GALLIC FLAIR, GERMAN ACCENT
The second generation Citroen C5 continues to offer a surprisingly strong package in the Mondeo-sized medium range market sector.
It's arguably the best looking car of its kind
Citroen has been showing signs of getting back to its slightly quirky best of late and the second generation C5 has proved to be another step on that upward curve. The Mondeo-sized medium range family sector it competes in offers tough challenges but this car is equipped to meet them far more effectively than the one it replaced. This improved version features sharper looks and German standards of build quality at last complement high technology and a silky ride.
Though it's had its moments with Xantia and BX models, Citroen has always made rather heavy weather of selling family-sized medium range models. It was a trend that continued with the first generation C5 model, launched in 2001 but hampered by bland looks, high depreciation and soggy handling. A strong range of diesel engines and the Hydractive 3 self-levelling suspension system were plus points though and it was clear that these needed to be part of the huge step forward the MK2 C5 model would have to make if Citroen was not to have to limit its aspirations only to small car sales.
When that car was launched in 2007, it was clearly a huge step forward. Virtually all the outstanding issues had been addressed and there was a far more palatable form of the styling flair we first saw in the marque's executive class C6 model. But medium range Mondeo buyers continued to largely ignore it, even when Citroen added a series of hi-tech and efficient engines. So the French brand is redoubling its efforts, up-rating the engines available to Euro5 status, improving equipment levels and sharpening styling. Thus equipped, if this C5 doesn't propel Citroen into contention in this sector, then they might as well give up.
This still isn't the sharpest steer in its sector - think Vauxhall Insignia rather than Ford Mondeo - but it's now there or thereabouts. It's also far better suited to the kind of driving that most of the time, these kinds of cars actually do, thanks, rather unusually, to a selection of suspension set-ups - an important choice for buyers to make.
The first option is a conventional arrangement that uses double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link system at the rear - but that won't deliver you the proper Citroen driving experience. Much better to go for the Hydractive 3 Plus self levelling suspension that adapts to the road surface in order to deliver a smooth magic carpet ride. This system lets the driver to select from three modes that offer progressively firmer suspension settings for a sportier driving experience or a more comfortable one as required.
The original version of this car carried over most of its engines from the previous generation model but since launch, a lot of work has gone in to improve things. At the top of the range, there's a silky-smooth 240bhp 3.0-litre V6 HDi diesel but the model driven here is powered by the entry-level 110bhp 1.6-litre HDi 16v diesel, now offered in more efficient Euro5 guise. Performance is more than adequate, with 0-60mph occupying 11.6s on the way to a 118mph maximum.
This C5 is a larger car than the previous generation model and one of the biggest in its class. The saloon is fractionally longer than its Ford Mondeo equivalent and almost as wide, with the Tourer estate measuring in with an extra 5cm of length. Citroen has paid particular attention to soundproofing in the cabin, fitting laminated side windows and an acoustic windscreen to supplement the absorbent body and roof linings that were developed for the larger C6.
The interior sets out to mirror the high quality feel of the larger C6 and although the centre console looks a little overloaded with buttons, the clean lines of the fascia and the chrome detailing create an upmarket effect. Citroen is well known for including high levels of gadgetry in its vehicles and a further cluster of controls on the fixed-hub steering wheel will help the driver access the more important features without diverting attention from the road. Space for rear seat passengers is helped by the flat floor. Go for the Tourer estate and the 439 litres of bootspace offered by the saloon rises to 505 litres with all the seats in place and nearly 1500 litres with the seats flat folded. When placing heavy items into the car, a button located on the rear lowers or raises the car's suspension, bringing the boot floor to a more convenient height. Simply closing the tailgate automatically returns the rear suspension to the correct level.
Styling was not a strong suit of the original C5 but today's car appears to have banished the frumpiness that scuppered its predecessor. Minor recent styling changes include the addition of specially designed LED lamps incorporated into the headlights to give the car a more distinctive look. At the rear, the lights get a smarter 'Dark Crystal' treatment, with clear glass in the central section. The highlight at the rear is the concave glass area as seen on the C6. The deep swage lines that run down the flanks just below the line of the door handles are very BMW, while the sculpted wheelarches help produce a dynamic stance. If anything, the estate version is an even better looking car than the saloon with its sloping roofline and rear light clusters that curve right round the corners of the vehicle.
Prices for the C5 lie in the expected £19,000-£30,000 bracket common to this class of car, with, as usual, a premium of around £1,100 if you want the estate Tourer version. The C5's rivals are many and talented. Ford's Mondeo is the obvious car to beat, especially if sharp handling falls high on your priority list, but Volkswagen's Passat, Vauxhall's Insignia, Renault's Laguna and Honda's Accord are maybe closer to the Citroen in placing more emphasis on comfort and refinement .
All variants are extremely well specified. Cruise control and a speed limiter, air-conditioning, an acoustic windscreen and an adaptive front-lighting system (AFS) are all fitted as standard, whilst most versions are equipped with an automatic electric parking-brake and hill-start assist. For ease of parking and pedestrian safety, the C5 Tourer is also available with front and rear parking sensors, as well as a parking gap assistance system.
Citroen's new eTouch Emergency & Assistance System is also standard, an innovative service that automatically or manually makes emergency calls and allows manual assistance calls - using a built-in SIM card - for a rapid response in the event of an accident or if the car is immobilised. The system also allows drivers to consult information online at their 'MyCITROEN' personal space, which allows them to monitor their vehicle's maintenance requirements and to receive advice on improving fuel economy. Standard safety kit includes stability control and seven airbags, while rear side 'bags are optional. All C5s get a cornering light that illuminates the inside of a bend at low speed, while headlights that turn with the front wheels are available as an option. Citroen security is good, and the laminated side windows on range-topping cars are hard to break.
Sales of Mondeo-sized medium range models live and die these days on issues of cost of ownership, so it's no surprise to find that the French engineers have devoted much Gallic head scratching to this issue, bringing all the C5 range's engines up to Euro5 standard. The most impressive results of their labours are primarily found in the 1.6-litre 110bhp e-HDi diesel model that features the PSA Group's advanced micro-hybid technology matched to a Stop & Start system that kills the engine when you don't need it in urban traffic or at the lights. The necessity of matching this package to a semi-automatic clutchless EGS gearbox that can be a bit jerky until you adapt to it may put some buyers off but the gains look worthwhile, with fuel economy over the standard manual HDi 110 model improved by up to 15% in city driving and CO2 emissions reduced by around 5g/km. So e-HDi 110 C5 buyers can expect to return 61.4mpg on the Combined cycle and their cars will put out no more than 120g/km of CO2, figures that until just a few years ago, would have been the norm for a small supermini.
Of all the market sectors you could buy from, standards in this one are the highest. Which means that when we tell you that this C5 is good, then you can take it that it's very good indeed. It's arguably the best looking car of its kind, certainly the best riding and right up there in all other aspects save that of ultimate, on the limit handling.
For all that, there will be many who won't consider it because it's a Citroen: their loss. As far as we're concerned, this second generation C5 has all the credentials to count as an informed choice in the medium range market. It's a car that effectively handles all the basics while remaining just different enough to stand out.