► Citroen’s flagship crossover driven in the UK
► Plug-in hybrid and both petrols sampled
► A big Citroen for the head and heart
Before we get too hung up on what niche the Citroen C5X sits in or indeed straddles, let’s celebrate something we can all agree on. You see, despite offering a fairly large SUV for some time, the brand has been without a true flagship, a modern take on the big Citroen formula that gave us the CX, XM and C6.
These were big, comfortable cars that appealed to enthusiasts of the brand (guilty) but could only have depreciated faster if they were fed straight into a crusher from the dealership. Worries about complicated suspension systems and heavy discounting were to blame, not to mention the UK’s penchant for their big barges to wear German badges.
It’s already impressed abroad, so can the C5X do enough to win over this country’s snobs and SUV lovers?
What on earth is the C5X, anyway?
This is a large five-seater measuring 4805mm long, some 50mm longer than an Audi A5 Sportback and about the same height as a big estate car. In essence, Citroen’s engineers have stretched a mid-size estate footprint to boost interior space, much like conceptually similar hatchbacks, the Vauxhall Signum and BMW 5/6 Series Gran Turismo.
Given both those cars have felt the chill wind of public indifference, Citroen has also mixed in some essence of SUV. That means giant wheels, a moderately raised ride height and lashings of black plastic cladding around the bottom of the car. Thankfully, there’s also some substance behind the style, too.
First up it has as much rear acreage as the Duchy of Cornwall, so plenty of space to stetch your legs and tall people won’t suffer headliner burns. The boot is also a generous if not ginormous size while Citroen’s Advanced Comfort seats and suspension feature. Sporty it is not. Good.
Talk me through the range and specs
Citroen has kept the C5X range deliberately simple with three trims and just three engines. The least powerful option is the familiar 1.2-litre Puretech three-cylinder with a mere 128bhp. Up next is a 1.6-litre four with 178bhp while the plug-in hybrid pairs this engine with a front-mounted e-motor to give a combined total of 222bhp.
Entry-level Sense Plus is available with the three-cylinder turbo and hybrid engines, and includes progressive hydraulic air cushions (and active dampers on the PHEV), rear parking camera, grey fabric and faux-leather interior, heated steering wheel, dual-zone air-con, keyless entry/start, 10-inch touchscreen, navigation and smartphone mirroring.
A comprehensive safety package includes forward collision warning, lane keep assist, speed limit monitoring and cruise control, though the automatic emergency braking eschews a radar so is less capable of spotting pedestrians and cyclists and is less effective at night.
Mid-range Shine trim gives you the option of the 1.6-litre Puretech lump and includes a head-up display, the bigger 12in touchscreen, wireless smartphone charging, wooden trim inserts, heated leather seats and the chance to option a black roof and roof bars. The safety kit is upgraded to radar-operated active safety brake, adaptive cruise control with stop/go and lane assist.
Go the whole hog for range-topping Shine Plus and you gain perforated seats with ventilation and electrical adjustment up front, a powered tailgate and a 360-degree parking camera system.
C5X plug-in hybrid: range and charging time
To get its 222bhp, the Hybrid 225 combines a 178bhp four-cylinder petrol engine and 81kW (109bhp) electric motor, driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
A boot-mounted 12.4kWh battery pack, which charges in just over 90 minutes on a 7.4kW wallbox, gives a theoretical electric range of up to 37 miles. Other PHEVs go further, including competitors such as the Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon, helping them duck well under the C5X’s 12% BIK rate.
But is it as wafty as it should be?
All versions of the C5X get Advanced Comfort suspension with twin hydraulic bumpstops per corner, while the PHEV also gets adaptive dampers, too. Having sampled both suspension setups and all three engines in the UK, our findings might make for some surprising reading.
All deal with smoothly surfaced but undulating A and B roads with aplomb, delivering a ride more akin to a far pricier luxury limo but with greater consistency and control than the similarly sized and priced Skoda Superb. Given that all test cars rode on massive 20in wheels, that’s some achievement.
However, flitting between the three engines reveals some key differences. The three-pot equipped car fidgets a little more than the other two over craggy surfaces, while the PHEV just nudges from waft to float over particularly challenging crests and compressions especially when flicked into Comfort mode.
Goldilocks’ preferred version is therefore the Puretech 180 on, shockingly, non-adaptive suspension. It irons out pockmarked Tarmac the best whilst avoiding the float that can affect the PHEV.
Sounds good, does it relax in other ways?
Yes, although just how relaxing depends on your version. All UK-bound C5X models get an acoustically insulated windscreen, with Shine Plus adding acoustic glass for the side windows as well. Either way, wind, road and engine noise are all well contained at a cruise.
The Puretech 130 generates a noticeable three-cylinder thrum that you hear and feel through the controls when accelerating or idling, though. Not very flagshippy, and at least 50% of the reason we’d avoid it. The 1.6-litre four is far smoother, only getting a bit thrashy when you’re wringing it’s neck – not something you’ll do often. Unsurprisingly the PHEV is the best here, combining near-silent electric running with a bit more flexibility.
The best hybrid and plug-ins
We’ll come onto the interior shortly, but it’s worth praising the comfortable seats and sensible interior layout here. With plenty of physical controls and a reasonably snappy infotainment system, it’s unlikely you’ll want to punch the dash whilst trying to tweak the temperature unlike some manufacturers we could mention.
What’s the Citroen C5X like on twisty roads?
Steering has not been a recent Citroen strength, but the C5X’s rack has big-car weight, and responds without any bagginess and pretty consistently even when twisty roads up the dynamic load regardless of version.
The non-hybrid Puretechs can be pushed surprisingly hard before they start to lose their composure, the eco-minded Michelins generating far more grip than you might expect. There is a bit of body roll, but it’s by no means offputting.
The PHEV is 304kg heavier than the base petrol, so the body naturally leans more into corners, but it’s well-controlled without any float or excessive pitching once you’ve engaged Sport mode on the dampers. You are aware of that big chunk of weight over the back axle, with a less planted feel than its petrol siblings.
In all cases, this is a car that is satisfying to drive briskly. Push too hard and it does start to feel a little ragged, although if point to point pace is what you’re after, you’re reading the wrong review.
Fair enough, tell me about the engines
Let’s start at the bottom: the Puretech 130 is expected to be the most popular choice for private buyers and its 10.1sec 0-62mph time certainly doesn’t look too shabby. On the road it needs working hard to haul this sizable Citroen up to speed with conviction, again not something that sits well with a supposed flagship.
We’d recommend upping your budget for the Puretech 180. A 0-62mph time of 8.8sec isn’t exactly rapid, yet the additional low-end grunt and greater power output means it doesn’t need working anywhere near as hard, helping maintain the calm. It’s also far happier whipping past slower traffic on A and B roads, handy if you come across a trundling tractor.
As for the Hybrid, it doesn’t actually feel that much quicker than the 180 outright, even though its 7.9sec 0-62mph time says it should be. More of interest is the silent electric-only running, the 109bhp electric motor proving more than adequate when driving sensibly.
Interior and boot space
Nice touches include Citroen double chevron stitching and floating air vents bookending the dashboard, and there’s a panel of air-con switches for those who prefer physical to digital. The touchscreen looks a bit tacked on, with a bafflingly beige colour scheme and naff ‘80s computer blocks to symbolise the voice assistant is computing something. And the optional glass roof doesn’t extend sufficiently far back to cater for rear passengers.
Even so, this is a welcoming interior especially with the pale wood effect trim pictured. Material quality is for the most part very good, with plenty of soft materials in places you touch regularly and the scratchier stuff hidden away. For the money, it’s very good.
The boot is great: wide and with a low sill, the cargo space is apparently big enough for a washing machine behind the rear seats. Luggage capacity is 485 litres for the hybrid and 545 for the combustion car, extending to 1580 and 1640 litres respectively with the rear seats folded – not quite as good as rival estates such as the Skoda Superb, but by no means paltry. There are release handles in the boot to make flopping the seatbacks easy, but the Isofix child seat brackets are infuriatingly hard to access behind zips and obscured by Botoxed leather.
And how efficient is the C5X?
The C5X shares its engines with the C5 Aircross. Despite being some 300mm longer, the X is similar on weight – indeed the Hybrid 225 is almost 50kg lighter.
The hybrid’s official lab tested economy is a preposterous 186mpg – thanks to a generous allowance of electric power in the test cycle – which equates to 30-34g/km of CO2. On our test route, we averaged 43.6mpg, not bad considering the enthusiastic driving and switching to eSave for 30mins for the engine to charge the batteries.
The Puretech 130 offers up to 48.6mpg on the combined cycle and 136 to 154g/km of CO2. On our punishing, near-80 mile test route, it returned about 44.1mpg according to the trip computer – slightly better than the hybrid. That speaks volumes about the best use cases for plug-in hybrids: brilliant for zero/low-emission trips within or not far exceeding its electric range, but lacking any advantage for frequent long-distance drivers.
The C5X is a breath of fresh air. It squarely nails its brief to offer a calming, spacious and supremely comfortable vehicle. And it’s keenly priced too. Citroen is one of the first car makers to show a credible vision for a post-SUV bodystyle, with some of its practical benefits but improved aerodynamic efficiency. If you like the sound of that blueprint, the C5X is absolutely worth a look. It has genuine X-factor.
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