Citroen caused a stir when it unveiled the new C5. This is a class where Renault admits to making the Laguna purposively conservative. Where Citroen’s sister company Peugeot makes the middle-of-the-road 407. So when the covers came off the C5 we were impressed. And so were CAR readers, who've on the whole praised the new look.
Is Citroen finally on a roll? Can it really fix the shabby interior quality, creaking build quality and lacklustre driving experience that's held back previous models? We've driven the new model and now have the answers...
What does the Citroen C5 look like in the metal?
Head-swivellingly good. The swept-back headlights mirror the fog lights. The sharp crease running the length of the car’s flanks might mirror BMW’s style, but it helps to bring character to the Citroen’s sides.
As ever, you need big 18-inch wheels to stop the car looking dumpy. But we can forgive it that, and the fussiness around the grille because of two things. Like the C6, the C5 has a concave rear window (very cool), and a glasshouse that extends past the C-pillars. The former shows Citroen hasn’t quite abandoned its heritage just yet, while the latter makes the car look long, low and lithe.
What other influence does the C6 have on the C5?
Its platform for one. The C5 uses the same platform that also underpins the C6, the Peugeot 607 and all the 407 variants. Compared to a C6, the C5’s wheelbase drops 80mm to 2820mm. But the new car is still nearly as big as a BMW 5-series (4780mm plays 4841mm). Make no mistake, this Mondeo class is now perilously large.
Thankfully what it doesn’t do is drive like a C6. We loved the cosseting nature of our big French barge when we ran one for a year, but it wasn’t exactly a driver’s car. When rivals like the Mondeo are frankly brilliant to drive, the C5 can’t afford to drive like its predecessor.
So what’s Citroen done to make this change to the C5?
The first step has been to ditch the hydroneumatic suspension on all but top-spec models. It cuts costs for the fleet buyers, but it also makes the C5 more involving. That’s right, a big Citroen has conventional dampers and steel springs.
We did try out the Hydractive 3 suspended cars too, and there’s a markable difference. The regular cars respond progressively, smoothly. The hydroneumatic-equipped cars do not. There’s much more isolation. In fact, you just feel plain isolated travelling down a country road. It’s like driving a smaller C6, which in effect it is. Body roll is more contained, but conversely the ride is cushier over long undulations.
So is it a sporting drive?
Not quite, and it’s definitely no Mondeo. But it’s a big step forward for Citroen, and it’s a car that you won’t mind pointing down a B-road. The commute home will be fun again.
The Sport button on the Hydractive 3 cars is perhaps a step too far for Citroen. There’s no super-smooth Tarmac in the UK, so the system just won’t work well in Blighty
And what about the engines? Is it all diesel, diesel, diesel?
But of course. CAR tried out three of the four oil-burners that will be available in the UK: a 3.0-litre V6 (201bhp), a 134bhp 2.0-litre four and 168bhp 2.2. If you want power and a six-speed auto then take the V6, but you’ll also get horrible depreciation as part of the package.
Of the two four-pots, the 134bhp engine is smoother and quieter, and the pick of the range. Against its rivals it’ll outpoint the sibling 407 easily, and best Renault’s Laguna. It’s not far off the Audi A4 in terms of involvement either.
And what about inside the C5?
A bit Citroen of old. The interior quality is improved, but not quite Passat or Mondeo slick. Call it comfortably number three in class. The dials looks smart, and are easy to read. And after an unfortunate absence on the C6, the fixed-hub steering wheel returns. There are a few too many buttons on it though, but once you’ve learned where everything lies then it’s easy to use.
The dash isn’t as good. None of the buttons have the slick, well damped feel of the equivalent German model, and like every PSA product the buttons are everywhere. It's a bit of an ergonomic nightmare.
The driving position is good though, the seats are comfy, and the optional sports seats are especially comfortable. But they are also wide enough so you don’t feel like you’re being continually pushed in the kidneys. Take note, Ford.
The C5 is a little cramped in the rear, offering less space than the Mondeo. It’s also a little dark, but that’s in part due to the extra thick seals around the doors to cut down on road, tyre and wind noise. And it works.
Citroen says prices won’t rise, and the company’s cashback schemes should be limited. (But they say this about every new launch in the UK, and we've stopped believing them). The style, quality and general aura of the C5 means we want it to succeed. And for once it deserves to. While we wait for the Vauxhall Insignia and Honda Accord, the Citroen C5 has made it onto the third step of the podium.
For the full test of the Citroen C5 see the April 2008 issue of CAR Magazine, out 27 February.