The introduction of the Chevrolet Citation marked the drastic downsizing of GM's 2nd generation X-platform, almost reducing its exterior footprint to dimensions of the '71–'80 H-platform (sub)compacts. While the Citation replaced the long-running Chevrolet Nova, it shared the X-platform with the Pontiac Phoenix – sharing the hatchback bodies of the Citation – as well as the Buick Skylark and Oldsmobile Omega, which were given their own sedan bodywork. The Citation notchback coupé body was unique to Chevrolet.
In an extended initial model year, Chevrolet sold over 800,000 units of the 1980 Citation, making it both one of the most successful product launches in General Motors history, but also the best-selling car in the United States in 1980 overall.
Alongside a standard trim level, Chevrolet offered the Citation X-11, offering performance-oriented upgrades. For 1982, the Chevrolet Celebrity was introduced to complement the line-up with mid-size sedan and station wagon variants of the Citation.
After a significant decrease in sales following its launch, the Citation was discontinued after the 1985 model year. For 1987, Chevrolet replaced the Citation with the Chevrolet Beretta two-door coupe and Chevrolet Corsica four-door sedan/five-door hatchback. In total, 1,642,587 Citations were manufactured during its production run.
To better compete in the compact segment following the 1973 fuel crisis, General Motors commenced work in April 1974 on replacing its X-body compact lines, following slow sales of full-size domestically-produced vehicles in favor of smaller import cars. Sales of the latter spiked following the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and its resulting gasoline shortages. While the Chevrolet Monza proved relatively successful, it was outdated and inefficient compared to front-wheel drive compacts such as the Honda Accord and the Volkswagen Rabbit; based on its success, the layout of the latter would be copied nearly outright by Chrysler upon the introduction of the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon for the 1978 model year.
While GM had been producing front-wheel drive cars for nearly a decade, the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Toronado were neither fuel-efficient nor compact. In the mid-summer of 1976, the company produced its first prototypes of the cars intended to replace the X-Body; the Chevrolet Nova replacement was intended to be called the "Condor". Intended for a 1978 model release (alongside the downsizing of the mid-size car line), the X-body was delayed until the 1980 model year due to parts supply issues; GM parts suppliers were trying to adjust to the large-scale production of a front-wheel drive car. During the delay, the Chevrolet Condor name was changed to Chevrolet Citation.
As Chevrolet introduced the Citation as its first front-wheel drive vehicle, the exterior footprint of the 1980 Citation (in relation to its 1979 Nova predecessor) had transformed in nearly the same manner as the downsizing of the 1977 Impala and Caprice. Losing 6 inches (15 cm) in wheelbase from the Nova, the Citation shed 20 inches (51 cm) in length, 4 inches (10 cm) of width, and 800 pounds (363 kg) of weight. Although less than an inch longer than the discontinued Chevrolet Vega, on the Citation, front-wheel drive and the 105-inch wheelbase allowed Chevrolet to package the vehicle with comparable interior space as the outgoing Nova.
In an extended 1980 model year, Chevrolet would sell over 810,000 examples of the Citation; in addition to making for one of the most successful product launches in General Motors history, the Chevrolet Citation would become the best-selling car in the United States in 1980.
1980 Citation 3-door
As production of the Citation continued, sales of the vehicle underwent a massive decline, falling from over 800,000 in 1980 to less than 100,000 examples in 1983. In 1981, the Chevrolet Citation gained its most direct competitor, as Chrysler introduced the Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant (the Chrysler K-Cars). While also produced in front-wheel drive, the K-Cars offered sedan and station wagon body styles unavailable from Chevrolet. Inside the Chevrolet division, as Chevrolet further expanded its front-wheel drive model line, the Citation also began to face internal competition from the subcompact Chevrolet Cavalier and the mid-size Chevrolet Celebrity (largely derived from the Citation).
The Citation coupe body was unique to Chevy and not shared with another GM badge
Through its production, as one of the front-wheel drive X-body vehicles, the Chevrolet Citation would undergo a number of manufacturer recalls. In 1980, 225,000 examples were recalled to fix a transmission hose related to underhood fires. The X-body cars (which included the Citation) were the target of an unsuccessful lawsuit by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which cited a tendency for the vehicles to lose control under heavy braking, and power steering problems.
1980 Citation 5-door
In April 1979, the Citation was released as a 1980 model in two trim levels. Alongside the standard trim, a sporty X-11 version was produced.
Priced under US$6,000, with hatchbacks in a much larger package than the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon, demand proved very high for the Citation. Helped by an April release and yet another gasoline shortage during the same time, over 800,000 Citations were sold by Chevrolet for the model year. However, as the second gas crisis created demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles, GM was left with significant shortages of 4-cylinder engines, leaving some customers to wait several months to receive their vehicles. Before the fuel crisis, Chevrolet had anticipated 70% of customers purchasing the V6 engine option, leading to production lines unable to keep up with demand for four-cylinder models.
Following slow sales, Chevrolet discontinued the two-door coupe version of the Citation for 1981. To better differentiate it from standard models, the X-11 received a 135-hp high output version of its 2.8L V6.
A major change was the addition of fuel injection on four-cylinder models. Midway through the model year, the two-door notchback sedan was returned to the lineup after being discontinued in 1981.
1983 saw few changes to the Citation. New seats were added to the interior, while the HO V6 engine became an option for non X-11 Citations.
For 1984, the Citation saw relatively few changes. In an effort to stimulate interest in the line, which had been hurt by a reputation for poor quality and reliability, Chevrolet rebranded the model as "Citation II".
For 1985, the Citation II saw several revisions in its final year of production. The two-door coupe was discontinued, leaving only the hatchback models for sale. Inside, the dashboard was redesigned with a new horizontal radio design, HVAC controls and steering wheel. For the first time, the V6 engine line was upgraded to fuel injection.
The last Citation rolled off the assembly line on June 21, 1985.
In addition to the X platform, GM also created a new line of engines for the Citation and its sisters. The 2.8 L LE2V6 was the first of the 60°Family of engines. The X platform was used in 1982 as the basis for the new front-wheel driveA-body cars. The X platform was also the basis for the future L-body and N-body cars.
1980 Citation X-11
Produced as a separate trim level, the Citation X-11 was a variant featuring cosmetic, chassis, and powertrain upgrades over the standard Citation. While less powerful than the Camaro Z28 (and later Monte Carlo SS), the Citation X-11 would also take over the role of the similarly-sized Chevrolet Monza. The X-11 was offered throughout the production run of the Citation/Citation II, on the 3-door hatchback and 2-door "club coupe" (discontinued in 1981 and 1985).
In 1981, the Citation X-11 accelerated from 0–60 MPH in 8.5 seconds; the 1982–1984 version accelerated from 0–60 MPH in 9.2 seconds.
At its 1980 launch, the chassis of the Citation X-11 was upgraded with front and rear stabilizer bars and a retuned sport suspension, which were kept throughout its production. In place of steel wheels, the X-11 featured 13-inch rallye rims with Goodyear P205/70R-13 white-letter tires. In 1981, the 13-inch wheels were replaced with 14-inch wheels with Goodyear Eagle GT P215/60 R14 radial tires. To upgrade handling, for 1982, the steering rack was relocated from the firewall to the subframe holding the engine and front suspension. The design change was intended to prevent subframe movement from affecting steering behavior.
For 1980, the X-11 offered only handling upgrades over a Citation, with the powertrain consisting of a 90hp 2.5L inline-4 and a 115hp 2.8L V6. Alongside the standard Citation, the X-11 was available with either a 4-speed overdrive manual transmission or a 3-speed automatic transmission (the only transmission available for 1985).
To aid acceleration, axle ratios of the X-11 were changed, alongside the transmission gearing. A taller first gear was intended to allow the X-11 to accelerate to 60 mph without shifting to third gear. For 1981, the X-11 was powered exclusively by a "high-output" version of the 2.8L V6; a higher-performance dual-tip exhaust system raised output to 135hp/165lb-ft of torque. As before, the X-11 maintained separate final-drive ratios. In 1982, emissions regulations required a decrease in torque output, to 145 lb-ft (horsepower remained unchanged). This output remained the same through 1984. In 1985, the carbureted engine was replaced by a fuel-injected version of the 2.8L V6 with output decreased to 130hp/155lb-ft of torque. In slightly different tuning, the Citation X-11 shared its powertrain with the Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport, Pontiac 6000STE, and Pontiac Fiero.
In 1980, the Citation X-11 shared most of its powertrain with the standard Citation, with the model being mostly a chassis and visual upgrade. Alongside the alloy wheels and tires, the X-11 featured a trunklid spoiler, sport mirrors, body skirting, and side striping. In 1981, to better distinguish the model from standard two-tone Citations, the side striping of the X-11 was replaced in favor of large "X-11" door graphic, which remained in use for the rest of its production. The model is best distinguished from a standard Citation by its use of a black grille (the only exterior chrome trim on a Citation II X-11 is the Chevrolet grille bowtie and trunklid badging). In 1981, a functional cowl-induction hood scoop was added. Under hard acceleration, a solenoid operated switch opened a flap that let in extra air.
While produced without the front bench seat seen in the launch of the Citation, the interior of the X-11 was most widely differentiated with the use of a sport steering wheel. The X-11 was produced with its own instrument panel, which featured a full set of engine gauges (6000 RPM tachometer for 1980, 7000 RPM tachometer for 1981–1985).
The SCCA classified the X-11 in Showroom Stock B class. Bob McConnell drove a 1981 X-11 to SSB National Championships in 1982 and 1984.
The Chevrolet Citation was awarded Motor Trend Car of the Year for 1980. In 2009, the editorial staff of Car and Driver criticized the 1980 Motor Trend decision (alongside several other vehicle awards), citing poor build quality and mechanical reliability undeserving of such an award in hindsight.
Car and Driver, along with several other car magazines of the time, were duped when GM lent them specially modified versions of the X-body vehicles in which heavy torque steer had been engineered out (torque steer was a handling trait common to X-platform vehicles). Patrick Bedard of Car and Driver said that they were completely surprised by this when they drove a production version some time later. Like the other X-body cars, the Citation was plagued by numerous reports of a tendency to lock the rear wheels upon braking, causing it to lose control and crash.