Citroen C5 X review: this accomplished French all-rounder is the shape of things to come

·13 min read
Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021
Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021

The death of the “repmobile” is at hand. Gone is the Ford Mondeo – here in the UK, at least; meanwhile, once-stalwart rivals such as the Renault Laguna, Toyota Avensis, Nissan Primera and Honda Accord have all fallen by the wayside, buried by the inexorable tide of SUVs, which is now the family hauler of choice.

All is not lost, however. The current Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Passat will both be replaced when they come to the end of their lives, albeit with new models based on the same platform, a la Volkswagen Golf 8.

Meanwhile, Vauxhall will reincarnate its Insignia as a sort of estate-y, crossover-y thing, which is much the same idea as Citroen has had with this: the C5 X. That should come as no great surprise, because the two companies are one, and the two cars will probably be much the same under the skin (as indeed will the forthcoming Peugeot 408).

But as the vanguard of this new wave of SUV-estate blends, the C5 X is the test case. So the big question is: is this the shape of things to come?

Pros

  • Smooth, unruffled ride quality

  • Lovely interior design

  • Good value

Cons

  • Boot could be bigger

  • Sluggish infotainment

  • Over-assisted steering

Three into one does go

Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021
Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021

Citroen’s claim is that the C5 X is a blend of saloon, estate and SUV. It’s hard to see where the saloon comes in – Citroen reckons it’s in the long bonnet, although it doesn’t appear especially longer than any other estate car’s – but the estate and SUV parts of the recipe are more obvious.

In fact, in character, the C5 X is quite a lot like a Volkswagen Passat Alltrack or a Subaru Outback, albeit with a shallower rake to the rear screen to give it a more raffish profile, and without the all-season assurance of four-wheel drive.

You might therefore wonder what the point is, but people have been buying two-wheel drive SUVs for years now for their raised ride heights and more commanding driving positions, so with that in mind, why shouldn’t a car like this succeed?

However, neither the Passat Alltrack nor the Outback could exactly be called massive sales hits – so modelling its family car saviour on these two rivals might not be the panacea Citroen is hoping for.

Happy medium

We’ve already driven two of the three powertrains; the 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol with 129bhp, as well as the 222bhp plug-in hybrid. Here we’re trying what should be a happy medium between the two: the 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol with 178bhp which, because our test car is the top-of-the-range Shine Plus, it weighs in at £33,010.

That sounds like a lot, but when you consider that you get dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and start, a powered bootlid and many more fripperies besides, it doesn’t seem too bad.

Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021
Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021

By comparison, an equivalent Superb will set you back over £3,300 more, and because the C5 X gets 43.5mpg to the Skoda’s 40.9 (proving, incidentally, that there’s no real penalty in fuel economy terms for that extra ride height), it'll be cheaper to run, too.

Of course, heavy depreciation was always the toll for choosing one of the C5 X’s predecessors, but because its prices are so reasonable to start with, experts think even this won’t be such a problem.

According to Auto Trader’s residual value data, the C5 X should shed 30.4p per mile over the course of four years and 80,000 miles – slightly more than a Mazda 6 Tourer at 29.5p, but less than the equivalent Superb at 31.8p. If that holds true – and that’s admittedly a big if – then the penalty traditionally associated with buying a big Citroen may no longer exist.

Lost in space

Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021
Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021

The extra ride height means your posterior is closer to the seat height as you climb in, which makes it easier to do so – not to mention to egress, or to strap a baby into a child seat in the back. You’ll be aided in this endeavour by the cavernous rear footwells, which mean there’s plenty of space behind the front seats not only for rear passengers’ feet but also for leaning in to fasten those child seat straps.

However, if you’re expecting the same sort of versatility you’ll get in a modern SUV like the C5 X’s platform-mate, the C5 Aircross, you’re going to be disappointed.

Where the C5 Aircross has three individual rear seats that slide backwards and forwards and fold down individually, the C5 X has a traditional rear bench with a 60/40 split, albeit with a ski hatch for longer loads. And when you fold the seats, they don’t sit perfectly flat – instead, they’re canted slightly so that the load bay slopes upwards toward the front of the car.

The boot is reasonably sized, though, but it is shallow and relies on an under-floor cubby to achieve its total volume of 545 litres. That’s more than you’ll get in a Peugeot 508 SW (just) but considerably less than in either a Superb or Passat estate. In addition, as is always the way with these things, if you opt for the hybrid (or specify the spare wheel option), you lose the use of the under-floor cubby, reducing the available load volume by as much as 60 litres.

Grand designs

Further forward, there’s happier news. The C5 X’s driver and front passenger environment is a tour de force from Citroen; a lovely blend of interesting materials and shapes that knocks the functional-but-dull Volkswagen Group efforts into a cocked hat.

There’s a beautiful swathe of wood that wraps around you – it’s fake, but realistic – that’s the tone of sun-bleached driftwood, complemented by splashes of gloss black plastic and slivers of satin-finish metal (or, more likely, metal-effect plastic).

There are a few cheap plastics here and there, but by and large the C5 X feels high quality inside and there’s some neat detailing, such as the line of stitching that runs across the seats, fashioned into little chevrons echoing the Citroen badge.

Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021
Citroen C5 X - MATTHEW HOWELL/Matt Howell 2021

Atop the dash, meanwhile, sits a big, wide, glossy touchscreen that features Citroen’s newest software – better than it was before, but still occasionally laggy and labyrinthine to use.

Refreshingly, all the buttons are physical, rather than touch-sensitive, including the ones on the steering wheel, and there’s a proper climate control panel that allows you to adjust the temperature without having to rifle through the on-screen menus – whoever thought we’d be celebrating such an obvious feature?

Ahead of you in the driver’s seat sits a small but clearly laid out set of digital dials that are easy to read. All but the most basic C5 X get a big, wide head-up display. Visibility is OK, meanwhile, but the tall, bluff bonnet means positioning the opposite corner of the nose sometimes feels like guesswork, while the rear window is quite small.

There’s no rear wiper, either; Citroen says its designers have shaped the airflow around the rear of the car to clear water and dirt, but take that with a pinch – nay, a bucketload – of salt. Past experience tells us that sort of marketing fluff rarely holds true in a grimy British winter.

Long-distance love affair

Which is a shame, because in all other regards this is a brilliant car for a long motorway journey. This petrol-engined car has the same steel-sprung suspension set-up as the smaller 1.2-litre – and that’s a good thing, because it feels like a better solution than the electronically adjustable dampers that are standard on the plug-in hybrid.

It feels like a good deal of attention has been lavished on getting the C5 X to ride well, in fact; it whooshes along at speed with the sort of calm, unruffled stability you might expect from a big Audi. This despite the fact the C5 X lacks Citroen’s famous self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension; in fact, this is the first big Citroen estate not to be offered with the company’s most famous innovation since the DS Safari made its debut in 1958.

It’s on the motorway, too, that you’ll be rewarded for your decision to choose the 1.6-litre engine over the 1.2, which struggles at these speeds to haul the C5 X’s heavy body.

Rather than thrashing away as the 1.2 does, the 1.6 hums along unobtrusively, barely using any more fuel. In fact, only 3mpg separates the two engines on the WLTP extra-high speed cycle, which isn’t a huge surprise given how much harder the smaller unit has to work – especially up hills or when the car is fully laden.

Away from the motorway, too, the 1.6 feels like the better engine. Yes, it lacks the characterful thrum of the 1.2 from standstill, but where the smaller engine is starting to run out of puff the larger one is just getting into its stride; that means the automatic gearbox isn’t forced to rapidly shift up in search of a narrow band of torque.

Comfort with assured handling

Around town, it’s the C5 X’s ride quality that really holds your attention. The 19-inch wheels might prompt concerns, but fear not: smaller imperfections are all but blotted out, and while you might feel an occasional twang through really big potholes, the C5 X does a brilliant job of blotting out the tremors and vibrations of the road surface.

What with its height and soft suspension, you might imagine it’d go to pieces on a sinuous road – but it doesn’t. Granted, there’s a little bit of body lean, but no more than you’d get in a standard-height family estate. What really impresses is how neutral and balanced the car feels through bends, and how much grip it offers, which means you soon start to feel really confident in its responses.

It might be a stretch to call it fun – there’s too little feel through the steering for that, and too much over-assistance around the dead ahead. But once you’ve got the steering weighted up with a bit of lock hrough a fast turn it’s precise and accurate. The way the C5 X flows through a series of wide, fast bends is a real delight; with this smooth, reasonably gutsy 1.6-litre under the bonnet, there’s enough power to haul you out of each apex with aplomb.

The Telegraph verdict

There was a danger that Citroen might have created an incoherent hodge-podge of different characters, all rolled into one unholy mess. But beneath its slightly gawky looks (though in fact, the more time I spent with the C5 X, the more I grew fond of its odd curves and lumpy bits), this is a car that feels really… well, together.

Above all else, its chassis promises comfort, which is such a refreshing change from so many modern cars that prioritise “sporty” handling. It’s spacious, too, for passengers at least – even if the boot is less than perfect. And this 1.6-litre petrol engine suits the C5 X better than any other in the range, with a convincing blend of smoothness and punch. In this form, the C5 X feels at its most polished and well-rounded.

This could be Citroen’s last stab at building the kind of large, urbane estate it’s always done so well. If it is, we should shed a tear, because we’ll be losing the sort of car that delivered family-friendly long-distance motoring in a way few others could.

Even without the help of hydropneumatic suspension, the C5 X honours that tradition. If this is to be the final chapter in the story of the large Citroen estate, it is at least a compelling one.

The facts

  • On test: Citroen C5 X 1.6 PureTech 180 Shine Plus EAT8

  • Body style: five-door estate

  • On sale: now

  • How much? £33,810 on the road (range from £27,790)

  • How fast? 143mph, 0-62mph in 8.8sec

  • How economical? 43.9mpg (WLTP Combined)

  • Engine & gearbox: 1,598cc four-cylinder petrol engine, eight-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive

  • Electric powertrain: n/a

  • Maximum power/torque: 178bhp/184lb ft

  • CO2 emissions: 147g/km (WLTP Combined)

  • VED: £230 first year, then £165

  • Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles (unlimited miles in first two years)

  • Spare wheel as standard: No (optional extra)

The rivals

Skoda Superb Estate 2.0 TSI 190 SE L DSG

188bhp, 40.9mpg, £36,365 on the road

It’s rather less imaginative inside, but the Superb at least beats the C5 X on space, with a vast load bay that’ll take at least a whole extra large suitcase for your holiday. But you have to pay quite a bit more for that extra space – and while the Superb is undoubtedly worthy, it’s also just a little bit dull in comparison.

Peugeot 508 SW 1.2 PureTech 130 GT Premium EAT8

Peugeot 508 - MATTHEW HOWELL/MATTHEW HOWELL
Peugeot 508 - MATTHEW HOWELL/MATTHEW HOWELL

You can’t get the 508 with this 1.6-litre petrol engine, so you’ll have to settle for the little 1.2, which seems at odds with the GT badging of this top-of-the-line model. The boot is even less roomy than the C5 X’s, the cockpit is fiddlier to use and the ride is much firmer, but you might be willing to accept those compromises for the 508 SW’s suave, svelte looks.

Citroen C5 Aircross 1.2 PureTech 130 C-Series Edition EAT8

Citroen C5 Aircross
Citroen C5 Aircross

If you’re debating whether to choose the C5 X over an SUV, comparison with one from within its own stable might help you decide. The C5 Aircross in this form is more affordable and much more versatile and it’s a proper SUV. But on the downside, it’s more expensive to run despite having much less power (the 1.6 petrol isn’t an option), it doesn’t ride quite as convincingly and its interior doesn’t feel as posh. You pays your money…

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