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.
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.