Motoring journalists have long had a soft spot for big French cars.
Something about their rejection of mainstream thinking and quirky design seems to appeal to a certain subset of the media.
But that’s not always reflected in the choices of the car-buying public. While the press wax lyrical about the DS, the CX and the C6, big Citroens often remain the preserve of a handful of brand enthusiasts and those looking to be deliberately different.
That has been particularly true in recent years as the D segment saloon/hatch - Mondeo, Insignia etc - has been supplanted by the SUV on people’s driveways.
According to Citroen, however, customer tastes are changing, leaving a gap for a new Citroen C5 Xtype of large car. Buyers still want the easy access and high seating position of an SUV but they want the “elegance” of a saloon and old-fashioned practicality of an estate. The French brand’s answer is the C5 X - an unusual amalgamation of the three which actually works better than you might expect.
Visually, it has the long, swept-back lines of a saloon but from the sides there is an estate/shooting brake feel to the way the rear three quarters stretches out. Meeting the apparent endless need for SUV cues, ground clearance is higher than a traditional saloon and a thin line of cladding flows over the arches where 19-inch alloys lurk with refreshingly tall, comfort-focused tyres.
Practically, it also pulls off its three-in-one brief pretty well. That slightly raised ride height does make for more comfortable entry and exit and a good view of the road ahead, and interior space is impressive. It’s still more of a four-seater than a five-seat but as long as you and your passengers aren’t much taller than six foot, everyone will fit comfortably. Legroom is commendably generous and headroom is good for all but the tallest of passengers.
Fulfilling the ambition to offer estate-like practicality, the boot opening is wide, tall and square and gives access to 545 litres of storage in five-seat mode (485 in the PHEV) and up to 1,640 litres with the rear seats folded. Higher spec cars also get hands-free powered tailgate operation.
Compared with the wild interiors of previous big Citroens, the C5 X is pretty restrained and logical. There are echoes of the C4 with a simple two-level dash but the C5 X adds a smart “wood” panel across the dash front and door tops with the brand’s iconic chevrons worked into the isometric pattern. The chevrons also appear in the contrast stitching on the seats and door cards to show that Citroen can still do quirky. For the most part, the C5 X enjoys decent materials with lots of leather and glossy plastic around key areas but look closely and there are still a few scratchy plastics lurking here and there.
All models get a sharp, 3D-effect head-up display and a new infotainment system housed in a 12-inch touchscreen. The system is inspired by mobile phones and is noticeably clearer, quicker and easier to use than previous Citroen systems. Thankfully, Citroen has also left real physical controls for the ventilation system.
The C5 X’s Advanced Comfort seats are the latest and best interpretation of the design which uses multiple different foam layers to create soft yet supportive seats. They manage to offer armchair-like comfort while providing plenty of support and they’re part of a three-prong approach which means the C5 X offers truly premium levels of comfort and refinement at a mainstream price.
Acoustic glass and lots of sound deadening help keep outside noise intrusion to a minimum and mean the C5 X is as hushed as anything you’ll find this side of 100k.
The latest incarnation of the Advanced Comfort suspension does the same for road surfaces. Only the very worst of dips and potholes will catch it out, otherwise it absorbs the vagaries of badly maintained roads with the aplomb for which big Citroens are famous.
The C5 X isn’t the first Citroen to use the clever air cushion suspension, but it’s the best execution yet. The C4 rides well but feels soft, with a fair amount of body roll. The C5 feels less slack, especially hybrid versions. These are the first Citroens to feature electronically controlled adaptive dampers, which respond to road conditions and driving mode. Switch into sport mode and there’s a definite tightening of body control, with less pitch and roll in corners. This is still not a sporting saloon and the body does float around a little but it feels more composed and controlled than previous big Citroens.
Engines and performance
The plug-in hybrid is one of three drivetrain options available from launch. It pairs a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a 80kW electric motor. Maximum power is 222bhp and the official EV range is up to 31 miles, although my test car was promising a less impressive 21 on a full charge. Charging the 12.4kWh battery should take around an hour via the standard 7.4kW on-board system.
Performance from the hybrid is strong enough without being barn-burning. Zero to 62mph takes just under eight seconds and after the initial surge from the electric motor is smooth and linear. What’s pleasing is the smoothness of the system’s operation as it switches between modes as well as the effortless feeling of coasting around town in electric mode.
Also on offer is a Puretech 180 petrol - essentially the hybrid minus the electric motor and battery - and a Puretech 130, which is expected to be the best seller but feels less well suited to the car than the hybrid.
It’s still a decent, punchy engine with impressive torque but it feels like it’s at the limit of its useful capabilities in the C5 X and rapid changes in pace aren’t its strength.
The bigger issue is that under acceleration you’ve very aware of the three-cylinder 1.2 motor whirring away, despite the C5 X’s commendable sound deadening. While it’s acceptably quiet at cruise under throttle it’s pretty vocal and nowhere near the smoothness or quietness of the four-cylinder hybrid setup.
Of course, the lower powered petrol is a lot cheaper than the hybrid - around £8,000 less for an equivalent trim - but with a much higher BiK rate for business buyers.
Price and specification
Prices for the C5 X start at £26,490 for the Puretech 130 in Sense Plus trim, with a £1,500 step up to Shine then another £2,000 increase to range-topping Shine Plus. The range tops out at £38,670 for the PHEV Shine Plus.
All models feature full LED lighting with auto-dipping headlights, the head-up display, keyless entry and start, and dual-zone climate control, Basic cars get a seven-inch digital instrument display and 10-inch touchscreen while Shine upwards get a more advanced instrument system and a 12-inch central screen.
More expensive models also feature different wheel designs, satin chrome trim, higher-grade leather interiors, heated seats with electric adjustment and a heated steering wheel. Top-spec cars bring highway assist with adaptive cruise and lane keep assist, extended blind spot warning and more advanced forward collision detection, plus a 360-degree parking camera.
The C5 X, in the finest tradition of big Citroens, is a bit of an unusual proposition. It looks like nothing else and blends a respectably mainstream interior and spec with the kind of comfort and refinement any premium brand would be proud of. It also somehow manages to succeed in fulfilling its bizarre three-in-one brief, so if the car-buying public is in the mood for a change it could be well positioned to capitalise.
Citroen C5 X Shine Plus plug-in hybrid
Price: £38,670; Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol with 80kW electric motor; Power: 222bhp; Torque: 184lb/ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic; Top speed: 145mph; 0-62mph: 7.8 seconds; Economy: 186.2-236.2mpg; CO2 emissions: 30-34g/km; EV range: 31 miles