And many of them are running fuel-efficient diesels, too. Test driving these gems gives us a sneak peak at what we might see in American showrooms in the next few years. So we took the 2008 Citroën C5 to the tarmac to see just how efficient a modern midsize diesel can be. —Andrew English
Since folks in the U.S. are only vaguely familiar with the Citroën namplate, a bit of chronology is in order. André Citroën founded his eponymous company in 1919, its twin chevron badge representing the twin helical gears that he invented. Later, Citroën became the world’s fourth largest carmaker. Its management had ideas well beyond mere car making, however, and manufactured half-track vehicles in which intrepid pith-helmet-wearing explorers drove across the Sahara desert to Timbuktu. But it wasn’t all serious business at Citroën. This was the automaker with the cheek to light up the entire Eiffel Tower with its name.
And then there were the cars.
The 1934 Traction Avant was the world’s first mass-produced, front-wheel-drive model, with a monocoque body and independent front suspension. A year before, Citroën had introduced the first mass-produced diesel engine. Such innovation couldn’t last, and the company soon went bankrupt before Michelin took it over in 1934.
But the weird and wonderful cars continued. The romantic Light Fifteen became the top wheels of the World War II French resistance, shooting SS officers from its running boards. The wonderful 2CV (aka ‘tin snail’) was introduced in 1948 and became a much-loved French “people’s car.”
The company lumbered between financial crises in the 60s, producing cars like the fast, weird and wonderful Citroën Maserati SM. Yes, that’s the same model in Jay Leno’s garage. Eventually the company found financial stability with Peugeot after a shotgun marriage ordered by the French government in the 1970s.
The C5 model was introduced in 2001 as a mix of Citroën’s great past (hydropneumatic suspension) and Peugeot’s cost saving. It was also one the ugliest cars of all time. The new C5, however, is the latest in a line of revived Citroëns—and it uses much from the handsome and luxurious C6 saloon.
Citroën has a fine reputation for producing great diesel engines, and the C5’s are heavily weighted in favor of turbodiesels. We chose the robust, 173-hp, 2.2-liter powered model, which in luxurious “Exclusive” trim costs £22,495 ($42,700).
The cabin is a classy—if complicated—mix of shiny, piano-lacquer finishes and intricate dials showing a huge variety of information. Finding all the buttons to use these functions is tricky, but the steering wheel has a fixed position central boss, which provides a base for a lot of switches.
Citroëns have always been complicated cars, and the C5 is no exception. Our test car was equipped with extras including an electronic hand brake, enhanced in-car entertainment, directional headlamps and the £300 ($570) lane-departure warning system. At 190 in. long, the C5 is a rather large vehicle. But inside, the space is smaller than you might expect. Passengers (front and rear) have enough head and legroom, but we wouldn’t call it spacious. Yet the load bed is flat and long for the class, and the seats tilt easily to provide even more space.
The four-cylinder, 2.2-liter engine starts easily and idles quietly. This engine drives the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission (an automatic is available with the lower-powered, two-liter turbodiesel option).
Let the clutch out and power up to motorway speeds, and you’ll notice the controls feel over-servoed and far too light. The steering wheel twirls in your hands, the brakes feel abrupt and jerky, and the clutch has a sharp, over-center feeling. Then you realize they are precise and accurate—simply requiring a lightness of touch.
The C5 corners, stops and goes just as well as its rivals—it just goes about it in a unique way. The unique hydropneumatic suspension, a longtime Citroën technical mainstay, provides an incomparable ride quality. The C5 blows along broken surfaces that would have German rivals bucking and rearing.
The diesel is a strong and willing servant. It’s turbo blows like a gathering storm in the mid-range between 2,000 and 4,300 rpm, and the result is refined and efficient performance. The C5 is not a performance car, but it provides reasonable acceleration. The 173-hp, 273 lb.-ft. of torque mill fires the 3,891-pound wagon up to 62 mph in 10.4 seconds, then on to a top speed of 134 mph. It’s also quite efficient for such a large car: Citroën claims a combined 42.8 mpg imperial (35.6 mpg U.S.) in European tests.
On our four-day test, under very rainy conditions, we managed a very creditable 40.5 mpg imperial (33.7 mpg U.S.) on a mix of long and short journeys with many cold starts.
The Bottom Line
Viva la difference, the C5 says to the world. Logically, you could have some very fine non-premium diesel rivals for the same money as this Citroën. Yet the C5 offers continent-spanning legs, an idiosyncratic heritage and supreme competence in areas that most owners appreciate most often: ride quality and fuel economy. And if the C5 doesn’t offer the driver involvement of its German rivals, it does isolate the cabin from the outside world and suggest you sit back and enjoy the ride.
by : popularmechanics