Review and road test of the Citroen C5 (2011 - 2016)
By Jonathan Crouch
Citroen's improved second generation C5, sold between 2011 and 2016, married Germanic efficiency with smartly-styled Gallic flair to offer medium range Mondeo sector buyers a rather different choice that prioritised people rather than outright performance, with high technology and a silky ride.
4dr saloon / 5dr estate (1.6 THP petrol/1.6 HDi diesel / 2.0 HDi diesel / 3.0 HDi diesel [VTR, VTR+, Exclusive])
Marketing strap lines don't often have much foundation in reality but with this car, the second generation Citroen C5, the puff for once summed things up perfectly: 'Reassuringly German. Unmistakably Citroen' was what the C5 model ads told us. The French brand clearly thought (probably rightly) that buyers would believe Teutonic cars to be the best ones, a perception, it has to be said, rarely substantiated by customer satisfaction surveys. But perception is everything in a market sector as closely fought as the Mondeo-sized medium range category where, back in the 2011 to 2016 era, VW Passats, Peugeot 508s, Renault Lagunas, Vauxhall Insignias and a whole host of others fought it out with the iconic Ford for segment supremacy. Citroen has had its moments in this class, with strong-selling BX and Xantia models, but that was long ago. The original first generation C5, launched in 2001, failed to replicate such success, hence the need for a sharper, higher quality feel in its successor, this car, first launched in 2008.
Here is a design of clashing cultures. Clearly, its creators were told to produce something Germanic. Yet being Citroen engineers, they couldn't quite bring themselves to slavishly copy their Teutonic rivals, with the result being a car that at the same time also feels very French. It's an appealing package but even at launch, it wasn't enough to get the French brand the attention it deserved in this category and with revised versions of nearly every key rival subsequently brought to market, by 2011, further C5 improvements were needed in terms of sharper styling, lower running costs and higher equipment levels. All these things were incorporated into the improved C5 saloon and estate model range that sold between 2011 and 2016 before being quietly phased out as sales dwindled away.
What You Get
Every car, we think, should have its own unique styling signature, though so few of them do. On this C5, at least on the saloon variant, you'll find it at the back with a distinctive concave rear screen. Nothing else in the sector looks quite the same. It's all borrowed from the thinking that created the larger C6, but where the finished lines of that car can look rather awkward, this one is far more cohesive with deep swage lines that run down the flanks and sculpted wheelarches that produce a dynamic stance, even if you opt for the spacious but stylish Tourer estate version. Changes to this post-2011 revised second generation model were fairly minor: headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights and revised rear lamps with 'Dark Crystal' lenses.
It's a part-Gallic, part-German mix of styles that continues on inside where flush-folding air vents and polished aluminium door handles offer a crisply up-market Teutonic feel. But even here, there's an over-rising feel of Frenchness - the soft but supportive seats, the quirky fixed-hub steering wheel aimed at helping the driver more easily access the more important features without diverting attention from the road, compensating for the way the instruments aren't especially easy to read at first glance. The dash itself also has a quality feel, though is a little over-loaded with buttons.
This is one of the bigger models in this class from this era, something you appreciate in the rear where legroom is vast, even if headroom isn't especially impressive. Out back, there's also plenty of space with a saloon variant boot that measures out at 439-litres, even before you start folding down the rear seats to extend it. If that's not enough, then opting for the Tourer estate version with its 5cm of extra body length increases the size of the luggage bay to 505-litres - or 1462-litres with the rear seats folded down.
What To Look For
What to Look For
We were quite surprised to find a significant number of C5 buyers in our ownership survey who'd had no problems at all but, as you might expect from complicated hi-tech Citroen, there were also a number who'd had teething difficulties you'll need to look out for. Reports of various squeaks and rattles were frequent. One owner had a whistling sound from the passenger side door at speed; another reported sections of interior trim coming loose. On one car, the airbag warning light kept coming on. And in another, the electric window motor failed, as did the air conditioning and the infotainment centre-dash screen. Mechanical issues included a battery failure, a power steering fluid leak and a suspension link arm failure. And owners report that the paintwork is very easily scratched, so you might come across plenty of stone chips.
(approx based on a 2013 C5 1.6 HDi 115bhp excl. VAT) A pair of brake pads are between £12-£26 for cheap brands and between £35 and £52 if you want an expensive make. A pair of brake discs start in the £33 to £38 bracket, but you can pay up to £58 or even up to around £78 for pricier brands. A drive belt is around £13 but you can pay up to £40 for pricier brands. Air filters sit in the £10-£18 bracket. Oil filters cost between £6 and £11 depending on brand. A fuel filter is around £31. A pair of wiper blades is around £31. A headlamp is around £282 but you can pay up to £522 for pricier brands. A wing mirror glass is around £25-£28 but you can pay up to £44 for pricier brands.
On the Road
This isn't a car you jump into and want to hurl around the lanes. After all, it still isn't the sharpest steer in its sector - think Renault Laguna rather than Ford Mondeo - but having said that, it's probably far better suited to the kind of driving that most of the time, these kinds of cars actually do. From the moment you start off in fact, you're minded more to relax and enjoy the ride. And ride quality is everything with this car - or at least it will be if you're able to forgo the conventional 'Metallic' springs and damper suspension of mainstream versions and opt instead for the magic carpet Hydractive 3+ suspension fitted to the plushest 3.0-litre HDi model. This set-up can change the ride height of the car as needed, for example lowering it at speeds of over 70mph. There's also a Sport mode to sharpen things up as required.
So equipped, your C5 will deliver easily the most comfortable ride in its class - bar none, thanks to a set-up originally developed for the C6 Executive saloon upon which this car is based, a means of conveyance designed to waft French ministers along the Champs Elysees as they reclined in the rear perusing a copy of Paris Match. It's serene progress that was achieved by replacing conventional springs and dampers with spheres filled by oil and nitrogen. Other brands use similar systems but they're limited in only being able to vary spring rates according to your speed and the road surface: this one goes a step further by involving the dampers too. By using data from height clearance sensors on each wheel, the Hydractive 3+ set-up automatically adjusts ground clearance according to speed, road surface and the number of passengers on board.
The result is a car that glides over speed humps and virtually ignores poor surfaces. You see the road scars ahead but you simply don't feel them. It's all very French, but fortunately without the eccentricities of models past. So quirky 'on-off' brakes and vague over-assisted steering have thankfully both been deleted from the menu, replaced by smooth and progressive systems that are actually decently responsive should you need to press on a bit. There's plenty of grip too and a reasonably slick set of gearboxes - 5 and 6-speed manuals, depending on model, a robotised 6-speed clutch-less EGS set-up and a full-fat 6-speed auto, a transmission that offers a 'Sport' option for faster changes.
Under the bonnet, where this car shares its engine-ware with Peugeot's 508, there's an overwhelming emphasis on diesel engines to suit the prevailing mood of this segment, only the BMW-developed 155bhp 1.6-litre THP turbo unit remaining from this car's original rosta of petrol power. Otherwise, most buyers will be selecting between 110bhp 1.6 or 160bhp 2.0-litre HDi diesels, with a 240bhp 3.0-litre V6 HDi diesel variant at the top of the line-up. Performance is more than adequate, with the 1.6 HDi managing 0-60mph in 11.6s on the way to 118mph and the 2.0-litre unit slashing that to 10.0s and 130mph. In the THP petrol model, the figures are 8.6s and 130mph, while this top V6 diesel manages 7.9s and 151mph.
For all the Germanic marketing that accompanied its launch, this second generation Citroen C5 always remained a very Gallic choice, with this improved version continuing to play to the brand's traditional strengths, prioritising comfort, technology, good looks and a strong range of diesel engines. It's a car that found a small but steady niche in the medium range Mondeo sector, prioritising pampering over dynamic precision and one that effectively handles all the basics while remaining just different enough to stand out.
For all that, there will be many who won't consider it, either simply because it's a Citroen or because there are higher profile rivals that shout louder for attention. Which is a pity for if you get yourself a good one (and that can take a bit of searching for), this C5 is a very likeable car for the few who'll take the time to get to know it. An informed choice then - and a very endearing one.
Citroen C5 (2011 - 2016) review by Jonathan Crouch