Review and road test of the Citroen C5 Estate (2001 - 2008)
LOW COST LUGGER
BY STEVE WALKER
We're not going to beat around the bush here. Citroen's C5 wasn't a roaring success as a new car. It transpired that buyers preferred the extra dynamism of their Mondeos, the predictability of their Vectras and the upmarket feel of their Passats to the C5's soft and comfy Frenchness. We're not necessarily concerned with that here though. Here, the question is about the C5's ability as a used car and specifically, about the ability of the extended C5 Estate. A competent but largely overlooked new car can quite easily become a diamond in the rough of the used car market once our friend depreciation has worked its magic. So how does the C5 Estate fair?
(5dr estates 1.8, 2.0, 3.0 petrol, 1.6, 2.0 2.2 diesel [LX, SX, Exclusive, Exclusive SE, VTR, VTX, VTX+])
The C5 was launched in mid 2001 in hatchback and estate guises and ushered in a new era for Citroen. Rather than campaigning with a pair of large cars, the French manufacturer had decided to get out of the dwindling non-premium executive car market and let the C5 plug the gap left by the XM while also replacing the smaller Xantia. Superseding the Xantia range was always going to be a tougher task than taking over from the unloved XM series, but the C5 pulled it off reasonably well. Three petrol engines and three different diesel units gave buyers plenty of choice and the car was marketed as being chock full of '100% useful' technology.
In late 2004, the facelifted C5 went on sale and the Estate model continued to be offered. An entry-level 1.6-litre HDI 110 replaced the 2.0-litre 90bhp unit and the 2.0-litre 110bhp was upgraded to 138bhp. The 173bhp 2.2-litre twin turbo engine was introduced in Summer 2006 just after the arrival of the VTX edition models aimed at the company car market.
This facelifted car incorporated the company's contemporary front-end design, with the narrow aperture of the double chevron grille running the width of the car's nose. The boomerang rear lights look like those from the old Maserati 3200GT blown up to 200% on a photocopier. The front lamps are also a good deal more sculpted than the softer teardrop lamps of this car's predecessor. Xenon dual function lamps turn as the car corners - a throwback to the legendary DS.
An involuntary lane departure warning system was developed that prevented drivers from losing concentration or dozing off at the wheel. If the car detects a steady lane change without an indication, it can sound a buzzer in the cabin. Safety was enhanced with the fitment of no fewer than seven airbags, including one to protect the knee area as well as a speed limiter and the latest generation ESP stability control package.
What You Get
The C5 Estate's sole link with Citroen load luggers of yore is probably the feature most likely to give it the edge over the alternatives, examples of which include the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Avensis. It is, of course, the Hydractive 3 suspension, which is capable of giving the C5 either the lowest rear load height of any similar model in order to lug heavy items inside, the highest, which is handy for tipping items in without a crash or any point in between, making hitching trailers, boats or caravans an absolute doddle. Its self-levelling capability automatically increases ground clearance on poor surfaces, lowers the car at motorway speeds to improve fuel economy and stability and can even instantaneously switch between comfort and sport settings when it senses the need.
After all, this isn't a Sport Tourer, a Sportwagon, a Touring or an Avant. It's an estate and a very good one, designed for people who are less interested in ultimate handling and more concerned with the ability to swallow massive loads without a grumble. The Citroen offers just about every conceivable aid to expediting that aim. The load floor is wide and flat, giving it a large capacity of 563 litres. More importantly, it's possible to exploit that space without significant intrusion from the rear suspension turrets, the Hydractive 3 system being tucked away beneath the floor. This means that the available width of 1,176, measured at the narrowest point between the rear tail lights beats virtually anything else similar.
The depth of thought that's gone into the C5 Estate is massively impressive. The tail lights are narrow vertical strips to aid visibility and to allow the hatch to be as wide as possible. There are no tailgate struts, which make loading bulky items simplicity itself. The rear window can be opened without opening the tailgate, making it far easier to fling towels and such like into the back. Two concealed storage bins sit in the side of the luggage bay, whilst the carpet is reversible, the other side revealing a washable PVC surface that can easily transport a filthy dog or sandy wetsuits. To protect valuables, a parcel shelf features a retractable boot cover, whilst there's an enormously sturdy two-position vertical net to prevent your load getting ideas above its station and joining you in the passenger area if the ABS with Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution is used with gusto. Tie down eyes, standard roof bars, an underfloor storage area, the boot mounted suspension raise/lower button - we could go on, but you probably get the picture by now.
What to Look For
There are plenty of C5 Estate models about so be picky. The electrical systems can be a problem and the C5 does a nice line in warning messages to ensure that none of these appear on your test drive. The interior trim does rattle a bit so when you're told that 'they all do that sir', this time the dealer's telling the truth. The complex suspension system is pretty reliable, but make sure that it's been checked out because replacement parts for it are pricey. Insist on a service history.
(Approx - based on a C5 V6 Estate - ex Vat) Clutch assemblies are about £205, brake pads around £45 and an alternator around £175. You'll pay around £220 for a headlamp, around £245 for a radiator and around £110 (exchange) for a starter motor.
On the Road
On the move, you monitor what the suspension is up to via a multi-function screen built into the top of the fascia. There's the choice of 'normal' or 'sport' modes, though drive the car hard and you'll find that it switches automatically to 'sport' mode anyway. Where you notice Hydractive 3 most however, is on bad roads or in hard cornering. The worse the surface, the better this car feels. Its real party piece however, is reserved for sharp corners. As you enter the bend, you expect the car to start rolling in the normal way - except that it doesn't. In fact, all the way through the turn, the body stays absolutely flat. It's a rather weird feeling.
Comfort then, is this car's number one priority. It's not seeking to deliver as sharp a driving experience as you could expect in a Mondeo - though in fact, it's not that far off. Certainly, the engines are up to the job. These are sourced from the Peugeot/Citroen empire and include some familiar favourites. The HDI diesels in particular are worth a look with the 170bhp unit in the later cars making the C5 a formidable motorway tool.
The Citroen C5 Estate is a big departure from the usual upper medium sector load-luggers. If you want a sporty drive you should really look elsewhere. If you value space, clever technology and a ride better than a Bentley then a used Citroen C5 Estate makes a lot of sense, especially at the kinds of prices they can now be purchased for.
Citroen C5 Estate (2001 - 2008) review by STEVE WALKER