Theme : Facelifts – Dîner pour Chiens

It was no oil painting to start with, but the facelifted C5 was ghastly. -

Dan Abramson’s 1994 Xanae concept signposted Citroën’s entry into the compact MPV sector, but additionally, its styling came to inspire an entire generation of production Citroën’s, each displaying an incremental diminution of creative execution. The Xanae’s conception was overseen by Art Blakeslee, drafted in from Talbot to preside over Citroën’s styling after the allegedly rancorous departure of Carl Olsen in 1986.

Influential - the 1994 Xanae concept...
Influential – the 1994 Xanae concept…

During Blakeslee’s tenure, Citroën produced several creditable concepts, but there was no enthusiasm, either from Citroën MD, Xavier Karcher or PSA’s conservative board for much in the way of design flair or experimentation. By the mid-1990’s, Citroën’s production car styling had become creatively atrophied and appeared destined to remain that way.

The 2000 Xantia replacement nodded vaguely to the Xanae, but while the X4-series C5 styling embodied ‘laide’ aplenty, there wasn’t much compensatory ‘jolie’. A frump-fest par excellence, its vaguely monospace proportions and sheer flanks lent it a decidedly lumpen appearance, especially in the wake of the more visually harmonious Xantia.

However, duller minds in PSA’s corridors of power decreed this was exactly how a post-millennium Citroën should appear. Given that both Karcher and Blakeslee retired that year, the C5 would also stand as something of a swansong for a duo whom many Citroëniste’s view as masters of mediocrity.

Better days were promised with the 1999 appointment of Jean-Pierre Ploué as Design Director, with a remit to reverse Citroën’s styling slump. Executive Vice President Claude Satinet told Automotive News at the time; “I don’t have any negative feelings about what has been done by Art Blakeslee’s team, but, inside Citroën, I don’t think we had the man with the ability to lead the design team”.

Which, regardless of what one may think about Blakeslee as a manager or creative, was a nice line in hypocrisy, given PSA employed him with a reactionary mandate in the first place.


Ploué would oversee a number of more progressive Citroën designs, but with the pre-existing C5, nothing short of a full re-skin would address its plenitude of stylistic deficiencies. With this out of the question, Ploué’s options were limited. In fairness, he hadn’t much to work with, but while the resultant effect, (also credited to Abramson), may not have been the full Jocelyn Wildenstein, it came staggeringly close.

A similarly ill-advised (and abortive) facelift had previously been attempted with the XM, so clearly there remained a sizeable creative blindspot within Citroën’s Velizy technical centre, despite the change of personnel. It’s reasonable to suggest that Ploué changes the subject abruptly when the subject of this facelift comes up over the braised swan, and can we blame him? Expediency is rarely the most appetising dish, to say nothing about dog’s dinners.

Data source: Automotive News/Citroënet.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

33 thoughts on “Theme : Facelifts – Dîner pour Chiens”

  1. ‘…while the X4-series C5 styling embodied laide aplenty, there wasn’t much compensatory jolie.’

    I think ‘laideur’ and ‘beauté’ are the two words you were after here…

  2. My Dear Eóin & Laurent

    Far be it from me to arbitrate on such matters but, as your Editor, I shall. Although Laurent might be grammatically correct, in so far as Eóin’s original article was using adjectives to denote nouns. we are not governed here by the intimidating strictures of L’Académie française. Once one takes a word or phrase from another language into reasonably common usage in one’s own, it can be argued that the rules of one’s own language take precedence. The English language is perhaps a bit more flexible in allowing wordplay that steps outside absolute correctness as in, for example “I was doing this and that, but too much this and not enough that”. It is in that spirit that Eoin deconstructed “jolie-laide”, and so I must say that I find it perfectly acceptable. My decision is final, but I appreciate Laurent’s intention in maintaining the quality of writing that this site aspires to and, if Eóin chooses to take up his equally acceptable alternative, that will be acceptable too. Aaah, my cup runneth over with the sweet waters of diplomacy

    Cordialement Yours


    1. I knew someone would say that, and somehow I’m glad it presented the Editor with a chance to display his magnanimity…
      Still, personally I would never recommend the use of foreign words in this way, mostly because it’s a tired device rarely as smart as it may seem to its user, and often results in words being misspelt and/or used in a grammatically incorrect fashion – a confusion being masculine and feminine words being the most common mistake (in this instance it should really be ‘laid’, not ‘laide’).

      [For the record I am equally intolerant of the use of English words in French]

  3. Laurent. My editorial red pen often strikes out the pretentious but, in Eoin’s case, I would argue it permissible. Like ‘Schadenfreude’, the term has no easy equivalent in English, so please consider its use testament to just another of your fine nation’s contributions to our culture.

    Incidentally, as an old chap, I still often refer to my car as a ‘voiture’ when conversing with over-zealous ‘gendarmes’ on the continent. In that case, surely the feminine form is correct?

    But, to revert to the use of too many foreign words and phrases in writing, as I have indicated I agree with you in essence, but chacun à son goût.

    1. Indeed you’re right, as it refers to ‘la C5’ here and not to its styling ‘laide’ is correct.
      Still, this approach is fraught with danger and should be used with parsimony – and a good, multilingual spell-checker.

    2. My Dear Laurent. I see now what you meant. Eoin was referring to the aesthetics of the (feminine) car, whilst you were referring to the aesthetics of the (masculine) design. Zut, but your language is fraught with difficulties – do you wonder that I spent most of my French lessons in the nets practicing my bowling?

      I think I shall exert my editorial prerogative and declare this topic (French Grammar not the C5 facelift) at a close.

  4. Question: Was this C5 the worst piece of design ever to leave a Citroen design studio and make it to market? I think so … No facelift could have saved it, but it is possible that this one made it worse!

  5. SV. I’d nominate the Xsara. The proportions of the C5, with that long cabin are, at least to my eyes, interesting, even if the execution was dire. I can even (almost) tolerate a C5 Mk 2 Estate which has the OK front but not those inept rear lights – providing, of course, I don’t think of it as the successor to the Xantia, let alone a CX which, size wise, is more its ancestor.

  6. Umm – crikey! C5 or Xsara for worst ever Citroen. Both from the same era, I will probably concede, especially as it should have been a snappier, smaller version of the rather lovely Xantia, so it counts as a bigger lost opportunity.

  7. Would it be bad form to nominate the ZX? I seem to recall some journalistic moron referring to it as the successor to the GS. Which offended me on so many levels. Actually, no: the Saxo is far worse. Yes, that’s it. No hang on, it’s the C2. Yep, it’s definitely the C2. Oh Christ, I give up. Too many worst Citroen’s ever…

  8. Possibly the car that started it all, the LN. Though of course that wasn’t even styled by Citroen, a pure hand-me-down from Big Brother Peugeot.

  9. I thought the ZX, in isolation, was OK, in that it was plain, neat, but not ugly. I agree that calling is a GS replacement is an insult. The Saxo was pretty awful (I remember reading an article where Blakeslee got very defensive about it, describing the dashboard as “special”!), but I’d call the Xsara worse than that. The LN was just a barely rebadged Pug 104 3 door, so I don’t think it counts in this debate – just as I’d say the same about the C-Zero in today’s world. I had never thought, until now, that the C2 was a problem, but then the more I think about it, you might be right. The Xsara and C5 still top this poor bunch for me.

  10. I remember Citroen describing the Saxo’s child locks as evidence they hadn’t lost their technical edge so, as punishment for pretension, it almost deserves first place. I don’t actually mind the C2 that much, as long as no-one tells me it is a successor to the 2CV or the 5HP, I take SV’s point about the LN, but they did put Dyane lights on it and gave it a 2 cylinder engine so I claim it’s a Citroen and can be judged as such. But I still think the Xsara comes out bottom. Sadly, I believe it was designed by a Brit, who took the crisp and satisfactory shape of the Xantia and moulded it in Play-Doh.

  11. I’m assuming that Sean is referring to Mark Lloyd, who was at Citroën at the time – (and remains so to this day). However, he does not seem to be ‘credited’ with its styling. The Blakeslee era is as creatively bewildering as the Lawson era at Jaguar. Interestingly, both eras ended the same year – 1999. Another parallel – Lloyd worked under Lawson at Browns Lane before moving to Velizy. Small world…

  12. Eoin. I’m not sure. I don’t remember it being Mark Lloyd, but it was a while ago and I read it in the pages of TWBCM, so we have two unreliable sources at work here. I took strongly against Mark Lloyd for his backwards swimming ‘sharks fin’ bullshittery DS3, though his Cactus has redeemed him somewhat. My prejudice still remains that a true Citroen designer should come from South of The Isle of Wight (and East of Maine), chain smoke Gitanes and look as though he hangs around with ropey philosophers and bad jazz musicians.

  13. I would have to agree with the Xsara, although I would nominate the first Picasso as the rock-bottom of the bunch. Essentially a powder-blue egg sitting on tiny wheels with an abominable DLO.
    The DS3 isn’t that far away from the bottom, though.

  14. I have to disgree with the Picasso. Well, at least partly. I appreciate it because it brought something else than the usual boxy shape into the van segment with its inclined rear screen. It was pretty much an interpretation of the Xanae concept which I really like. However, it must be said that the interpretation is bad on the detail level. Side mouldings, headlights and grille are the typical awful style of Citroën around 2000. And yes, the DLO would have profited enormously if they had afforded a few Euros for painting the door frames black. PSA cheapskates…

    By the way, the first C4 Picasso in its short variety again takes up the overall shape and proportions of the Xanae / XsP, but combines it with much more modern and cleaner shapes. The small Citroën van should have looked like this from the beginning.

    As for the wheels, I have never understand why suddenly they have to be bigger and bigger with every year. They are just about right on the Picasso as they make the car look long-wheelbased and allow for generous door openings. Larger wheels make cars look short and eat away space and riding comfort. But that’s just the opinion of a guy who changed his original and very beautiful 18″ rims on the C6 (see SV Robinson’s avatar) to aftermarket 17″s for softer response…

    1. Higher profile and also narrower. Originally it had 245/45-18, now I have 225-55/17, which is also the standard size for winter tyres. It helps a lot to mask the HP’s inherent harshness on small bumps at low speed.

  15. So what’s my bottom, you might ask…
    I’d certainly start with the 106 (err, sorry, Saxo), followed by Elysée, Xsara and DS4.

  16. The first version of the C5, the Xsara, Saxo, that PSA van thing, the ZX and the Picasso all share bottom place. Despite using the Xanae theme the first Picasso had nothing in its favour. As Simon says, the idiotic side pillars were evidently driven by a lack of money for paint. Robert Cumberford noted that the widest point of the car is in the wrong place, just above the front wing as it is on the wretched C5.

    1. You mentioned the ZX to provoke me, didn’t you? I still have a soft spot for this almost forgotten car.

      And the PSA van, I hope you think of the second generation (C8/807). The original Eurovan (Evasion/806) is for me still an example of sober, well-proportioned and very form-follows-function design. Despite its still compact size it has plenty of interior space, maybe except the boot when all seats are in. And it’s very comfortable, too.

      What both these cars share: while their design might be good and nice looking, it’s not what you’d have expected from Citroën a few years before. In this sense, yes, they mark kind of a bottom as they are the nucleus of Citroën’s banalisation of the following two decades.

  17. The ZX is like a homeopathically watered-down Citroen. It’s bland inside and out, as if Citroen smeared a millimetre of Citroen-ness over their idea of a Golf. Yes, it has nice steering and was reliable. That wasn’t enough. I also dislike the non-commital D-pillar glass which is neither alligned nor clearly disjunct. It could be a part from another car. Sorry if this is a bit harsh.

    1. It might be the harshness the car deserves. At least I can see your point with the window. And also the watering down is a fact that’s hard to overlook.

      So where does the sympathy come from that I still have for the car? It might have to do how it was perceived when it came out. It was a time when there was still some hope that Citroën might win over customers by a well-built, comfortable, economical and not too quirky car. A job that it did quite well, but the Xantia might have been even better than the ZX, as it preserved more Citroën spirit (at least on the outside and in the suspension).

      In hindsight, it might look a bit different. Instead of winning customers and allowing Citroën to maybe keep them and still introduce a bit more avant-gardism, what came afterwards became only duller over time. So you probably see the ZX as the starting point where the destruction of Citroën’s values began, and I can’t disagree entirely. On a side note, wasn’t the ZX also the first Citroën that dropped the single spoke steering wheel? Not a big deal in itself, but still one of many signs. The worst aspect of this was that it was changed without even including an airbag, another development that PSA missed for a too long time.

  18. Citroen presented the ZX as their answer to the Golf. What was the point of that? The Golf did the job very well. It turned off Citroen customers. They needed a reliable, well-made Citroen and one with its own identity.

  19. I sort of understand that the ZX was a conventional car seeking the company of two quite uunconventional ones (BX and XM) which was not an easy task. But I could never avoid thinking that it seemed to have been designed with the firm brief from Peugeot that it shouldn’t try to look as good as the 306.

  20. Sean, I think you hit it on the spot. The 306 was indeed better looking. Moreover, it also has the long wheelbase and short overhangs that should be a traditional Citroën domain.

    Richard, I think what you have in mind, let’s call it a Golf competitor with its own character, was probably only achieved two generations after the ZX. After the equally (or even more) dull Xsara, the C4 finally had a more Citroën-worthy design, especially on the inside. And while it was far from Citroën-soft, its suspension was very well received. Alas, they dropped the estate version which, again, was very popular with the ZX and Xsara around here. But not everyone was ready at that time to switch to a van or SUV (the latter holds especially true for Citroën, by the way).

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