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Car group tests

New Citroen C5 vs rivals

The Citroen C5 and driver-oriented Mazda 6 are the most recent arrivals in the family car class. But can they pip our current favourite, the superb Ford Mondeo, to the post?

c5 outer

Style and technology – those are the two qualities that define Citroen. Or at least they did.

Think back to the company’s glory days – not only was the DS stunning to look at, but it featured hydropneumatic suspension, a hydraulic transmission and directional headlights.

However, since the demise of the GS more than 20 years ago, the firm’s family cars haven’t hit the same heights. The BX and Xantia were neither as innovative nor as boldly styled, and it’s safe to say bosses won’t regard the first C5 as their finest hour.

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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Citroen C5

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With the new C5, Citroen is putting style back at the top of the agenda. But good looks alone are no longer enough to succeed in this competitive class, so the brand has followed its advertising slogan “alive with technology” to the letter: the C5 gets hydractive suspension, a fixed-hub steering wheel, a unique Parking Space Measurement System and, perhaps most importantly of all, promises to blend French flair with German quality.

When the new model hits dealers next week, it will be available in three trim levels and offer a choice of two petrol and four diesel engines. But it won’t have everything its own way. Mazda’s new 6 is large, spacious and promises a sporty driving experience. In £18,420 2.0D TS2 spec, it’s the most affordable car in this test by £1,500.

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Both face our class leader: the Ford Mondeo. It’s hugely capable and has amazing road manners – and so will provide the sternest possible test for the newcomers.

Verdict

Citroens have always defied convention, and the latest C5 is no exception. With its Hydractive suspension and superb 2.2-litre diesel engine, it delivers a driving experience that places the emphasis on comfort and refinement. For motorway use, neither the Mazda nor Ford can touch it.

But it’s not the best car here. The Citroen is let down by ordinary build quality, modest practicality and an interior that’s not easy enough to get on with. It’s a very independent-minded car, and if that’s what you’re after, you won’t go wrong. Yet for most buyers, the Mondeo is still the class leader. It has no real weaknesses bar residual values, and is great to own.

This leaves the Mazda 6 last – although it’s still a very worthy buy, due to its great looks, value for money and sharp handling. Unfortunately, this focus on driving fun comes at the expense of comfort and refinement.

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