Substance over style

There are certain objects you simply cannot polish effectively, but Citroën’s designers have had a fair stab at bringing the C5 up to date as well injecting a modicum of excitement to the styling of a car largely forgotten in its class.

New headlights and the latest corporate grille, which includes Citroën’s double chevrons, set a far more assertive tone up front while restyled L-shaped lamps and a bumper-mounted number plate tidy the rear. It’s not pretty and the overall proportions are still odd, but it’s a dramatic improvement. Shame the same can’t be said for the (fantastically comfortable) interior whose curvy dashboard and brittle plastics have dated badly, despite some minor fettling that has updated the switchgear design and instrument graphics.

Major mechanical changes include a new 1.6-litre 109bhp, 192lb ft turbo-diesel which is very refined, if a bit short on poke and slightly low geared. But the most satisfying drivetrain combination is the also-new 136bhp 2.0-litre HDi with a six-speed manual gearbox. 

Though fractionally less refined than its little brother, the 2.0-litre offers effortless mid-range punch thanks to an overboost function that supplies 251lb ft of torque to the front wheels at full load. Both engines are Euro4 compliant. Choose an automatic ’box for your diesel and you’ll get the old 2.2-litre HDi engine which still attracts the 18 per cent tax loading. There are no plans to slot the 2.7-litre V6 diesel co-developed by Ford and PSA under the bonnet of the current C5.

Front-facing parking sensors, knee airbags, directional headlamps and laminated side-window glass to boost security and safety are all new to the facelifted C5, but by far the most interesting bit of kit is the lane departure warning system. Soon to feature on the Xsara-replacing C4 as well, this gizmo uses ground-facing sensors to detect the presence of road markings beneath the car and alerts the driver to the fact that C5 and crash barrier are about to become intimate.

It does this by means of a vibrating seat that simulates roadside rumble strips, jiggling your left or right buttock depending on which side of the road the car is veering towards. Sounds useful in principle, and doubtless it’ll save the lives of many tired or careless drivers.Trouble is, it makes its presence felt in other situations. We know we’re supposed to indicate with every manoeuvre, but the truth is that on a quiet motorway many of us don’t.

Try overtaking then pulling back into the left lane without signalling and the seat nearly has a seizure, as it does when you try nibbling too much apex on a curvy road framed by white lines. Thankfully there is an off button, which some drivers may be looking for once the device’s novelty has worn off.

Air suspension now seems firmly established as the obvious alternative to steel coils, but Citroën’s traditional fluid-filled Hydractive suspension still has much to recommend it, marrying useful body control with genuine suppleness over most surfaces.

Dynamic or visual excitement isn’t on the menu, but it’s that laid-back, typically Gallic facet to the C5’s character that remains at the cornerstone of the car’s appeal, particularly in voluminous diesel estate form. We’d wait for Citroën’s cashback deals to return before parting with our money, though.

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Chris Chilton

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