Thursday, December 18, 2008

Citroen C5


This new C5 is Citroen's attempt to get it right.

The previous one could hardly have been more wrong, a car doomed at birth by its frumpy, slab-sided styling and instant, image-trashing discounting. This time the C5 plays the premium-wannabe game, like the Ford Mondeo and Renault Laguna but, judging by styling that brings back an almost-forgotten notion of beauty in cars, more convincingly than either.

The C5 now comes in saloon or Tourer estate form. The saloon is a proper separately booted four-door, rather than a hatchback in visual denial, and from behind its concave rear window echoes those of the C6 and large Citroens of old. The Tourer (on sale in June/July 2008) has wraparound taillights with an unusual 'bite' out of their lower edge. The tall doors of both versions give the effect of a high waistline and solidity, working well with the elegant roofline. All in all, it's a much better-looking car than the dumpy, frumpy old C5.

The C5 shares the rear-end underpinnings and fuel tank layout with the larger C6 and also has much in common with the Peugeot 407 - all three cars share the same basic front and rear suspension layout, for example. In a departure for Citroen, however, the self-levelling oleopneumatic suspension (Hydractive 3 Plus) has been dropped from the entry-level versions, which will be offered with 'normal' steel coil springs instead.

Engines for the range are 110bhp 1.6 HDI, 138bhp 2.0 HDI, 173bhp 2.2 HDI and 208bhp 2.7 HDI diesels, or 1.8i (127bhp) and 2.0i (143bhp) petrols. Specification levels are badged SX, VTR+ and Exclusive.

Reliability and Quality

The 2001-2008 C5 scored very poorly - near-bottom - in a number of reliability and customer satisfaction surveys, and seems to have suffered a wide variety of problems and glitches. These include faults and failures of both manual and automatic gearboxes, the self-levelling suspension, brakes and clutches, locking systems, particulate filters in the diesels plus a myriad of electronic and electrical issues.

However, to give the C5 the benefit of the doubt, many of these faults should have been ironed out by now - most of its components have been thoroughly tried and tested in a series of Peugeot and Citroen models, and there's not too much all-new here.

It also feels finished to a higher standard, with better attention to detail in the cabin and with its fixtures and fittings, although one C5 tested did have a creaky dash and rattling seat structure. The softer-touch plastics and the upholstery are improved, too.

On the road

We like the view presented to the driver: there are Mercedes-like instrument dials, with needles at the periphery and information displays in the inner circle, and Citroen's steering wheel with a central hub, as in the C4.

The driving position is good, with most versions having electrically adjustable front seats (squashy or sportily-bolstered, depending on the trim level chosen). Entry-level SX versions have a conventional handbrake - arguably preferable to the automatically releasing electronic parking brake in upper-spec models.

The SX and VTR+ models (except those with 2.2 HDI engine and auto gearbox) also get the steel-spring suspension: this gives a tauter ride, with more direct-feeling steering and sharper, more agile handling, and makes for a sportier driving experience than the Hydractive 3 float-on-fluid set-up. Cars with this are prone to undulating and vaguer steering, even in Sport mode.

The V6 diesel engine (208bhp, 325lb-ft of torque) is predictably quick, as well as being ultra-smooth and refined - this engine is also supplied to Jaguar, so it's suitably sophisticated. It's fitted in combination with a six-speed automatic gearbox (not the quickest-acting, but responsive enough for calm cruising) and the entire package is impressively quiet and upmarket. The thing is, who wants to spend nearly £25,000 on a C5?

The twin-turbo 2.2 HDI (173bhp, 273lb ft) is more real-world, but in truth, the familiar 138bhp 2.0 HDI is absolutely adequate and there's no need to spend more on any other version. It's available with the steel-spring suspension, too. The 2.0i petrol model stands up well, too, for buyers on more of a budget

Safety and security

The new C5 has scored the full five stars for overall adult occupant protection in the Euro NCAP crash tests, with four stars for child protection and two for pedestrian protection. A pretty good score.

Stability control is standard, along with adaptive cornering-beam headlights and seven airbags (including a driver's knee-protecting airbag). Citroen also points out that thanks to the fixed central steering hub, the driver's front airbag is always deployed from the same optimum position. There's also Isofix child seat anchoring points for up to three child seats and two further rear side airbags are optional.

Further options include front and rear parking sensors (very useful), xenon headlights (also worth having) and lane-departure warning (potentially very irritating: specify only if you drive very long distances and worry about falling asleep at the wheel). Security-wise, there are deadlocks.

Running costs

Servicing requirements are low, with visits needed no more than annually or every 10,000 miles and, with an eye to the fleet market and insurance costs, Citroen has made the C5 cheap to repair after an accident.

The diesel engines - which are the ones Citroen boasts about - are economical, too, with 149g/km emitted on average by the 1.6 HDI and 157g/km by the 2.0 HDI manual, which both bear an 'Airdream' eco-label.

Comfort and equipment

Like all big Citroens, the C5 scores well here. The well-trimmed cabin sets the right tone and noise levels are low, even at speed or over rough surfaces; Exclusive models have extra-laminated side glass which takes noise down even further. It's also spacious, a little larger than its predecessor if not quite as broad as the (very wide) new Mondeo.

The seats are supportive and the ride relaxed. The Hydractive 3 suspension gives more of an undulating feel, flattening bumps and ruts, but its benefits are cancelled out in some versions by larger wheels and thinner tyres - there's little discernable comfort gain over the conventional steel-spring set-up, which is more than smooth-riding enough.

The rear seats fold down properly to extend luggage space, the cushions flipping forward and the backrests folding flat into the vacated spaces. The estate car - which has a load bay with a neat aluminium rear threshold and an optional automatically opening tailgate - lets you lower the tail via a button for easier loading, provided it has Hydractive suspension, of course. The old C5 estate had the same system, but it's good to see its reappearance. There's a removable, rechargeable torch too.

Interior features are suitably soothing, with roof-mounted LED lighting to illuminate the console, a multi-adjustable climate control system and, in some versions, back-massaging front seats. Exclusive models have an ambient 'mood lighting' system and further options including a large glass roof, and satellite navigation with full hands-free Bluetooth phone kit. The finish has a classic yet high-tech effect, and thankfully, it's free of ghastly fake wood or any too-tacky touches.

Used value

Used value experts are predicting much-improved residual values than those for the outgoing C5 - certain models are second only to comparable Volkswagen Passats, apparently - although some models will hold their value much better than others.

The V6, for example, will definitely not return two-thirds of its original new price after three years, as optimistically predicted for the mainstream four-cylinder diesels. Citroen's policy of substantial discounts, special offers and other buyer incentives may also bring down residual values further in the longer term.

The C5 is probably not much worse an investment than a Laguna, 407, Vectra/Insignia or even a much-loved Mondeo, however, as long as you opt for a decent specification (VTR+ is a good one to go for), a popular diesel engine (2.0 or 2.2) and a strong colour - and don't go mad on the options list. This car is best bought in its entry-level forms. Second-hand buyers will prefer the less complex steel-spring suspension and old-school handbrake, too.

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