Citroen C5

We drive Citroen's new Ford Mondeo rival in top spec diesel guise.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

With its new C5, Citroen has created a genuine contender for class honours. Stylish, spacious and well built, it’s more than a match for many premium rivals. Best of all, the conventional suspension offers great driving dynamics. The chassis lacks the Mondeo’s sharp responses, but the C5’s excellent refinement and long-distance comfort more than compensate. Yet for the ultimate Citroen experience, the hydro-pneumatic suspension is a must.

These days, Citroen promotes its cars with its new Alive With Technology banner. But not long ago, the French firm’s innovative, hi-tech engineering solutions put off as many buyers as they attracted. That was particularly true of models with self-levelling hydro- pneumatic suspension. It was often seen as unreliable and costly to fix.

In an effort to cater to all tastes, including those of budget-conscious fleet managers, Citroen is offering its new C5 saloon and estate with a choice of either conventional coil springs or its trademark fluid system.

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

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We recently tried the latter in the range-topping 2.2-litre HDi Exclusive (Issue 999), and were impressed with its excellent refinement and class- leading comfort. But company bosses believe the big seller in the UK will be the VTR+ 2.0-litre diesel with standard suspension.

So we got behind the wheel to see if this more conventional Citroen really can take on the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat.

Externally, both versions of the C5 are identical, and that’s no bad thing. The stylish four-door looks great, with distinctive wraparound headlamps, a large double-chevron grille and deeply sculpted flanks. While the shape is clearly influenced by prestige German rivals, neat details such as the concave rear window manage to serve up some French flair.

It’s the same story once you pull open the solid-feeling door and step into the cabin. The emphasis is firmly on quality, evident from the use of soft-touch materials, as well as the excellent fit and finish. There’s plenty of space too, with Mondeo-matching head, leg and shoulder room.

Under the bonnet sits the 136bhp 2.0-litre HDi powerplant from the previous-generation model. However, the engineers have worked hard on improving refinement, and at cruising speed the unit can barely be heard. That’s impressive, given the already minimal road and wind noise. It’s a punchy unit, too, providing the C5 with decent mid-range urge.

Turn into a corner, and it’s instantly clear that the Citroen isn’t intended to be as sporty as some rivals. Yet the steering is precise and well weighted, and there’s plenty of grip.

It’s the cosseting ride that really impresses, though, making the car an extremely relaxing long-distance companion. Although it lacks some of the hydro-pneumatic variant’s suppleness, the set-up is still superior to that of all its competitors.

However, either suspension system banishes all memories of the previous- generation C5. When it arrives in the UK at the beginning of April, the stylish newcomer will be a serious contender for class honours.

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