The heat is on


In anticipation that the SUV market, which has grown consistently for the past 10 years and has gradually nibbled away at the mid-sized segment, will start to subside under the increase pressure from governments to curb the use of gas-guzzling polluters and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, the competition in the estate segment is unprecedented.

As if proof that competition is healthy was needed, the effort that each brand is making to try and out-do its competitors and distinguish its product is resulting in the creation of innovations from which only the consumer stands to gain. The effort that is being made in terms of styling, comfort, quality, safety, technology can be seen in every new model that hits the market. However, the greatest effort being made is in relation to driving pleasure. This segment has been plagued for many years with absolutely boring models, cars aimed at the fleet markets and manufacturers adopting the attitude of “pile them high, sell them cheap”.

However, if this segment is going to win back some of the lost ground from the more exciting SUV competition, it needs to get its act in order and create vehicles that appeal emotionally, not just rationally. Cars that look striking, offer all the creature comforts and are generally perceived as high quality with up-market internal quality and comfort and reflecting the status of the owner. So much so that Citroen are actually promoting the new C5 as a French car, which it is, but with German build quality, simply because German cars are perceived to be superior.

From an aesthetic point of view, I feel Citroen have done a great job. The latest C5 is distinctive and at first glance, looks more like a premium brand vehicle in the league of Audi and BMW. The effort the brand has traditionally made on its flagship model, the C6, has been inherited by the C5 and I have a feeling that eventually the bigger model will be dropped, placing the C5 at the top of the pile.

Another indication of the desire for the brands to tear away from the perceptions of the past is the way in which they change the way they refer to certain models. The terms ‘station wagon’ and the ‘estate’ are completely passé and the days where the saloon version was simply squared off at the rear to give additional storage space are finished. Today, we speak about sport wagons or, as is the case with Citroen, the Tourer. Locally, the mentality still has not fully embraced the concept of the sports-tourer, however if we eventually follow the trends in Europe, this type of model is set to become more popular. Abroad, couples with young children or living a lifestyle where they have hobbies or pastimes requiring the transportation of bulky stuff generally opt for this version as their preferred means of transport.

Citroen have managed to make a seemingly large vehicle look good. Despite the substantial loading space, however, to the dismay of the Minister of Finance, the car is not any longer than the saloon version, therefore no additional taxation due to the length of the vehicle can be levied and Citroen engines are particularly clean with low emissions.

A serious effort has been also made on the inside of the car where one can choose from a vast selection of different materials and finishes with particularly supportive front seats and enough space for three adults to sit comfortably in the back. The unique fixed hub arrangement for the steering is obviously used in this model with a vast array of functions operated from the fixed central unit of the steering. On a negative note, I did not like the way in which the rear seat folds down.

An interesting range of engines are available but it will be interesting to see how petrol and diesel engines are going to be treated under the new tax regime before one can make a choice. The gearbox is smooth and having to choose between the two different suspension systems available, I would opt for the basic which is more than adequate. The C5 kicks off with a decent basic price tag but there is a long list of goodies that will raise the price accordingly.

I feel the C5 represents a quantum leap in terms of quality, styling and materials used over the previous model. It offers the versatility and comfort one would expect without losing the looks, and the size and weight do not negatively affect the driving dynamics of the car. The Tourer is a worthy contender in a segment that is becoming ever more competitive and where we are bound to experience interesting developments in the near future.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on October 6, 2008
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