The Citroen C5 X is an intriguing sort of car, as big Citroens tend to be. It’s quite hard to know what to make of it when you first clap eyes on it. For Citroenists, it has a few styling nods to past glories, but in contemporary terms it looks very much like an enlarged C4, if you’re familiar with that one, with its high waistline and sloping roof, but the C5 X is rather longer and in fact has a noticeably big overhanging boot at the back. It is, very much as Citroen intended, a combination of an executive saloon, an SUV, an SUV-coupe crossover and an estate car.
It’s got a bit of everything about it, and it all comes together rather well. It’s supposed to be a “celebration” of the likes of the glorious CX, XM and C6, for example (though not the classic DS, which, presumably, is what their new DS brand is all about). Like the best of the big Citroens, it has presence on the road and an attractive sort of stance. It’s sleekly aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of 0.29, and the SUV-like height gives you a nice commanding view of the world. It’s no Range Rover, so you don’t quite feel majestic up there, but it feels good all the same.
Despite the sweeping roof, there’s good headroom too, and it’s got five separate seats as well as plenty of luggage space in the back – an ideal posh taxi in fact (545 litres of room with the back seats in place, 1,640 litres with the seats down, and with handy floor rails to protect the carpeted boot).
Citroen C5 X 1.6 Pure Tech Shine Plus
Price: £31,598 (as tested; range starts at £27,790)
Engine capacity: 1.6l petrol, inline 4-cyl, 8sp semi-auto
Power output (hp): 180
Top speed: 147mph
0 to 60: 8.8 seconds
Fuel economy: 43.2mpg
CO2 emissions (WLTP, g/km): 147
It is undoubtedly one of the finest-looking cars Citroen have knocked out in recent decades – less of a self-conscious pastiche than the C6, and much more distinctive than the C5 Aircross (which continues as a more conventional SUV). There are lots of sinuous curves and swathes extending right into the scooped-out flanks and clam-shaped bonnet. It looks like the designers spent a lot of time in the clay modelling studio (or on the computer-assisted equivalents). It’s a very handsome thing.
Even if I didn’t know it was Chinese-built and very much inspired by Chinese tastes – the Citroen brand is significant over there and growing – I could tell from its sheer length and the way the design bestows class-leasing rear space for chauffeur-driven occupants. In China, driving cars is not what people aspire to; being in the back with space to stare out and dilate on the world and with a fine view of the road ahead is the aim of business and political leaders. The C5 X is made for them, and, in its own way, is a symbol of how the balance of automotive power in the world is shifting eastwards (trade wars and real wars permitting).
So, it’s big, alright, big enough to fit a washing machine in the back; but is it as “serene” as Citroen claim it to be? Which is rather the point of a full-sized Citroen car? Yes and no. That does, more than usual, depend on which variant you pick. The entry-level model, for example, is quite amazing value at £27,790, simply because it’s such a lot of car for the cash, even up against such strong competition as the Skoda Superb estate or Volkswagen Arteon.
For that, however, you have to put up with the 1.2l engine, which is excellently engineered to maximise fuel consumption and performance (small capacity, but injected and turbocharged), but which does have to work quite hard to move along, even with a nicely smooth eight-speed gearbox. The plug-in hybrid versions seem to ride better, and are a good choice for folk who can make use of the tax break and who make lots of relatively short journeys – you get about 20 miles’ range on electric-only. The pick of the bunch is the middling 1.6 petrol-only versions, which make the most of the car’s potential for refined cruising. Needless to say these days, but still remarkable, there’s no diesel option, but also no all-electric version either, which really would be a serene machine.
As for the journey, the C5 X in all versions has the usual driver assist aids, connectivity, soft but supportive seats, an attractive large touchscreen and easily accessed major controls. The only let-downs are a bit too much road noise transmitted through the stylish 19in alloy wheels, and the quality of the materials in the cabin, which aren’t especially impressive even in the most expensive versions, ranging beyond £40,000.
It’s not that they don’t look nice, with their little Citroen chevron motifs, but they don’t measure up to some of the mainstream competition, such as the Skoda Superb, Genesis G70 Shooting Brake or indeed the in-house Stellantis group rival Peugeot 5008 (let alone the ever-present threat from the premium brands). Some relatively modest improvements could transform the showroom appeal of the model.
Of course, as well as being stylish, “different” and comfortable, big Citroens have also historically suffered from gut-wrenching deprecation – everyone’s nearly-new car of choice. Every time they launch a new full-size Citroen the brand execs explain how it won’t drop like a stone on the used market. Every time it doesn’t quite work out that way.
This time, we’re told, it really is different, and they’ve produced independent CAP stats to prove the point. Maybe, and the current shortage of new cars because of shortages of computer chips does certainly help, but perhaps the real change is in how we buy cars nowadays, through PCP, personal leasing and other plans, which blurs and spreads the costs of deprecation, and makes that traditional Citroen bugbear rather less relevant, or at least less visible. This time, the Citroen experience really might be different...