IT’S been a long time since Citroen was a big player in the large family car market. The eighties BX and nineties Xantia found plenty of fans, but the latest C5 has slipped quietly down the sales charts – it’s recently been just a bit part player.
So in an attempt to revive the C5’s flagging fortunes, Citroen has treated it to a nip and tuck. There’s now an all-diesel engine line-up, while inside there’s been a number of trim changes and the addition of upgraded sat-nav.
Designers have also made some tweaks to the exterior – although you’d be hard-pressed to spot them. The nose gets a new grille that incorporates the latest double chevron Citroen badge, plus the reprofiled headlights benefit from eye-catching LED strips.
In fairness, the sleek C5 wasn’t in desperate need of a styling update, and neat details such as the sloping roofline and concave rear window glass help it stand out from the crowd. Inside, you’ll find surprisingly upmarket materials and solid build quality. Soft-touch plastics and classy dials lift the cabin ambience, while the multifunction fixed hub steering wheel is intuitive to use. But some of the switchgear looks a little dated and the stereo controls are fiddly. There’s also less kit than in the Skoda.
To get anywhere close to matching the Skoda Superb’s equipment tally, you’ll need to spend at least an extra £1,865, which adds full leather seat trim and xenon headlamps. At least sat-nav is standard. And while the new MyWay unit is tricky to programme, the colour display features clear graphics and mapping.
In isolation, the C5 feels spacious, with decent rear legroom and a deep, well shaped 439-litre boot. But the Skoda is even more roomy, and also has more storage for odds and ends, as most of the usable space in the Citroen’s glovebox is taken up by the fusebox.
Yet what the C5 lacks in this area, it more than makes up for with excellent refinement. The 2.2-litre diesel engine is smooth, while laminated side glass helps cut out wind noise.
But it’s the car’s supple ride that really impresses. Citroen’s clever Hydractive3+ suspension effortlessly irons out bumps in the road, particularly at motorway speeds.
The self-levelling set-up occasionally thuds over sharp ridges and potholes, but overall it’s much more relaxing than the firm Skoda.
A Sport setting stiffens the suspension for sharper responses, and grip is strong through fast corners. However, the lifeless steering and tendency for the front of the car to wash wide in tight turns means that it’s best to leave the hydropneumatic suspension to its own devices.
This relaxed approach extends to the Citroen’s straight-line performance. With a 197bhp power output and a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds, the C5 is hardly slow. But the smooth 2.2 engine responds more lazily to the throttle, and the six-speed automatic gearbox is less decisive than the twin-clutch box in the Superb.
While the Citroen isn’t as engaging to drive as the Skoda, it still has its charms. For instance, few cars this side of a Mercedes S-Class are as calm and unruffled over long distances – most drivers will arrive at their destination as relaxed and refreshed as the moment they left.
Sadly, your heart rate is likely to rise the moment you work out how hard the Citroen is hitting your wallet. A price tag of £28,495 and high CO2 emissions of 155g/km make the C5 a costly company car choice, while our fuel return of 36.4mpg is distinctly average.
However, it’s the shocking residual values that really torpedo the Citroen’s chances. Our experts predict that the C5 will have retained a mere 26 per cent of its value after three years, meaning it’ll be worth a measly £7,406. On this evidence, the Skoda won’t have to work particularly hard for victory.