The spacious, comfortable Citroen C5 makes an interesting and off-beat Mondeo rival

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Citroën's key objective with its C5 Mondeo-chaser is to identify what makes German designed cars so successful, and emulate it. In this, they've been quite successful. The car is mechanically related to the C6, a considerably more expensive car, which is a good place to start.

At the time of the C5’s launch, Citroën claimed its then-new Mondeo rival was “Reassuringly German. Unmistakably Citroën.” Considering how deliberately French Citroën has always been over the years, it’s surprising and — and for some a little disappointing — to discover so much influence from Germany’s premium marques within the genes of the all-new C5.

Citroën has taken a leaf out of the Germans’ book

Look closely and you can detect Germanness in most aspects of the car. Not merely in its admittedly handsome looks but also in its marketing thrust, its interior… you name it, the C5 oozes German-ness.

The C5 is a good looking car in a traditional, square-jawed kind of way and, at first glance, appears to be extremely well built, decently equipped and very obviously more premium in feel than its predecessor.



Citroën C5 headlights

Citroën is desperate to poprtray the C5 is a quality product, Teutonic in style but with the feel and emotion of a French car. It’s a weird-sounding mixture, which, in practice, isn’t without appeal.

The C5 is a class act beneath the skin, taking most of its cues from the excellent (and more expensive) C6. Base versions get the more conventional steel suspension system, but the top-spec VTR+ models get the full Hydractive 3 self-levelling suspension, which works in conjunction with the basic set-up of double wishbones (front) and multi-link (rear) to deliver Citroën’s traditional magic carpet ride quality.

Lane departure warning vibrates your left or right buttock, depending on direction of your steering error

The diesel range consists of a 110bhp 1.6, 158bhp 2.0 and a 237bhp 3.0-litre V6. Petrol is limited to just the 154bhp turbocharged 1.6 motor, which is also the only engine limited to a six-speed manual gearbox. The V6 diesel comes with a six-speed auto as standard, while the big-selling 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels can be had with a six-speed auto as an option instead of the standard manual ’box.

Citroën is especially proud of the C5’s safety achievements, citing a five-star NCAP rating and the option of its lane sensing system, one of the first to be opffered in the UK, as the two major results. Either way, the C5 is clearly one of the safer cars in which to transport your family.


Citroën C5 interior

The part-German, part-Gallic design theme continues inside the C5. On the one hand it feels irrepressibly a Citroen product, with its fixed steering wheel hub, with switches, and wand-like gearlever, but on the other hand there is clearly a sense of Teutonic quality to the way the centre console looks, feels and functions.

Items such as the flush-folding air vents and polished aluminium door handles make the C5 look and feel unusually expensive for this class of car. The centre console has a solid, slightly stark but highly functional look and feel to it. We’re not so keen on the instruments, which aren’t especially easy to read at a glance.

We’d like bigger horn buttons. They don't rotate with the wheel, which is a virtue, but you still can't find them.

The C5 is a big car, outside, so you'd expect a generous interior. Space is never an issue up front; the seats in the VTR+ version are excellent, adjusting in all directions at the press of various buttons. But in the back, although legroom is vast, headroom is not especially impressive. It’s obvious that the designers’ desire to create a good-looking car has come at the expense of a couple of inches of rear headroom. Still, the boot is enormous at 533 litres, and that’s including a full-size spare wheel beneath the floor.

Equipment levels are so generous that it’s hard to think of what else Citroën could provide for the C5 driver. As standard you get climate control, electric seats, a high-grade CD player and a sophisticated computer. Options range from sat-nav to a back massager for the truly committed motorway warrior.


2.2-litre Citroën C5 diesel engine

The most impressive thing about the C5’s performance is its refinement. Once you get used to it, the car’s serenity is actually the centre of its appeal, and a characteristic rather at odds with the Germanic influence. On the road the C5 still feels unmistakably Citroen. In an era of increasingly identical products, that’s a good thing.

If money were no object then the range-topping 3.0 HDi V6 would be the pick of the range, on performance. Its 0-60mph time of 8.2 seconds isn’t shabby and a claimed top speed of 150mph should be enough for most people, while the general sense of effortlessness of its delivery suits the C5 character brilliantly.

Door open, handbrake off… the cacophony of audible warnings in the C5 is sometimes overwhelming

However, few C5 owners, mostly fleet customers, are going to want a V6 diesel — on and depreciation grounds  Our pick of the range is the 2.0-litre HDi with a manual transmission. It’s a happy compromise between responsiveness, pace and economy, and this new engine is a big improvement in refinement over the 2.2 it replaced in 2009. You must also spec this engine or above to get the high-tech Hydractive 3 suspension.

The 1.6 HDi looks tempting thanks to 61.4mpg claimed combined economy, but the bigger diesel or the more powerful turbocharged petrol engine will be easier to live with – and in a car of this size and weight you’re more likely to achieve the 2.0-litre’s 53.3mpg claimed combined than the smaller motor’s higher test-lab figure.

Straightforward acceleration is unlikely to be a big concern to C5 buyers, but it is competitive if not outstanding next to the obvious rivals.


Citroën C5 estate

The serene performance of the Citroen C5 is matched by a smooth, luxurious ride quality rarely experienced in this class of car. On its Hydractive 3 suspension and refreshingly high-profile tyres, the C5 glides along the road more like an Mercedes-Benz S-Class competitor than a Mondeo rival. It’s so smooth, in fact, that the desire to drive it fast largely vanishes as you start off. Better to enjoy the smooth, quiet progress.

 Which is just as well, because handling is not a strong suit. There’s nothing obviously amiss with the way the C5 behaves, but the lack of agility comes as quite a surprise the first time you realise just how much inertia there is if you try too hard on the road. The overwhelming impression is that you are driving a car that’s simply not designed to be pedalled with any speed or enthusiasm.

Hydractive suspension's all-roads comfort is deeply impressive; it’s the best ride in the class

Instead, you and the C5 are much better off gliding along, covering ground effectively together, and if you drive it like this you’ll come to appreciate the other aspects of the chassis such as its decently accurate steering, fine ride, the good grip from the Michelin Pilot Premacy tyres and the calm, powerful response of its brakes.

The standard steel suspension is also pretty good against class competitors. It will be more than acceptable for many, but given that the outstanding ride quality offered by the Hydractive 3 is one of the defining things about this car, we would recommend choosing it


Citroën C5

Citroen started off claiming the C5 would beat most Mondeo-class competitors for residual value, and match the best-in-class VW Passat, but it hasn't worked out quite like that. Still, the company has resisted discounting the car heavily, and this has helped: C5 holds its value at class-average levels, and better than previous bigger Citroens

The C5 was clearly designed from the beginning to be a painless car to own, and that's the triuth about it. Insurance is competitive, service intervals are long and costs are affordable, and Citroën’s reputation for good after-sales practice is getting better.

Citroen's C5 is well priced against rivals, and its residuals compare okay, too.

Even the CO2 rating isn’t too bad for a car of this size and power, though with the cleanest C5 – the-120g/km e-HDi 1.6 diesel – the range is lacking the fleet-favourite sub-115g/km model that Ford and VW both offer in the Mondeo and Passat.

The C5 is at least competitively priced and very well equipped next to comparable rivals, but a shortage of engine options makes the line-up look noticeably more limited next to the spread of engines offered by more mainstream competition.


3 star Citroën C5

There are so many good points about the Citroën C5, and so few bad ones, that it’s hard not to be impressed by the overall driving experience. Inside and out, we like the way it looks and we love the way it feels in terms of quality.

Citroën designers' "big thing" has been to make this car appeal to owners who would normally only consider a German badge, and mostly they have succeeded. The C5 has a pervading feeling of quality and polish even against Ford's Mondeo, itself a thoroughly decent class leader.

Great styling, quality and ride, but it’s never going to be exciting to drive

Yet we can’t also help feeling that, purely as a device to drive, the C5 is lacking beside its best rivals. As a car to travel in, it’s refined, comfortable and impressively soothing on long journeys. From behind the wheel, though, it is no match for the Mondeo or the latest Mazda 6. But it’s an interesting alternative, and one that looks unusually good on the road.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Citroen C5 2008-2016 First drives