Citroen C5 – Is it shaping up to be a real contender?

By Philip Hedderman

THINK Citroen and one automatically drifts off to Nostalgiaville behind the wheel of the legendary DS.

What a magnificently, fabulous car?

A luxury carriage that was so technologically advanced, it simply dated everything around it.

It was the first European production car to come with disc brakes and the first of the French marque to sport the space age hydraulic self levelling suspension – which was later to become its trademark.

It really is hard to believe that such technology came to being as early as 1955 and lived up to the Andre Citroen’s company slogan “Créative Technologie”.

The DS went on to pioneer power steering and, in the late 60s, was the first car with swivelling headlights – now in 2011 a big selling point for Opel.

And who could forget the quaint 2CV, the French people’s car which was in production from 1949 until 1990? The literal meaning of 2CV is ‘two tax horsepower’ and It was designed to move the French peasantry on from horses and carts as cheaply as possible.

It had several objectives including above all, economy followed by simplicity of use, reliability and it had to be versatile. Oh, and it should also be capable of off-road driving.

Ye Wha’?

No such things as city cars back in 1948 and the 2CV would spend as much time on the farm as, well, the farmer.

For this it had a light, easily serviceable engine, extremely soft suspension (with adjustable ride height), high ground clearance, and for oversized loads, a canvas sunroof – which stretched from the top of the windscreen all the way back to the boot.

The Gallic firm went from strength to strength.

Their trophy cabinet is positively heaving with accolades including European Car of The Year for the GS (71), CX (75) and XM (1990).

Citroen also made some pretty forgettable cars too like the BX and the AX – despite winning a Guinness World Record as the most economical production petrol car.

Since 2009 the company has re-invented itself, paying particular attention to build quality and jockeying for position at the more premium end of the market.

The DS range was launched early last year with the DS3, a high-end, sporty, more retro version of the C3. The overall layout remains unchanged from the C3, except with firmer springs, shocks and stiffer anti-roll bars, as standard.

To copper fasten the all-new DS range the rear badge is a new italic DS logo rather than the familiar Citroën double chevron leaving you in no doubt as to its pedigree.

A DS4 (launched in the Summer) and DS5 are to follow, but that’s another day’s work.

So how does the C5 fare in the mix?

Remarkably well – so much so that die-hard Citroen fans complained that the huge family saloon was more Germanic than French and feared it may lose a bit of that ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’.

OK, there were still smatterings of the Citroen quirkiness like the solid steering mount (the centre of the steering doesn’t move only the wheel) which will demonise hand-over-hand drivers, but that’s about it.

What it did do was snatch back the crown of ‘king of comfort’ which was instantly recognised by it biggest adversaries.

The C5 even won Japan ‘s Import of the Year in 2009 and managed to retain some street cred after being besmirched by the raspberry that is Irish Car of The Year.

No seriously, it ticks all the boxes on the ‘knock the Toyota Avensis and VW Passat off the bestsellers’ checklist. Take for example its green credentials.

It is as eco friendly as any hybrid on sale today with CO2 emissions from just 120 g/km, meaning annual road tax of just €104 and returning 1,300 kms on a single tank of juice. Judging by sheer size of the chassis you’d think that the 1.6 litre, 110bhp engine would labour a little under the weight.

Not so. In fact there was plenty of poke in this big bus and it was more than capable on motorways where the ride was simply superb.

An hour on the M1 on cruise control, listening to a few tunes felt like 10 minutes – such was the comfort.

Don’t expect to set any land speed records or indeed be enlivened by it’s handling, but you will be taken aback at how soothing the whole experience is.

The same I’m afraid cannot be said of the electronic automatic gearbox, which to be frank, was the worst I’ve experienced.

It lurched horrendously right at at the point of change, jerking so violently in second and third, that by the end of the week the I almost needed a neck brace for whiplash.

I had hoped that I was just unfortunate and got a bogey one to test, but no, it’s just harsh.

But every cloud has a silver lining.

The good news is the entry level C5 manual is over €3,000 cheaper, coming in at €25,590.