French finesse with a German feel

The days of the boring saloon are over as can be attested by the shrinking segment, primarily because the consumer is opting for MPVs, SUVs and Crossovers. This has forced car companies to up their game to attract potential customers’ attention once again to the saloon.

Citroen are fully aware that looks rank highly on the customers list of priorities when selecting a new car and have made tremendous effort in this department. They wanted to design a car that will appeal to today’s selective customer in a seductively French way. On the other hand, Citroen understood that it would be difficult to beat the Germans at the car-building game so they wanted to give the new C5, in their own words, “an unmistakably German feel”.

While the front styling is very French and very Citroen for that matter, with sweeping headlamps and the distinctive double Chevron grille, from the rear the C5 can easily be mistaken for an Audi or a BMW. Derived from the large Citroens of old and used recently in the C6, the concave rear window is another particular feature on the C5 that has now reverted back to being a saloon rather that a hatch-back.

Another crucial consideration for today’s customer is interior luxury and perceived quality. Here, Citroen ensured that driver and passengers feel they are travelling in first-class, creating an environment inside the vehicle that is stylish and elegant but at the same time of the highest quality and robust. Space is also essential and the new C5 offers this in abundance. As a relatively tall driver, I could adjust the seat and steering to find a near-perfect driving position with heaps of head, leg and shoulder room.

I could also transport a further four adult passengers in comfort with enough space for luggage in the voluminous boot. Some of the competitors, namely the Mondeo, offer a hatch-back saloon look-alike option which is not available so far in the C5 range. What should be shortly available in Malta is the Tourer which is equally stunning to look at but offers the additional space required when considering this type of vehicle.

The cockpit-style dashboard centred around the driver makes a nice change from the flat architecture ones with central dials often used by Citroen. I like the concept of the fixed-hub steering whereby the controls remain in a permanent position at the centre of the wheel, giving the driver easier access and avoiding the need to use the somewhat small and cluttered controls in the central console.

The main dials are also innovative with the needle travelling on the outer side of the dial leaving space in the centre for the digital display of information. Smoothness and sound insulation add to a pleasurable experience in the car and here the new C5 excels.

There are two types of suspension options to choose from, namely the Hyractive 3+ hydro pneumatic suspension that carries forward the tradition that this company produces cars with the most comfortable suspension possible. However tempting this option may be to confront Maltese roads, it will come at a price, but I also drove the car equipped with a normal spring suspension and can confirm that the ride quality is nonetheless excellent.

I had the opportunity of driving the various variants of the C5 in Lisbon over different surfaces varying from cobbled side streets to the magnificent highways in this region. I also ventured into some winding mountain roads on the outskirts of the city and was surprised at how composed, smooth and silent these new models are.

Analysing the technical specifications, the choice between the 1.8 petrol and the 1.6HDi diesel engines is not an easy one. The petrol is €1,500 cheaper, accelerates slightly faster and achieves a minimally superior top speed. On the other hand, the diesel offers substantially more pulling power, gives a claimed 50+ miles per gallon and emits far less CO2 per kilometre which could result in lower taxation once the new emissions based tax regime is introduced.

Whatever the eventual choice, both engines are well suited for the vehicle and do the job competently. Having experienced the 110bhp diesel engine for a year when I ran the Peugeot 407 on a long term test, and being familiar with its capabilities and performance, I would personally go for the diesel.

Albeit lacking feel and feedback, the steering is precise and the manual gearbox is sweet as candy, however I would still opt for the smoothness and comfort of the automatic gearbox. Loaded with standard equipment and with lots of options to choose from, the C5 can offer a serious alternative as a family car or an executive saloon. I remember being thoroughly impressed with the Citroen C6 when I drove it in the Champagne region some months ago and the influence and sharing of many components from the brand’s flagship model in the C5 can definitely be felt.

Two versions have been launched today in Malta and include the 1.8 petrol starting at €30,000 and the 1.6 HDi diesel starting at €31,500 making the C5 extremely affordable for the package on offer.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on May 5, 2008

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