Has the world finally come round to a non-sporty large French car?
My esteemed colleague Paul Horrell recently opined about ‘relatability’ in the context of the VW ID.4 he lived with for six months. To which we could also add ‘relevance’ as a key factor in the car-buying/owning matrix. Many of the world’s most valuable car brands are disruptive newcomers beloved of Silicon Valley’s tech bros, and there’s an irrefutable sheen to the likes of Lucid, Nio, and Rivian. Tesla stock has tanked recently – its market capitalisation at the time of writing was $435bn, down 65 per cent from its peak a year ago of a gob-smacking $1.2tn – but it’s still the world’s most valuable car maker. ‘New’ is always good, but in 2023 it feels like relevance is highly prized.
So why bother with a large Citroën? Like Alfa Romeo, it’s a name that really only resonates for older folk, or the irredeemably nerdy car nerd (I’m both). I love the fact that André Citroen rented the Eiffel Tower in 1925 and used a quarter of a million bulbs to illuminate it with the Citroën name. Or that the engineers on the Thirties Traction Avant crash-tested a prototype by pushing it off a cliff; it rolled end-over-end, but they were still able to drive it away (the footage is on YouTube). The guy who designed the original DS was an Italian sculptor with links to the Futurist movement. And in the mid-Eighties, the wondrous CX was driven out of Grace Jones' robotised mouth on a television advert. There’s plenty more where that came from. How about 79 wins in the WRC, in the hands of – in my view – the greatest driver of them all, Sébastien Loeb?
This is a magnificent legacy, non? But does it make you want to buy a Citroën, a big, luxury-oriented one at that? The C5 X may be channelling elements of the CX, XM and the late, almost entirely unlamented C6 (erm, I liked it), but it’s also definitely trying something different. It’s not an estate, a crossover or an SUV, but has shoved all three in a giant, car-sized blender. Car companies love new niches, and indeed Citroën’s design director, Pierre Leclerq, is the man who first envisaged the X6 when he was a rising star during his stint designing BMWs. But this sort of cross-pollination can also be problematic: neither the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo or Opel Signum set the sales charts aflame, and the Audi allroad and Volvo V90 Cross Country are increasingly minority players.
The C5 X goes further. Its difference extends to a rejection of any overt sportiness: design, comfort, and on-board well-being are its key characteristics. This probably isn’t as nuts as it sounds, for while these might not be particularly disruptive, they’re also resonant in 2023. I no longer drive everywhere on the door handles, and most of us spend most of the time ensnared in traffic or wondering if we need to take out a mortgage to pay for a tank of fuel. I go to the gym and theoretically have a lifestyle, but my back also hurts. A large, softly sprung Citroën that isn’t an SUV sounds pretty tempting.
A hybrid one, too. The C5 X is available powered by the group’s familiar 128bhp, 1.2-litre Puretech three-cylinder or the 178bhp 1.6-litre four. TG’s is the 225 e-EAT8 PHEV, which adds an 81kW (109bhp) electric motor to that engine for a total power output of 222bhp. There’s a 12.4kWh battery pack in the boot which charges in about 90 minutes on a domestic 7.4kW wallbox. Citroën claims an electric range of 37 miles fully charged, more than enough to handle the average driver’s daily mileage (but adds 304kg to the base car’s weight). Fuel economy, emissions and BiK are all obviously optimised in this configuration, but we’ll see how it goes in reality. As ever.
Ours is the top-spec Shine Plus, so it’s handsomely specced. In contrast to recent German Lifers, there are only a few options: I could live without the black bi-tone roof (£350) and panoramic roof (£1,300), but reckon the memory foam massage seats (£800) are worth the outlay. Set the controls for maximum waft.