It’s not conventionally attractive, is it? When the Citroën C5 X turned up, the first thing I did was take it in from the front and, to be fair, I thought the slimline front lights looked quite smart. But then I walked round to the rear and... oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. I can’t help thinking they got a bit carried away. Maybe someone should’ve called out “enough now” when the design team began adding those Halfords stick-on strips to the rear quarter windows.
Look at the C5 X side on and there’s another issue: the boot doesn’t ‘alf carry on for a long time. It’s like a house extension that’s quite clearly breached planning permission because it’s halfway across the road. I wasn’t the only one to think the C5 X’s looks are discombobulating. A friend of mine came up to me and said, “John, you know I really like Citroëns, but I’ve gotta say that thing is butt ugly.”
While we’re on the subject, what’s with the twin spoilers on the tailgate? Those are a bit 1990s Ford Escort Cosworth, and let’s be clear: this is most certainly not a performance car in the mould of one of those. In fact, I’m still wondering what exactly it is. Before the C5 X arrived, I was under the impression it was an SUV. To be fair, it’s got black plastic wheel arches, so I hadn’t completely misread the brief, but it’s so long and low. It's not like an SUV at all, even those funny coupé ones.
I know that few people who buy SUVs take them off road, so what’s the point in giving them masses of ground clearance, but the C5 X is so low it doesn’t look like it’s capable of rambling into the weeds at the back of an unkempt car park. It’s front-wheel drive, too, so it’ll get stuck if you park it on a grass verge and there’s a shower.
There are other things that really annoyed me about the C5 X. I’ll come to those in a bit, but they’re things that I think will annoy anyone who’s considering one of these for their next car. That doesn’t mean I am going to say don’t buy one, though. You see, while you could own this car for three years and never quite fathom out whether you’ve bought an SUV, a hatchback or an estate, and while it might look so weird your friends will be terribly rude about it, as happened to me, there’s a lot to liked about the C5 X. So let me tell you all about it.
For a start, Citroën seems to have found its mojo in recent years. Whatever you think of the C5 X’s looks, at least André Citroën’s famously idiosyncratic brand is back to building cars that are, well, idiosyncratic. Now, that won’t always mean you like what you see, but thank God its cars aren’t boring anymore. They're characterful again, unlike so much that's out there now. Remember the first-generation C5 that appeared in 2001? No, of course you don’t. It was the most forgettable car since, you know, the thingamajig. So I for one am all about celebrating the fact you won't forget this one in a hurry.
The other area Citroën is doing well at is comfort. I want to kiss the management on both cheeks and say ce magnifique for this. While everyone else is pounding around the Nürburgring developing cars that pound your backside, Citroën has said c'est de la merde to such boneheaded silliness. Quite right, too: everyday cars should be comfortable. Did I find myself driving the C5 X thinking what I really needed was half the body roll and twice the grip? Nope. And I got around every corner I encountered just fine, thank you very much. I like the fact that the C5 X’s compliance encourages you to drive in a measured fashion. It’s relaxing, but even when I decided perhaps I should do my job and test the chassis’ abilities to some degree, it had more than enough grip and some decent balance, too.
Then there’s the steering. I’ve driven cars recently – ones that claim to be really very sporty – that don’t offer the feedback you need to keep them tracking straight down a motorway. Now, the front end of the C5 X isn’t pin sharp or pointy, but nevertheless, I had no problem with the way it steers. I never struggled to keep the C5 X in a lane or place it in a bend, because it has an appropriate level of feedback. The only thing was the lane assist. I said earlier that there are things about this car that annoyed me, and this is one of them. It’s shockingly bad; always interfering even when you’re nowhere near a white line, let alone straddling one. And it annoyed me that I had to turn it off every time because it’s impossible to live with its needless meddling. Why, when it's this bad, can't it just stay turned off?
Anyway, back to the suspension. It’s not a sophisticated suspension set-up, I know that. It is just soft and, to be honest, maybe a little underdamped at times because it can be fractious if you happen strike a ridge with both wheels of the front axle at the same time. The 19-inch wheels on the test car probably didn’t help matters there. It also bobs around on the motorway, mostly from side to side but sometimes diagonally, too. I know that any engineer worth their salt would absolutely slate what’s going on underneath – and I would agree, but argue that’s missing the point. Ask a passenger "is this car comfortable?" and they’ll say yes, because most of the time it just is. Really, that’s what matters most, and generally speaking it soaks up all and sundry while the miles roll gently by.
It’s also very quiet, with impressively low levels of wind and road noise on the motorway for a run-of-the-mill car. There are other noises that you hear, though. Some suspension noise on rough roads, and the 1.2-litre three-pot Puretech petrol booms at low revs. Once it’s passed a couple of thousand rpm that’s not a problem, though. The gearbox is also a bit slow to respond at times, but that didn’t bother me, either – and I promise, I am not making excuses here. If the C5 X had any pretensions of being sporty, the tardy gearbox would rightly receive a drubbing, but because you only ever drive the C5 X in a relaxed fashion, who cares that the transmission takes a half-second longer to kick down.
Same with the engine’s performance. Here’s the thing: it has only 130hp and just 170lb ft of torque, which means it takes more than 10 seconds to get from 0 to 62mph. Dog slow, you might say. Problem? Not at all. It has more than enough welly where you need it – in the mid-range – so the real-world pace is fine. And because the engine’s not excessively big or powerful, it was averaging 40mpg very easily. That means the 53-litre fuel tank is good for around 450 miles between fill ups, which I think is pretty good for a petrol. Even at today’s pump prices, it means you don’t need a series of deep breaths and half a box of Valium on hand when you brim it.
Then there’s the interior. The materials aren’t always the finest but Citroën is very clever at making them look better than they should and screwing everything together well. I found it a very plush and welcoming place to be, and the driving position is good: well-aligned pedals and plenty of adjustment to the steering wheel and seats. Oh my God, the seats. I really like the seats in this car. Wide, soft and so wonderful to park your rear on for a three-hour trip without the hint of a twinge at the other end.
The digital readout of the driver display is easy to understand, and if you don’t like how the information is displayed there are a few different styles to choose from. The infotainment is iffy, though. It’s much snappier that previous software from Stellantis and the screen’s much clearer as well, but I found some of the menus bizarre. It took me more time than it should’ve to work out where things were, and I never worked out how to adjust the height of the head-up display. The good news is there are knobs and buttons for all the essential stuff, which left me with more positives than negatives on the usability side.
Speaking of usable, the boot is 545 litres with the seats up, although that’s just a meaningless number. What matters is how much you can fit in the thing, and the answer is loads. I had a lot of household stuff to shift from London to Wales, and when it was all laid out on the garage floor I looked over to the car and thought: ain't no way all that is going in there. Well blow me down it did. The C5 X swallowed the lot, so while I still can’t tell you whether it’s an SUV, hatchback or estate, I can tell you it’s extremely practical. Being a Citroën it’s also affordable, with prices starting at £28,670 and that includes the automatic gearbox and plenty of kit. That makes it cheaper than the C5 Aircross, by the way, but not my much.
On balance that's the car I would choose – I like the C5 Aircross a lot. I also liked the C5 X, mind, and while I could understand anyone saying, I wouldn’t drive that if you paid me, I think you’d be missing a trick. Especially if you are fed up with hard-riding, Nürburgring specials, when all you want to do is commute to work and back in comfort. That’s the Citroën C5 X’s primary appeal, although there’s a lot more besides that to recommend it. Sure, if you order one, by the time you pick it up from the dealership the design team – who cannot stop designing – will probably have added several more spoilers and stripes, but when you close the door and drive away, you'll be the one laughing, I reckon.
SPECIFICATION | Citroën C5 X 1.2 Puretech 130 Shine Plus
Engine: 1,199cc, three-cylinder turbo
Transmission: eight-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Total power (hp): 131 @ 5,500rpm
Total torque (lb ft): 170 @ 1,750rpm
Top speed: 130mph
Weight: 1,528kg (EU)
MPG: 48.6 (WLTP)
CO2: 137g/km (WLTP)
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