chevy Citation that the editorial staff at Car and Driver featured it on the cover of their magazine under the headline: Revolution! GM blows everybody into the weeds with new front-drive compacts!

Motor Trend, the popular automotive publication, actually named the 1980 Chevy Citation its “Car of the Year.”

Turns out, manufacturing plants in Oklahoma City and Tarrytown, New York, struggled to keep up with the overwhelming consumer demand for the Citation, leaving some folks waiting months for their new cars.

Chevy, it seemed, was only just getting started when it came to the success of the Citation.

Federal Regulations Redesign the Citation

In 1981, Chevy added General Motor’s Computer Command Control (CCC) emission system to all of its vehicles, following new federal regulations regarding the environment and automotive emissions.

Skimpy sales forced Chevy to abandon the two-door coupe body style, but the three and five door hatchbacks remained and continued to sell well.

The X11 package was updated to offer a high output version of the 2.8-liter V6 engine with a boosted horsepower of 135, over its previous year’s 115 rating. It also featured a stiffer suspension for improved handling, while still maintaining the comfort of the ride.

Horsepower dropped in the other Citation models because of the stricter emissions regulations. The 2.5-liter engine dipped from 90 to 84 horsepower, and the 2.8-liter fell to 110 from 115.

The Coupe Comes Back Amid Quality Recalls

The 1982 model year brought several changes to the Citation, perhaps most importantly an engine change. The 2.5-liter four cylinder changed over rom carburetion to fuel injection, which reportedly improved cold starting and boosted the Citation’s power by seven percent. The 2.5-liter returned to its original 90 horsepower capability.

Inspired no doubt by round two of the gas crisis, Chevy attempted to strengthen the Citation’s fuel economy by adding a lockup torque converter to the available three-speed automatic transmission. No matter the engine or model, all Chevy Citations moved on low-rolling-resistance tires.

The hatchbacks remained, and two-door coupe, discontinued from the year before, re-joined the Citation lineup. In addition to the return of the coup, Chevy offered additional colors, along with a new horizontal grille to spice up the line’s exterior.

Although the sticker price increased by an average of five hundred dollars, brining the Citation’s price range between $6,300 – $7,000, the car was still more competitively priced than its competitors.

That said, sales started to plummet after several quality concerns resulted in recalls.

This, you could argue, was the beginning of the end for the Chevy Citation.

Continued Recalls Challenge the Citation

Not much changed for the 1983 Chevy Citation. The same body styles remained, as did the drivetrains, although consumers could order the X-11’s High Output engine option, offered at a reduced price, for any Citation model.

Unfortunately, although the Citation’s suggested retail price only increased by a mere fifty dollars, production continued to lag due to rampant recalls and the resulting widespread customer dissatisfaction.

To this date, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists the Chevy Citation as among the most recalled vehicles ever made. However, this wasn’t as much as reflection on Chevy as it was a reality associated with the X-platform, which could be summed up as engineering not fully realized.

What’s in a Name?

Eager to distance itself from the Citation’s troubles, Chevy rebranded the car as the Chevrolet Citation II. Whether or not this actually worked is unclear, although sales did bounce back by a few thousand units sold over the previous year.

Once again, the two-door coupe was retired from the lineup and the remaining hatchbacks received engine tweaks, which only seemed to result in decreased horsepower.

Unfortunately, prices increased as sales continued to fall.

By 1985, Chevy had no choice but to discontinue what was once America’s best-selling car. Despite being pulled from production and having yet to make a comeback, the Chevy Citation was extremely important to Chevrolet and remains a crucial chapter in Chevy’s history.