The more I look at this car, the more I like it. If, maybe 20 years ago, you tried to imagine a car of the future which still managed to convey some of the character of its brand without being contrived about it, it might have looked something like the new Citroën C5.
There's a crisp, streamlined confidence here which contrasts with the heavy-handed glitz of the recent Ford Mondeo, the deliberate dullness of the new Renault Laguna, the predictability of the new Audi A4 and the uncertainty of the BMW 3-series. I mention these last two because they are so-called premium cars, and like the makers of the other mainstream models Citroën has premium aspirations for its new car. See the new C5 tail-on, though, and you would almost think it German. It's from this view that its Citroën-ness deserts it, because you can't see that its rear window is simultaneously convex and concave, like the larger C6's. The width-wise concavity, as well as looking unusual, makes the boot opening larger; this C5, unlike its frumpy, unloved and disastrously-depreciating predecessor, is not a hatchback. There's also an estate version with an automatically openable tailgate, but the convertible C5 Airscape "concept" we saw at the Frankfurt show is unlikely to reach production.
So, how does Citroën tread the fine line between the do-it-differently mindset of its past and the need for popular appeal?
With cars of the C5's size and purpose, the money is in fleet sales. Citroë* hopes that many new C5s will be sold to buyers who would never have considered the old one, and that sales might even be stolen from the "premiums". But fleet buyers are notoriously cautious in outlook and guarded with their expenditure; reliability and residual values rule.
Fleet buyers don't see why they should pay for the hydropneumatic suspension system that has been the norm in larger Citroëns ever since 1955's DS. The benefits are subtle at best, they think, and the scope for problems is considerable. So Citroën has sold its soul and is offering the C5 in both hydropneumatic and conventional coil-sprung versions.
Another Citroën-specific feature is the fixed-hub steering wheel introduced in the C4; here the hub's switches for stereo, computer and cruise control are covered in a soft-touch membrane. The rest of the interior is ultra-modern, softly welcoming and reassuringly normal.
As for engines, it's the usual Peugeot-Citroën mix of 1.8, 2.0 and V6 3.0 petrol engines, with four diesels of 1.6, 2.0, 2.2 and 2.7-litres' capacity, the last again a V6. Prices will start around £15,500, sales early next year.
Say goodbye to 'Daddy's car'
By Carl Reader
The lights dim, the hall falls silent and then in the glare of the spotlights a phalanx of C5s purrs out, bathed in spotlights and falling glitter. Gilles Michel, president of Citroën, stands among them, beaming with pleasure. This is not simply because the cars look so good, but because the C5 will break new ground for the company as the first model to be launched and manufactured in China.
Michel used the launch to highlight how the C5 could take advantage of a growing unease in the market about SUVs, and indicated that the estate version was expected to be as much of a crowd-pleaser as the saloon. Increasingly, estates are being reinvigorated as the public becomes more aware of the higher costs of running of SUVs and the dullness of many saloons. "Most saloons are just three boxes and there is little you can do with them," he said. "But we have created a car with style and personality: the days of daddy's car are over."