Citroën's new C5 takes the Germans on at their own game, but retains its Gallic sensibilities, says David Wilkins

Price: £24,395
Engine: 2.7 litre V6 turbodiesel
Power: 205 bhp at 4,000rpm; 240 lb/ft at 1,900 rpm
Performance: 139mph, 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds, 33.6mpg
CO2: 223g/km
Worth considering: Alfa Romeo 159 2.4 JTDm; Peugeot 407 2.7 V6 HDi; Vauxhall Vectra 3.0 CDTi

'Unmistakably German"; that's the message that rounds off Citroën's television advertisement for its new Mondeo-sized C5, which features fencing, castles, a long autobahn drive to Berlin and every other stereotypically Teutonic subject you can think of. The words "Made in France" appear as an apparent afterthought, just before the pictures fade to make way for the next commercial.

You may, like me, regret that Citroën feels it necessary to play down its own fine record of innovation in order to convince customers to buy its latest products on the basis that they are similar to something else; in fact, in many respects the German automotive tradition represents the antithesis of the sort of flair for which French cars were always valued. But try the C5 for yourself and you will feel a lot happier about the state of Citroën. The new car's interior is perhaps the best to be found in any modern French model in terms of fit, finish and materials, and this car conveys a pleasing general sense of solidity, too. That's the German bit, and it probably needed a big, attention-grabbing advertising campaign to get the message through to badge-obsessed British car buyers.

The best news, though, is that the C5 combines this substance with traditional Citroën touches such as Hydractive suspension (at least on the top of the range car tested here), a concave rear window like that found on the C6 and CX, and the fixed steering wheel boss first seen on the C4. The "clap hands" wipers, though, were clearly inspired by those fitted to Sixties Mercs.

One drawback of all that German chunkiness is that the powerful 2.7-litre diesel version we tested is the only C5 capable of (just) cracking the 10-second mark when it comes to the benchmark sprint to 62mph (100km/h), although it's an accomplished motorway cruiser, and if you're feeling really German, you can opt for the "Sport" setting on the suspension as well.

It remains to be seen whether the C5's Germanic solidity will translate into slow, German-style depreciation – for that, Citroen may have to curb its usual keenness to offer discounts and deals on new cars in the UK market – but the car itself is an impressive effort.

THE VERDICT

Gerry Dawson, 59
Freelance TV producer, North Somerset
Usual cars: BMW 328 Coupe and Suzuki 650 Vstrom

The C5 is a lot of car for the money. A Gallic charmer, it complements its fine looks with French solidity. The clunk-closing doors, firm but supportive seats, and interior fittings and finish are, however, very German. Although the steering may lack the sporty precision of some German rivals, the 2.7-litre diesel was a surprise/delight, with smooth-flowing power and good economy. Even the floaty suspension of Citroëns of old has gone, replaced by firm, controlled movements.

Unmistakably German? Not completely. I had an 'Allo 'Allo! moment when I raised the bonnet and saw a flimsy support strut that was more French plumbing than Technik. But, if this car comes close to German levels of reliability and slow depreciation, the verdict will be "Sehr Gut!".

Chris Santry, 58
Admin manager, Clapton-in-Gordano
Usual cars: Skoda Octavia, Smart car, Lancia Fulvia HF

The C5's Hydractive suspension soaked up the potholes in the North Somerset roads, providing a very smooth ride on winding B- roads. The sport button added a little more sharpness in handling, without the loss of suppleness in road-holding. On the motorway, the car was very refined thanks to its torque-y 2.7-litre diesel engine. It's the complete package, a challenge to any competitor.

The driving position was good, with a very clever non-rotating steering-wheel boss containing essential controls. Rear passenger room was sufficient, even for a person of my 6ft-plus stature. Clever touches were an electric handbrake and a driver's seat that automatically moves back for easier entry and exit. This car is a quantum leap from its predecessor.

Mike Farrell, 38
Job-purchasing manager, Clevedon
Usual Cars: VW Touran, Ford Focus

I wasn't exactly enamoured when I heard I would be testing a Citroën C5, but at least it wasn't a Sinclair C5. The new 2.7-litre auto exudes an air of luxury inside and out, and the trim is well refined. The engine is responsive, while the variable suspension and 18in rims guarantee that the ride is smooth around the bends and silent on the motorway. Vibration alert when crossing white lines was clever, but I found the shape and size of the rear-view mirrors distracting, and the electronic handbrake and static steering-wheel centre added to the confusion of a fussy cockpit.

The smaller-engine versions of the Citroën C5 would probably offer value to some fleets, but would I buy one? I would rather have a real German car.



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