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Citroën has a new take on the large estate, but is it the right car at the right time?

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then the new Citroen C5 X is not good news for the firm’s management. It has been shown repeatedly that large saloons and estates from French brands – and by extension any brand that isn’t a German premium manufacturer – don’t sell all that well.

So at a time when buyers are flocking to SUVs and crossovers, and even Ford and Vauxhall don’t see the sense in developing a new generation of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia, here’s Citroën launching a new C5 – a model we thought had been permanently discontinued in 2016.

Citroën likes to emphasise the SUV-ness of the C5 X and while it does have a raised ride height, it looks very much like a tall estate from the front, since it lacks the massive, upright front typical of an SUV.

There is more to the new C5 X than the extra letter, though. First, if you look closely at its dimensions, you will see that contrary to what the name suggests, it’s not a direct rival for the Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Passat and Peugeot 508, or the now-discontinued Mondeo and Insignia. The new Citroën is a bit smaller than those, but bigger than the estate versions of the Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308, thus carving out a niche for itself.

It’s also significant that the PSA Group, and now Stellantis, is a global company not averse to offering certain models in Europe because they are producing them for another market anyway. Europeans may have gone off cars like the C5, but the Chinese keep buying them, so the risk in putting it on sale over here is limited even if it doesn’t sell in huge numbers. It does also mean that this most French of cars is made in China.

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Even if it hasn’t always hit the mark with its recent models, Citroën does seem to have found a clearer direction with its focus on mildly quirky cars that abandon any notion of aggressiveness and sportiness, and instead major on outright comfort. If that suits any type of car, it should be a large saloon or estate.

Range at a glance

Citroën is keeping the range relatively simple with just three powertrain options and three trim levels. There are two pure petrol engines, a 1.2-litre three-cylinder and a 1.6-litre four. The plug-in hybrid uses the same four-cylinder unit but with added electric assistance. The base trim level, Sense Plus, is fairly well equipped, but to get the 180 engine you need to upgrade to Shine or Shine Plus.

Engines Power
Citroen C5 X Puretech 130 129bhp
Citroen C5 X Puretech 180* 178bhp
Citroen C5 X 225 Plug-in Hybrid 222bhp

*Version tested

DESIGN & STYLING

02 Citroen C5 X RT 2022 rear corner

Since SUVs have largely replaced estates as the practical family wagon of choice, today’s estates need to be more style-focused than before to stay relevant. It’s a strategy that Peugeot applied to the 508 and Citroën is continuing with the Citroën C5 X.

We say it’s an estate, but Citroën itself doesn’t want to pigeonhole its car in that way. It says the C5 X “combines the modernity and status of an SUV, the elegance and appeal of a saloon, and the versatility and practicality of an estate”.

The horizontal lines on the D-pillar are a nod to the Citroën BX. Like on some versions of the BX, there is a window behind them. A relatively flat rear windscreen makes the C5 X quite sleek, but means the lack of a rear wiper is especially annoying.

Away from flowery PR descriptions, the C5 X is quite clearly an estate, but one with a sloping rear window that is not unlike an Audi 100 Avant, combined with the raised ride height and plastic cladding typically seen on Volvo Cross Country-type estates.

The C5 X actually goes a step further than most and has an unpainted black plastic rear bumper. Those were deeply unfashionable when they were still common, but in the Citroën it is actually quite useful when loading heavy objects and gives you a certain peace of mind.

Mechanically, it’s all familiar PSA components. The C5 X rides on the same EMP2 V3 platform as other large cars from the Stellantis group including the latest Peugeot 308, DS 4 and Vauxhall Astra.

As a result, the powertrains are all units we have seen before. Citroën isn’t offering the full gamut of available engines, though, and is instead keeping the range relatively simple. The only real surprises are that you can buy this large car with a three-cylinder engine and that diesels are wholly absent.

Nevertheless, the 1.2-litre three-pot is likely to become the biggest seller, but as it recently featured in our road test of the Peugeot 308, we have elected to test the 178bhp four-cylinder petrol. Like on all C5 Xs, the stalwart eight-speed automatic gearbox from Aisin is the only transmission option.

One of the areas where Citroën tries to differentiate itself from the other ex-PSA Stellantis brands is with its suspension. The signature hydropneumatic suspension is, of course, long gone, but in its place are ‘progressive hydraulic cushions’, or hydraulic bump stops, that allow the regular spring and damper to be softer than normal. Plug-in hybrid C5 Xs add camera-based adaptively damped suspension.

INTERIOR

08 Citroen C5 X RT 2022 dashboard

Given the Citroën C5 X’s rather attractive entry price, you might expect to see some major compromises in the interior, but that’s not the case at all.

The C5 X doesn’t feel like a luxury car as such, but almost everything is solidly made, and the designers have displayed some originality with their choice of materials, which both look and feel appealing. The usual glossy black plastic isn’t entirely absent, though, and is notable around areas that you are likely to touch (and leave fingerprints on).

It may not be real wood, leather or chromed metal, but for the money it all looks and feels very pleasing. Chevron stitching is a nice touch, too.

The seats are typically Citroën, from the distinctive stitching pattern to the lack of side bolstering and the way you sink into the soft cushioning. Shine and Shine Plus models get leather upholstery as standard, while Sense Plus cars do with an equally attractive tweed-like fabric.

The whole interior layout is well thought through. There is a 12.0in central touchscreen and a 7.0in digital gauge cluster, but Citroën has retained physical controls for the climate, the volume and the driving mode, and there are no touch-sensitive surfaces. There are big bins under the centre armrest and in front of the gear selector, as well as an extra slot that is ideal for your phone.

The C5 X sits between two segments in size, and that’s most noticeable in the rear seats, which are roomier than those in both the Skoda Octavia and Hyundai i30 estates. The materials in the back mirror those in the front and rear passengers are provided with a central ventilation outlet and two USB-C ports.

The boot, however, is smaller than the Skoda Octavia’s, and the practicality is hampered slightly by the sloping roofline. On the plus side, it is a usefully square shape, the rear seats can be folded flat using levers in the boot area, the rear bumper is made from scratch-resistant black plastic and there isn’t much of a lip to negotiate.

Multimedia system

12 Citroen c5 x rt 2022 infotainment 0

The C5 X uses a new generation of software that is shared across the ex-PSA Stellantis brands and was first introduced on the Peugeot 308. They all put their own visual skin on it, but the shared bones are obvious. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

The system lets you customise the home screen, the digital gauge cluster and the head-up display with various widgets. It takes a bit of acclimatisation to learn what works for you, but once you do, the interface is very logical. The screen responds quickly, and there are physical buttons to go to the home screen and to access a number of configurable shortcuts.

The TomTom navigation is user-friendly, too, and proved fairly adept at choosing the right route and avoiding traffic. The same reservations about toggling auto-zoom functionality that we have observed in tests of other cars with the same set-up apply. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work wirelessly, there are four USB ports, and Shine and Shine Plus get wireless phone charging.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

16 Citroen C5 X RT 2022 engine

Most Citroën C5 Xs are likely to be powered by the entry-level 130 Puretech. It may seem odd to have a 1.2-litre three-cylinder in a car of this size. However, that unit has proven to feel surprisingly potent and quiet in other models, and when we tested it in the C5 X on the launch, we found it to be perfectly adequate for a car with no sporting aspirations.

If the budget allows, it may well be worth stepping up to the 180 Puretech that is the subject of this road test. With an additional cylinder, 400cc of capacity and 49bhp, the middle engine option lends the C5 X a pleasant but not overwhelming turn of pace.

There is plenty of room under the long bonnet for this 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, so the 1.2-litre three-pot is even more comfortable. The bay must be full of insulation as well, because the engine is almost inaudible inside unless you’re going full throttle at high revs.

It says a lot about how the car market has changed that the vast majority of the C5 X’s estate rivals we have tested in recent years have been diesels, often with manuals. Comparing the C5 X with the diesel Skoda Octavia neatly illustrates what drivers who switch from diesel will experience. The petrol Citroën is faster from a standing start, but the torquier diesel pulls harder from low revs in-gear. In practice, it mostly means the C5 X’s eight-speed gearbox will be busier keeping the engine on the boil.  

The C5 X is not trying to be a sporty, dynamic car, so there is little point in trying to make it fast. However, the slightly more powerful engine does make it more effortless.

The outright performance helps with that, but just as important is that Stellantis’s Puretech engines have proven to be very refined. So too is that the case in the C5 X. Except under hard acceleration, the 1.6 is all but inaudible, and even when pushed hard, it never sounds strained. It’s probably just as well Citroën doesn’t offer a manual gearbox, because shifting by ear would be hard.

The eight-speed torque-converter automatic has no such problems. It tends to choose its shift points carefully and a quick prod of the throttle generally prompts a swift downshift if necessary. It’s far from a perfect score for the gearbox, though.

Upshifts at high revs take some time, but as there’s enough mid-range grunt, that’s rarely an issue. The real frustration is that below 25mph, the car can kangaroo slightly if you’re not perfectly smooth with the throttle, as if there were some worn rubber components in the driveline.

The C5 X’s braking performance is on a par with rivals. It stops securely, even though the body heaves a lot on its soft springs.

However, we wish the pedal were easier to modulate. At higher speeds, pedal feel is acceptable, if light, but when crawling along in traffic, inconsistent pedal weighting and responsiveness make the car frustratingly difficult to bring to a smooth stop.

RIDE & HANDLING

18 Citroen C5 X RT 2022 front corner

Nowhere in its press pack for the Citroën C5 X does the brand emphasise dynamic or sporty handling. Instead, it touts the ‘well-being experience’, the ‘advanced comfort suspension’ and the ‘advanced comfort seats’. The C5 X is intended to be relaxing rather than engaging, and that probably suits most drivers just fine.

With that in mind, the C5 X’s handling is composed enough. At 205mm in section, the tyres are surprisingly narrow for a car of this size – 225 would be more typical. Nevertheless, the outright grip is perfectly adequate for the road.

Some markets have 17in alloy wheels as standard, but in the UK just one style is offered: these intricate 19s. The tyres are just 205mm in width but adequate for car with no sporty ambitions.

If you do decide to push the car in the corners, it rolls quite generously, and the light steering offers no feedback whatsoever. That said, the body moves gradually and predictably, and if you give it some time to settle rather than barrelling into corners, it’s not unenjoyable to drive the C5 X quickly.

Despite being quite soft, the suspension controls vertical body motions surprisingly well, and the C5 X negotiates crests and dips without running out of travel.

Comfort and isolation

02 Citroen c5 x rt 2022 rear corner 0

Given the C5 X’s positioning, comfort is where it ought to shine, and to an extent it does. You sink into the pillowy seats, which have enough adjustability for anyone to find a good driving position. The engine fires up almost inaudibly, and in a passively damped petrol model like our test car at least, the primary ride feels very soft indeed. It approaches the feel of an air-sprung car in the way it flattens long-wave bumps, without getting unpleasantly floaty.

Unfortunately, it can’t quite finish the job. When the wheels thump through potholes or over expansion joints, you can feel that there is enough tyre sidewall to avoid the impacts being overly harsh, but the damping isn’t fully up to controlling the wheel’s motion and as a result the C5 X never feels as perfectly isolating as promised.

At this price point there isn’t too much to complain about with the seats. An extendable thigh bolster would have made them even better, but the cushion is relatively long anyway. Even so, for all of Citroën’s talk about ‘advanced comfort seats’ with memory foam, it’s worth noting that the seats in some Mercedes and BMWs are still better for avoiding fatigue on long journeys.

One area where there is room for some improvement is the noise isolation. By no means does the C5 X disgrace itself – the noise readings we took were on a par with rivals. It just seems like road noise can resonate through the interior a touch too much.

All the complaints in this segment are relatively minor. They are worth highlighting because of the focus on comfort in Citroën’s messaging and the compromises to the car’s handling, which mean the secondary ride should really be better than it is. For anyone after a car in this class that cossets rather than excites, the C5 X is still an obvious choice.

Assisted driving

20 Citroen c5 x rt 2022 assisted driving

Like the infotainment, the assisted driving systems in the C5 X are shared with other cars from the group and, as a result, have similar behaviours.

The lane keeping assistance can be a little intrusive on country roads but is easy to turn off and we had no false interventions or warnings from the collision avoidance system. Shine and Shine Plus cars have blindspot detection, but this takes the form of quite a subtle and small light in the door mirror, whereas a more obvious audible sound would be better.

The adaptive cruise control is smooth and intuitive, but some systems are better at anticipating. The Citroën can be a little late to slow down for a queue on the motorway and tends to brake a bit too suddenly if another car cuts in. Engaging the lane following could be easier, since there is no dedicated button to do so, but once activated, it does fairly well at positioning itself within the lane.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 Citroen C5 X RT 2022 lead

Whichever similarly sized and similarly equipped car you compare the Citroën C5 X with, the C5 X will be cheaper. With a similar powertrain, it’s considerably more affordable and better equipped as standard than the Skoda Superb or Volkswagen Passat. Compared with estates a segment below those, like the Skoda Octavia or Vauxhall Astra, the C5 X is similarly priced, but usually much better equipped.

C-segment SUVs, like the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Ford Kuga, are not as roomy inside as the Citroën and while the most basic versions of some of those undercut the C5 X, most have a manual gearbox as standard and less equipment in general.

The 130 engine is adequate, the 180 nice to have. The plug-in hybrid comes with useful company car tax benefits but won’t feel that much faster than the 180. All trim levels are well equipped, but Shine strikes a good middle ground.

All of that is true for each of the three powertrain options. The C5 X plug-in hybrid has slightly less of a price advantage over its rivals than other versions of the C5 X, but it is still cheaper. Only the Kia Sportage PHEV, with its long electric range and lower resulting company car tax rate, offers a compelling financial argument against the Citroën.

The 180 Puretech version is likely to be the least popular of the C5 X range because it has neither the low entry price and low on-paper fuel consumption of the 130 model, nor the low company car tax of the hybrid. However, it has already impressed with its performance and smoothness, and continues to shine in terms of the running costs, returning 43mpg over the course of a week that included performance testing. The 1.2 might be all you need, but the 1.6 is a worthy upgrade that won’t punish you at the pump.

Unfortunately, Citroën’s finance rates aren’t quite as attractive as those of some other manufacturers and the firm doesn’t currently offer a deposit contribution, so the C5 X isn’t as good value on a PCP deal. Another slight negative is that Citroën offers only a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, while Kia, for instance, provides cover for seven years.

VERDICT

21 Citroen C5 X RT 2022 static

Citroën has looked at the shrinking market for estates and decided that there is still room for something that dials up the style and dials down the aggressiveness. The Citroën C5 X is an original, modern take on the estate with plenty of nods to the French manufacturer’s heritage without being retro.

There is a lot to like, not least the value the C5 X offers. And despite undercutting most of its rivals, it has an upmarket interior, a slick infotainment system and a selection of efficient and refined powertrains. Its soft ride makes it especially distinctive in the market.

The existence of the C5 X makes me question the point of the DS 9. They have a similar vibe about them, partly because of the shared mechanicals, but the Citroën is very nearly as nice inside and is more user-friendly and cheaper.

Given the C5 X’s laser focus on comfort, and how it sacrifices all handling dynamism at the altar of ride comfort, we can’t help being slightly disappointed it doesn’t do even better in this area. Whether the culprit is the modern taste for big wheels or suspension that is ultimately built to a price, the ride is not quite the revelation it probably should be. And while the interior isn’t excessively noisy at speed, there is some resonance that stops it from being truly serene. None of that, however, stops the C5 X being a likeable, competent and unique option that offers a lot more for the money than equivalent SUVs.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Citroen C5 X First drives