Writing about cars comes with many privileges. One of which is the conveyor belt of new models being delivered to your doorstep on a weekly basis. It’s a remarkable luxury but comes at a price. You inevitably lose the excitement of getting in a new car – savouring that new-car smell, the delight of sifting through the manual and learning how it all works, and the pleasure of marking your territory by filling up the pockets with the personal effects that make it your own.
It becomes an automated process. You don’t notice the smell anymore, you objectively run through the features ready to critique them, and you travel light – usually with nothing more than a charging cable and a pair of sunglasses to swap between steeds. There’s little attachment, too. Good or bad, cars become transient. You get used to waving off the great ones with barely a second glance, and, when it comes to the stinkers, there’s the relief of knowing you won’t have to endure them for long. Then lockdown happened, and this game of automotive musical chairs suddenly stopped.
Back in 2020, every road tester looked out of their window to see what parcel they’d been left holding. One of my colleagues at that time was left holding a Lamborghini Huracan, which you'd have to say is a pretty long straw. What had I been left with? A Citroen C5 Aircross. And here’s why I was the winner. Now, at this point you’re thinking it makes no difference: it was lockdown; you couldn’t drive anywhere. True, but there were errands to run, like going to the supermarket, and that’s not really the Huracan’s forte.
Plus, I did have to drive. Quite a lot actually. I have a farm in Wales and, as an essential business, this meant I was doing a round trip of over 300 miles in a day every couple of weeks to check on its operation. The Huracan’s not the best car for that sort of caper, either, whereas the C5 was a delight. Granted, you’re probably thinking a stodgy C5 SUV is about as PH as the Sinclair three-wheeler with which it shares a name - but let me try to politely persuade you why you’re wrong. And I'm not being haughty about this: I took the opportunity to check my marbles were still in place by booking in a couple of post-facelift models to make sure. And yes, I am still convinced the C5 is PH certified.
Why? Because PH is about interesting cars, right? Certainly, no one is going to deny that old-school Citroens qualify as interesting, and to me the C5 gets pretty close to delivering some of that bygone Citroen charm. I know it doesn’t have swivelly headlights that can see around corners, or hydropneumatic suspension for an elasticated ride, but it has got progressive hydraulic bump stops. They're worth talking about. They make the C5 a big sponge pudding on wheels, which is bloody marvellous if you like that sort of thing. And in the right car, I do.
After all, it's one of the reasons why folk have been championing the latest Range Rover. That has a gracefully lolloping ride just like the C5's, but the C5 goes one better. It doesn’t thud as badly as the Rangie over sharped-edged stuff, which makes its ride more complete in my book. You have to put up with a bit of sway on motorways, because it obviously doesn’t have the Range Rover’s sophisticated 48-volt anti-roll control system, but I can live with that. Is it awful in corners? Yes, but only if you’ve come straight from a sharper-handling rival like the VW Tiguan. If you accept that the C5 isn’t a B-road blaster, which it most certainly isn't, it’s okay. There’s lots of body lean, sure, and it has lower limits than its rivals, but the technicalities of its handling are fine. The steering isn’t vague and the grip it musters is spread evenly front to rear, which means it’s stress-free to steer and doesn’t do anything untoward.
To go with its squishy ride, you sit up relatively high on fantastically squishy seats; wide, comfortable chairs that Citroen calls its Advanced Comfort seats. The blurb says these are ‘composed of high-density foam in the core of the seat, with an extra 15mm layer of foam and a specific structure’. If that sounds like pure PR balderdash, for once it stands up to scrutiny. I love ‘em. Allied to this, the C5 is also a remarkably hushed cruiser for something that doesn’t come with a premium badge and price tag. Really, there’s hardly any road noise and…dare I say it…less wind noise than the Range Rover with its fancy noise-cancelling system. That might have something to do with all C5s coming with an acoustic laminated windscreen, and laminated side windows if you go for the mid-range trim.
My lockdown special came with the 1.2 Puretech 130 and an EAT8 auto ‘box. That’s a better setup than the latest C5 I tried with the same engine and a six-speed manual. To be fair, the change itself is reasonably light and easygoing, but the clutch is poor thanks to a wishy-washy bite point. The motor itself is fine, though. It doesn’t equip the C5 Aircross with mighty speed, but, for such a tiny-tot triple, it musters a decent smattering of shove from around 2,000rpm. In the real world that makes it fast enough. My engineer mate, Pete, would say it has too much lugging boom, which is that low-frequency rumble you get when the engine's under load with few revs, but once you’re past that any engine noise mostly shrinks into the background.
I also drove the latest plug-in hybrid version. Obviously, that doesn’t have any lugging boom – not when it's skulking around on electric, anyway – and it’s a damn sight quicker with a 180hp 1.6 plus another 100hp-odd from the e-motor. Mind you, I can’t put an actual number on that because the 0-62mph time is TBC in the brochure, which is odd for a car that exists. The extra pace is certainly noticeable, though, although neither it, nor its circa 25 miles of EV range, wouldn't be enough to tempt me to go part-electric due to the negatives: the slightly poorer ride, some driveline shunt and the £7,755 price hike over the petrol. The best option if you want more real-world pace with economy is probably the diesel, but championing that will get my name jotted down in a little black book somewhere and I’ll be shot when the revolution comes.
Speaking of price, how about this for affordable: just under £27,000 buys you the Puretech petrol in entry-level Sense trim, which is far from an empty Nissen hut on wheels. It has keyless entry, dual-zone climate, front and rear parking sensors and a rear camera to name some of the highlights. A mid-spec model with even more toys is only £1,000 more. For once, surely that negates any of the 'It's way too pricey' quips in the comments? Now have a guess how much the most basic five-seat Skoda Kodiaq costs? No, you're wrong - way more than that. It’s fifteen quid shy of £33,500 - and Skodas are meant to be a value brand remember. Fair enough, the Kodiaq has some much nicer materials inside, but despite far too much hard plastic spread around the C5's interior it feels solid and, somehow, it manages to look classier than it should thanks to a few choice materials in a few well-chosen places. The Kodiaq has roomier rear seats, too, but the C5 isn’t cramped in the back and all three rear seats slide and fold individually, so it's immensely flexible. The boot is massive, too.
See, I'm not going bonkers, am I? But at the same time, I’m not pretending the C5 will suit everyone. I talk to colleagues who look aghast when I say how much I like this car, and I completely get where they’re coming from. It’s the ride, mainly, because you’ll either love or loathe how soft it is. We all have our personal preferences, and if you want something geared towards the sporty spectrum the C5 really isn’t for you. But if you fancy something that goes about its business differently, that bumbles along in a soothing fashion – you know, like an old-school Citroen – all I am saying is the C5 Aircross is one to look at. Oh, yes, and to reassure you, I was being flippant by suggesting a Lamborghini Huracan wouldn't make a fantastic longtermer. Of course, it would, albeit for very different reasons. Nevertheless, sticking fuel in it would've bankrupted me, while the trusty Citroen averaged a handy 40mpg.
Nothing brings me more pleasure than being pleasantly surprised by a car that I didn't expect to be that good. And for all the above reasons, I was surprised by the C5 and found myself quite attached to it in the end. That's why it got a rare honour: a second glance as it left.
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