Objects you Cannot Polish

The 2001 Citroën C5 was a spacious, comfortable and practical large car. It was also unforgivably frumpy looking. DTW tries to muster some enthusiasm to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its birth.

2001 Citroen C5. (c) autoevolution

The early 21st Century was a lean time for Citroën design. The company’s glory days of the DS, SM and GS were a distant memory. The sensible men in grey suits at Peugeot, which had owned Citroën since 1975, had repositioned the company as a purveyor of automotive white goods; sensible value-for-money appliances like the 1996 Saxo and 1997 Xsara, whose most attractive features were the deep discounts and cheap finance deals used to sell them. The characterful if flawed XM had died in 2000 and the handsome Bertone-designed Xantia would follow it to the grave a couple of years later.

Both XM and Xantia would effectively be replaced by a single model, the 2001 C5. This was a large D-segment five-door hatchback or estate, with a wheelbase of 2,750mm (108¼”) and overall length of 4,745mm (186¾”) for the hatchback and 4,839mm (190½”) for the estate.

The mechanical layout was entirely conventional, with front-wheel-drive and a range of transverse engines. The latter comprised 1.8 and 2.0 litre in-line four and 3.0 litre V6 petrol units, and diesel units in 1.8, 2.0 and 2.2 litre capacities. Transmission was via five or six-speed manual or four or six-speed automatic gearboxes. Citroën’s trademark height-adjustable fluid suspension system, now renamed Hydractive, was retained, but steering and brakes were now separate systems.

2001 Citroën C5 hatchback (c) autoevolution.com

If the mechanical specification of the C5 was largely conventional, its styling certainly was not. In a reversal of a Citroën tradition, the C5 was a hatchback styled to look like a saloon, with a short vestigial ‘bustle’ at the rear. The front end comprised large, vertically orientated ovoid headlamps either side of a horizontal grille, an arrangement that gave the car a permanently startled look.

The tall rear end comprised a V-shaped tailgate framed by vertical tail lights, the unusual shape of which made the car look wider at waist level than at bumper height when viewed from directly behind, giving the car an unfortunate top-heavy appearance.

2001 Citroën C5 hatchback (c) autoevolution.com

There was trouble in the C5’s side profile too. The lower DLO line curved gently upwards towards the rear of the car, flattening out somewhat as it reached the D-pillar. This line was not unpleasant in of itself, but it clashed badly with a straight, rising bodyside crease running through the door handles. The crease also interfered with the front wheel arch. The vertical curvature of the rear screen also seemed rather too pronounced and this exaggerated the odd proportions of the car when viewed in profile. The C5 was certainly no beauty.

The estate version, with its practical vertical tailgate, was considerably better looking from the rear and side, although it still suffered, albeit to a lesser extent, from the clash between the lower DLO line and bodyside crease mentioned above.

2001 Citroën C5 estate (c) autoevolution.com

After just over three years on the market, the C5 was given a major facelift, ostensibly to bring its appearance in line with the recently launched smaller C4 model, but probably also to try and improve its rather odd countenance. At the front, a slim slot grille incorporating the double-chevron logo sat between wide, L-shaped headlamps.

At the rear, inverted L-shaped tail lights were split between the wings and tailgate and the number plate was relocated down to within the bumper. The effect of these changes was to give the car a wider, more horizontal stance and make it look better planted, especially from the rear. Unfortunately, the budget did not run to fixing the hatchback version’s awkward side-profile.

Autocar magazine tested the facelifted C5 in September 2004 and opened its review with the remark that “There are certain objects you simply cannot polish effectively…” in reference to the car’s styling. Despite its dated design and some brittle plastics, the reviewer praised the “fantastically comfortable” interior and said that “…the Hydractive suspension still has much to recommend it, marrying useful body control with genuine suppleness over most surfaces.” In conclusion, however, the reviewer advised would-be buyers to “…wait for Citroën’s cashback deals to return before parting with [your] money, though.”

The C5 was a respectable success for Citroën. A total of 647,222(1) examples were sold in Europe over its seven-year lifespan. Its best year was 2002, when 145,731 found buyers. The 2004 facelift had no discernible impact on sales, which is unsurprising as it was a car that was bought for reasons other than its appearance.

The original C5 was replaced in 2008 by a much sharper-suited successor that was advertised as possessing Germanic rather than Gallic qualities, and had a boot rather than a hatchback. By that time, however, the market for large non-premium saloons was in sharp decline and the Mk2 C5 managed just 390,641 European sales in a decade, although a further 217,673 found buyers in China.

For me, the 2001 Citroën C5 is a most perplexing design in that it seems to be wilfully and unnecessarily odd. I have played around with it and found that, without altering its proportions but by simply removing the upper bodyside crease and reprofiling the rear quarter window, D-pillar and tailgate, it can be made to look much more attractive, albeit in a more conventional sense. Was somebody at Citroën so wedded to the bustle tail that they could not see how awkward the resulting design was?

2001 Citroen C5 hatchback reprofiled (c) the author

Appearances are, of course, subjective, but I have yet to encounter anybody who thought the 2001 C5 was a good-looking car. Perhaps somebody within the PSA hierarchy dictated that Citroëns of this era had to be rather plain and frumpy looking, as a quid pro quo for the bargain pricing, so that they would not cannibalise sales of the more desirable Peugeot alternatives?  That is probably too Machiavellian to be true, but how else can one explain the C5?

(1) All sales data from http://www.carsalesbase.com.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

129 thoughts on “Objects you Cannot Polish”

  1. Congratulations Daniel. Your restyled version certainly looks better. Almost a “real” Citroën.

    1. Thank you, Goof, glad you like it. I think it would benefit further from a straighter lower DLO line, which would make the glasshouse look shallower.

  2. Good morning Daniel. I’m so happy to see the C5 making its appearance here, thank you for that.
    You may have just found yourself someone who actually likes it. Not that I think it’s pretty, far from that, but I’ve owned two and they were among the most spacious, comfy cars I’ve ever owned – and I should add to this my car owning history mainly comprises big Citroëns.

    Of course the C5 doesn’t look like that because someone deliberately wanted it to. Dutch designer Ivo Groen, who now runs DS Automobiles’ design department, once told the C5 story in a Dutch magazine. It had an extremely difficult birth. The program started out as two cars, a mid sized new Xantia (design started by Groen) and a bigger car to succeed the XM. Somewhere along the way, these programs were merged into one, using the wide platform, intended for the big car. Hence the flat sides. Groen had by then left the project. The Peugeot 407 had similar issues by the way: look at the door sills, almost protruding from the side of the car.
    Apparently the project became such a mess, no-one wanted to have anything to do with it. Someone high up at Citroen insisted the car should have cab-forward design and another wanted it to lean heavily on the Xanae concept car (which it does ressemble, if you squint a bit). Ivo Groen was summoned back to the program and tried to make the best he could. The tail lamps on the Break were inspired by the Ford Taurus by the way.

    Incidentally, the C5 caused something of a stir when our -then leading- car magazine Autovisie compared it to a jogging suit: super comfy, but you look like sh*t wearing it. Citroen banned them and never advertised in the magazine for years…

    Maurice

    1. Good morning, Maurice, and thank you for that most interesting background on the C5’s development. It sounds like the proverbial camel, a horse designed by committee. I take your point about the compromised platform, but even that cannot fully explain the weird profile and that disruptive bodyside crease. Perhaps those involved simply lost interest in resolving the design properly, once they realised how compromised it was from the get-go?

      A colleague of mine had one and it was an extraordinarily comfortable car to travel in, as one would expect of a big Citroën. It deservedly sold well enough, but one cannot help wondering how much better it might have done had it simply looked better.

  3. I rather liked the restyling of the C5; I think it made the car look more upmarket. I especially liked the hockey stick rear lights and how they spoke to the similarly shaped front headlights and also how they incorporated the Citroën logo into the front grille, a trick started by the C4 that continues to this day. Too bad they couldn’t do anything about the curved side profile and door skins which still had the soft tension-less surfacing of the original design.

    Back in 2005 I worked for a car rental company and briefly drove a couple of restyled C5 from the fleet along motorways and wide avenues. They felt like proper mid-high end cars but I didn’t experience any magic carpet ride, just a good compromise, like any number of similar modern cars. I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t drive it on demanding roads, but ultimately, it was a disappointment to me and confirmed my suspicions that Citroën’s hydro pneumatic (or Hydractive ™) suspension was no longer special when faced against modern yet conventional suspension systems.

    I briefly considered getting a low mileage post-2005 C5 in the next few years, because at least once a year I needed a big boot and because I liked the semi-upmarket look and feel of it while not being overpriced, but two things ultimately held me back. The first was that this car was deep into the turbo diesel era, meaning that unfortunately, it worked best with that type of engine, the HDi, more specifically. The only real petrol alternative was the 2.0 16V as the 1.8 was too weak and the 3.0 V6 was out of the question as a daily driver. None of them offered anything approaching good fuel economy. The second drawback was simply its size; the C5 in all its iterations is a big car.

    1. One of the built in advantages of the original hydropneumatic system was the long suspension travel in combination with the strong progressive characteristics of the springs. These things were not possible with the mostly primitive suspensions most cars had until the late Sixties.
      Modern suspension designs like multi link rear axles are needed to fully exploit the potential of wide tyres but work only over a very limited range of suspension movement. This and the large advances made in the design of conventional suspensions had taken away the advantage of the hydropneumatic/hydractive system and it is no big loss Citroen dropped it completely.
      One interesting thing is that hydropneumatic suspensions are appearing in really heavy trucks and in return the pure air suspension systems originally found in trucks are moving to passenger cars.

    2. Hydropneumatic suspension is also height adjustable. Useful for changing a wheel or increasing your ground clearance, although nowadays people do that by buying an SUV. Wasn’t the basic premise of the original Hydroactive suspension that on four spheres you’d get better handling and on six spheres you’d get a better ride? Thus solving the inherent compromise in suspension design by effectively having two suspension setups. That was the theory at least.

      Once the gear change, brakes, steering and headlight rotation were no longer powered by a central hydraulic system, I agree, using it for suspension makes increasingly less sense.

    3. From my understanding, the rot set in with the BX, fine car that it was in many respects. It’s sales success was wrongfully attributed within PSA in my view, giving credence to the idea that less Citroen = more sales. The BX was a success because it was a Citroen – albeit one which was cheaper to run and and easier to repair, despite seemingly being wrought from papier mâché. Following this, the 1985 CX gained the harder suspension settings from the GTi Turbo, because non-adherents didn’t like the roll angles, but this ruined the low-speed ride. After this, hydropneumatics (with one or two exceptions) suffered death by a thousand cuts, so that over time, its advantages were negated and the argument for it could no longer gain traction. Within PSA, the main argument against oleopneumatics was cost. It was simply easier and cheaper to build Citroen badged cars without it. There was also an ideological dimension to this, insofar as senior PSA management wanted to excise Citroen’s identity within the group, making it easier to sell cars on price.

      Other views are available, but I can see no reason why a full uncompromised hydropneumatic system wouldn’t be viable or indeed desirable now. Especially now. Bad management killed it. It always comes down to management.

    4. To my knowledge, we’ve never had production cars that lean in to a bend like a motorbike. It can’t be too complex to do – I wonder if manufacturers fear it would lead to people going too fast around corners

    5. Hi Charles, leaning into a bend works on a motorcycle because you are completely at one with the bike, focused on the road ahead and the motion feels so natural. Negotiating a series of fast bends was one of my greatest pleasures back in my biking days. When one is less focused on the sensory inputs, as passengers in cars would be, the effect could be quite disconcerting.

      Remember the British Rail Advanced Passenger Train that tilted into bends? It was cancelled because it induced travel sickness in passengers, who could feel the motion but not see the horizon. It’s the same logic that says you’re less likely to suffer sea sickness in heavy seas if you go out on deck and focus on the horizon.

    6. Oh, yes – I didn’t recall that about the APT, but it makes sense.

    7. Daniel, it’s a bit misleading to say the APT was cancelled for that reason. It was cancelled because it was put into service before the development had actually finished (a familiar British approach) and the Thatcher government was unwilling to provide more money to see it through. A real shame because it was a potential world-beater.

      The tilting technology was subsequently sold to the Italians, who decades later sold it back to us in the form of their tilting Pendolino trains. The travel sickness meme comes from the journalists writing about the train on its inaugural passenger service after enjoying a bit too much liquid BR hospitality!

      Back to cars, the Xantia Activa is perhaps the closest to a car that at least corners flatly if not actually leaning in around bends. There’s a great YouTube video of a V6 Activa giving a Porsche 911 a scare around a race track. It’s brutal on tyres though.

      Finally, to Eóin’s points, it all makes me wonder why Peugeot bothered to buy Citroën at all if they dislike it that much. I suppose gobbling your rivals is a tried and trusted business approach.

    8. John: As to why Peugeot bought Citroen, they did so because firstly, Michelin was desperately keen to offload it and had been having exploratory talks with Peugeot prior to the 1973 crisis. Secondly, because subsequent to Citroen’s devastating 1974 cashflow crisis, the French government, reluctant to bail out another carmaker (they were already supporting Renault for some years by then) put pressure on Peugeot to enact a takeover, and made it very much worth their while.

      As with most takeovers, the dominant partner is never going to allow the other to outshine it, even if it is a more upmarket brand. Citroen was unique in that it was entirely classless, but was a far more convincing upmarket contender than the lion of Sochaux. But just as was seen when Jaguar bought Daimler, or Fiat bought Lancia the vanquished marque always suffers by consequence.

    9. Fair point, John. My recollection was based on the press coverage at the time, but the truth was rather different. Thanks for the additional information.

    10. In the seventies and early eighties manufacturers started to get the hang of suspension design concepts such as bushing stiffness and longitudinal compliance wheel recession; that is, allowing the wheel to move back a little when going over a bump thanks to the rubber bushings deforming in a controlled way. These “tricks” go a long way toward smoothing the ride while still allowing a firm suspension to maintain control of the body motions. Damper design also evolved tremendously in all this time. All this made conventional suspension systems get really close to hydro pneumatic in terms of ride comfort, or close enough for the general public anyway, while avoiding its complexities.

      The other main advantage of hydro pneumatic springing, namely changing ride height and compensating for load is achieved nowadays with air springs. The unavoidable conclusion for me is that hydro pneumatic lost its big advantage and therefore its complexity became harder to justify. I guess Citroën saw that and started looking at other ways to stand out.

      Another often overlooked factor is simply that roads have become better and in general we don’t need all that mushy long wheel travel anymore. If you watch in Youtube car adverts from the 60s or 70s, it’s not uncommon to run into one where the car is being driven on dirt roads or even across fields as if it was a normal thing, because maybe it was not so uncommon back then. Nowadays you’ll only find such an image in SUV or crossover adverts, where the typical fashion model driver quickly turns a knob on the console into some adventurous sounding setting such as “Sand and Desert” and proceed to drive over a meek gravel road while smiling smugly. The fact is that we in general rarely drive on dirt roads anymore. The most challenging thing the suspension system of our cars will see on a daily basis is the speed bumps that are scattered everywhere and seem to reproduce virally.

      Having said all this, I like the emphasis Citroën is giving to ride comfort again, with the special dampers and seat designs they introduced on the restyled C4 Cactus and then continued doing so on other models in the current range. I guess they sense that there may be some people tired of the teeth-jarring ride of many regular cars that are nonetheless set up to satisfy the limit handling gospel of car magazines and the ever increasing wheel sizes favoured by marketing. Maybe the demise of the hydro pneumatic suspension has more to do with car magazines and their constant push for stiffer handling cars than any road surface or suspension design improvements. I’m curious to see if Citroën’s current approach will work out nowadays.

    11. On the subject of cars leaning into bends, I am pretty certain Mercedes offer it as an option on the S-Class coupé which has a version of its air suspension. I recall test verdicts saying that it feels unnatural at first and is not entirely successful or likeable. I do suspect that those susceptible to motion sickness won’t like it.

      The Xantia Activa was designed not to role and thereby achieved amazing cornering g-forces. Robert at BL Autos has one with a V6 petrol in it (never sold officially in the UK) and says it’s an awesome Q-car.

    12. I think that you’re right on both counts, S.V. I’ve also just read that the Maybach SUV has this feature, too. Quite a benefit on something that has a higher centre of gravity, I would think.

  4. Maurice’s summary of the design journey is insightful and helps explain a lot. As Richard often says, time can sometimes be helpful to certain car designs, and I find the photos of the C5 in the article show a car less awkward than I thought it at the time of launch. I think it was quite a culture-shock as the Xantia was a generally handsome thing, with at least one foot firmly planted in the XM’s DNA (forgive the metaphor mash-up), whereas the C5 was up to its neck in the same DNA as the Xsara Picasso, which was not great in isolation as a purpose-designed MPV, but trying to get the themes and volumes to contort into a saloon profile … well, it was always going to be ambitious.

    I only ever went in one that was a taxi, and thought it very comfortable, but the materials and design of everything inside were anti-premium.

    The estate was definitely better looking, and I actually prefer the rear design of the original saloon/ hatch over the facelift, with its very odd and clumsy ‘boomerang’ effect rear lamps.

    1. I agree with you. Much preferred the original. I disliked the interior profoundly. Horrible shapes. As a former DS23 owner I loved all the earlier shapes including the hideously ugly Ami 6.

  5. I remember that from Autovisie magazine as well, but didn’t realize Citroën banned them. To my eyes it’s a horrible looking thing. The story of how this thing came together doesn’t make it better either. One time I was driving with a colleague and a C5 passed us. I was thinking just how awkward and weird I thought the design was. My colleague said: “what a good looking car that is”, or similar words. I was dumbfounded.

    I’ve only sat in it once when I was at the AutoRAI in Amsterdam together with my dad and a friend. As my dad got behind the steering wheel a piece of the central console came loose. The look on the face of the staff member at the Citroën stand is something I won’t forget.

    Anyway I stumbled upon this CX today by accident.

    1. Even if its a late series CX, it´s still a thing of considerable beauty. The blacked out door handles and C-pillar aren´t so nice. We are now so far from this kind of striking elegance in car design. And the C5 in relation to this? Goodness.

    2. Hi Freerk. As if the C5 wasn’t bad enough in isolation, your picture of the lovely CX really does turn the knife. Even on the later version with the plastic bumpers and rubbing strip (both retrograde from an aesthetic perspective, I think) the purity of the original design still shines through.

      I remember when the CX was launched in 1974 being slightly disappointed that a ‘big GS’ was going to replace the sublime DS, but that was a rash judgement. The CX just looks better and better with age. Here it is in its original and purest form:

      That Citroën went from this to the C5 is extraordinary, and perhaps makes the C6 even more of an achievement.

    3. Hi Daniel. The first version of the CX, with the stainless bumpers without the rubber pieces on the side, is my favorite as well. There’s a really nice example in the Netherlands somewhere in white with a bright red interior. Also I think the oldest CX still in existence is also in the Netherlands. As far as I know it was found in the UK, but as it’s a very early car it’s LHD instead of RHD.

      I see so few CX’s these days I wonder what the survival rate of these machines is.

  6. The doleful appearance of the car is partly explained by its tricky gestation. It points though to a lack of consistent leadership above the design team. I´d bet some money that there was a lot of churn at Citroen´s board level and below that around this time. Only that explains how less senior managers jerked the car´s development around to arrive at the turkey that is the C5. I agree there is Xanæ in the shape and it doesn´t help. I´ve seen some of the other styling proposals (perhas 01% of all the sketches though) and none of them are appealing. The standard of some of the sketches is below average quality and given the immense amount of competition in car styling it´s amazing they didn´t hire better sketchers.
    The interior is not bland enough – it has styling but it´s a diluted version of an unconvincing theme. It has enough character to object to, which is a bad result. Citroen threw all their design heritage in the bin with this car but didn´t replace it with anything better or even good in other ways.
    Summary: bad management, lack of talent, lack of judgement?

  7. A user-chooser where I worked chose a C5. The nicest thing about it were the ( 5-spoke ? ) alloy wheels, but the “owner” wasn’t a fan of alloys and soon got the dealer to change them for steel wheels. Subsequently I remember reading of a recall for C5s on steel wheels….

  8. Very interesting, thank you, Daniel, and Maurice, too – I did wonder about the rear lights.

    There’s tonnes of background in Car Design Archives, with some of the renderings looking a lot like Daniel’s improved version, which is weird. At least it was a comfortable car and sold well, which is something.

    CDA alleges that the “design was led under the guidance of Art Blakeslee, then replaced by Jean-Pierre Ploué”, so the car’s birth clearly was confused. It just makes the story more interesting.

    1. That mock up looks more understandable – like a ‘Xsara meets Xantia’ development. One can just about see where the C5 might have ended up, and looking at the real C5 also see how far they missed the mark.

    2. That mockup looks really good, shame they messed it up so bad in the end.

      I had been smitten by citroen since i saw my first DS as a wee lad (probably 4-5 years old), and later on when a friends father got a gunmetal cx 25 gti turbo 2. (there was also a lovely red bx16 just up the road from our house)

      The first proper book i bought (for my parents money of course) was a coffee table book about the 2cv, which i kept reading endlessly, dreaming of the day i would finally be old enough to drive.

      The c5 is the kind of car that killed of my enthusiasm for the brand, and if the news broke that citroen would be closed down tomorrow, im not so sure i would shed a tear.

      The facelifted version is truly an abomination, and i hope they are all crushed and removed from the face of the earth, comfortable ride be damned!

  9. I took the opportunity to look up the magazine I was referencing. Here are some early models from around 1995, possibly when the Xantia successor had not been merged onto the large platform. This looks quite nice actually and very Citroënny with that pointy nose. I see a clear evolution of the Xantia theme, but that’s open for discussion of course.

    And here’s what happens when you turn that into a full size model:


    I’m not too sure about these… Either way, it’s clear Citroëns design department was in a crisis at that point. In the article, Ivo Groen says things became much better when Ploué took over.
    As far as the C5 is concerned: I’d have another one any day. The ones with with a two-tone interior are even a bit cozy! Yes, it’s ugly but it grows on you, and if you’re sat inside, the looks don’t bother you anyway.

    1. Wow – I love the first one. Why couldn’t they quit while they were ahead?

      That said, I appreciate underdogs, too.

    2. It’s interesting to see these Maurice, thanks for digging them up.

      The extra height of the C5 body (that was key to spaciousness) is the main issue, and something that wasn’t addressed with surfacing of the sides giving a hugely slab-sided result. The sedan profile didn’t help, but the awkward C-pillar shape is present even in the sketch – Daniel’s fastback revision is much better here even without fixing the window line, and it would be better still if they had used more CX influence.

      I’ve been theoretically interested in a C5 as a cheap rough-road hack, but I don’t know that they can get enough ground clearance to be a better proposition than a Subaru Outback (or restoring my existing ute), given parts and maintenance would be more of a hassle.

  10. Only 20k miles in 19 years? I wonder why, as it’s hardly the sort of car you would buy just for popping down to the shops once a week. But wait…

    Just checked its MOT history and something isn’t right. Its last MOT was on 14th May 2018 at 41,269 miles. It had failed its MOT two months earlier, mainly for faults with the braking system, and was driven without a MOT for two months and 135 miles before being re-tested. Prior MOTs verify the higher mileage.

    Even at 41k miles, it might be fine, and a good buy, but I would walk away from any car where there are inconsistencies in its history. Here’s the MOT history check page and the C5’s registration number is AX05 EHV:

    https://www.check-mot.service.gov.uk/?_ga=2.136067314.211563691.1610635621-1145060246.1587505618

    1. Shame. I tried to find the date of the advert, but couldn’t – perhaps it’s an old one.

    1. Hi Tom. The white C6 with white alloy wheels and a black roof is unusual and rather appealing. If you’re going to drive something as distinctive as a C6, you might as well go for it!

    2. The white with a black roof looks similar to a special edition which I don’t think was officially sold in the UK (I am NOT a guru on all things C6, someone might correct me) and the actual special edition that I recall had a different interior trim – piano-black trim rather than wood. Hence, I wonder whether an owner has sprayed it up to look like that. Whatever, it looks very pricey; I have only ever seen 3.0 diesels at that kind of level. I doubt mine is worth £3k if I tried to sell it.

  11. A modicum of love for the see cinq, delightful!
    I was introduced to chateau, fine wines, pretty girls and the dusty environs of Le Mans campsites by not one but two of these beasties.

    Four adults, all our gear and the smoothest ride this side of Dean Martin.

    Yes, this car has the looks only a mother could love (really) but for easygoing manners and French touring, I don’t believe the car could be beaten. We all had a go at driving and sitting in different seats and we all had decent legroom and could easily find a comfortable driving position. I know, that’s hardly selling the car but when en France, do as the French do; drive something local.

    The C-cinq is hardly offensive; more, as people have commented on, a bit more odd than would be seen as normal from Citroen. And I think as today’s car s grow ever more aggressive, this soap bar of a design is a welcome respite. Shame you don’t see many round.

    A friend had three; a 2 litre diesel hatchback in Maroon followed by two estate versions both 2.2 as I recall, one silver, one red. He used then all pretty hard with only regular servicing required.

    Summing up: Delightfully odd. I miss those hot, French summers and being a passenger in the C5 after several Bouvet-Ladubays when the girls start to become ever more alluring…

    1. Not sure it’s really the C5 you’re nostalgic about, Andrew…😁

  12. How about this? I raised and straightened the lower DLO line to reduce the depth of the windows and played around with the way the light falls on the bodysides, to make them look more convex. Previous and new versions below:


    Any better?

    1. That second one is definitely better.

      It’s fascinating to read that some consider the facelift of the C5 an improvement. The original was no beauty but the facelifted version is, I think, far worse; ruining the least objectionable parts of the design and leaving the flawed sides untouched.

    2. The second one is a half-step towards the look of the C6, I think, although, from the C-pillar back I can’t help thinking Laguna. Overall, it’s greatly preferable to the either the early or face-lifted production car.

    3. Daniel, I refer you to the title of your article. It cannot be polished. You have made it less bad, but it should just be put out of its misery altogether in my opinion.

    4. Hi Adrian. Clearly, I’m shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted! I agree that it should have been put down instead, but I’m exploring just how much better (less worse, if you prefer) the C5 might have been, even with the same underbody and hard points.

      I’m a sucker for lost causes!

    5. It can’t be polished, but one can attempt to roll it in glitter…

      Wasn’t it around this time that Peugeot’s design really started to go downhill, badly, with similarly-proportioned vehicles?

    6. Nice result Daniel. I wonder if reducing the blacked-out lower portion would allow the window line to look less top-heavy and out of proportion? Or even eliminating the small upwards curve in front of the mirror would help.

    7. Yes, it´s much improved and still looks a bit distinctive. Harder to deal with in 2D is the way the bodyside work. Robert Cumberford spotted the fact that the body looks widest just under the mirror, around the wheel arch. There´s no good reason for this. I had a look at some of those sketches and they look rather French – all colour and not much sign of an interest in highlights and reflections (see the drawing with the “95” in red ink). That concept does have a nice door aperture – alas Renault beat them to do this conceit in the 1993 Laguna.

    8. One thing I hadn’t spotted in my analysis was the unusual lack of curvature in the lower bodysides, which Maurice identified in his comment above. The flatness of the door skins is evident in this photo:

      Had they made the DLO 75mm narrower and put proper ‘shoulders’ in the bodysides below it, that would have hugely improved its stance.

      As I mentioned, the shape of the original tail lights exacerbated the illusion that the car was wider at the waist than at the bumper height:

      They look to have been ‘rotated’ from their ‘natural’ position where the inner edges would have been (much closer to) vertical. The shape of the facelift tail lights was, I think, designed to counteract that illusion:

    9. The rear lamps are, as you say, rotated a bit. The straight inner edge clashes with the varied curve of the outer edge. The way the bumper and bodyside flow together at the lower, outboard side is nasty. The first version of the Jaguar S-type did the same thing. Both cars were facelifted to get rid of that element. It´s funny it turned up on the two cars at around the same time. Clay modeller cross pollenation?

  13. En France, la 1er série de C5 a été principalement acheté par des personnes (tres) âgées !
    Quant on en voit une sur la route, vous pouvez être sur que les propriétaires sont du même âge que votre reine (et son mari…)
    😀

    Google translate :
    In France, the 1st series of C5 was mainly bought by (very) elderly people!
    When you see one on the road, you can be sure that the owners are the same age as your queen (and her husband …)
    😀

    1. Looking at the timeline, production of the C5 began at the end of 2000. According to Wikipedia, Ploue was at Ford in Merkenich as head of exterior design (1998-1999). I don´t imagine there was much time for very large changes to the C5 between mid 1999 and the end of 2000. Design for sheet metal and moulds is usually concluded 12 to 18 months before the production lines start (as far as I understand it). So, by time Ploue was packing up his pied a terre in Koeln and putting his Chartpaks into his box at Ford, Blakesless was wrapping up the C5 and preparing to retire. We need to find Art Blakeslee and ask him. Is he still alive? And we need to find Ploué and ask him as well.

    2. Good morning, Richard. Now, that would be a interesting way to start an interview:

      “The C5: please explain.”

      (Phone goes dead.)

    3. I think Blakeslee has a lot to answer for during his time at Citroën, albeit it looks like he was under pressure from above in terms of direction he could and could not take. But the Saxo, Xsara, Xsara Picasso, and C5 take a lot of explaining. I remember him getting grumpy when a journalist took him to task over the Saxo, claiming in a defensive seeming manner that the interior was really special on the basis of a central air vent unit that tilted forward and back. I think it was a sign of his frustration with the limitations of his brief.

    4. As pointed out by Richard, JPP had no hand whatsoever in the original C5.

      His appointment as Citroen chief designer wasn’t intended to ensure continuity, but to stir things up – hence the lack of coherence between the final Blakeslee designs and Ploué’s first production models (even the Lignage concept car was significantly changed for production, despite its positive reception).

      Art Blakeslee seems to have remained below the radar since his retirement, but Dan Abramson – one of the more prolific Citroen exterior designers of the period – is quite keen on recounting stories from this period: https://lignesauto.fr/?p=16261

    5. An interesting account of a troubled operation. Thanks for posting, Christopher.

    6. The O’Callaghan LoadRunner works because it gives space to the otherwise useless Coke-bottle curve over the C5´s rear wheels. I prefer the spatted version.

    7. That’s an interesting article. Thanks for sharing, Christopher.

  14. I must be old or have poor taste, because I don’t dislike the C5. Daniel’s facelift side profile reminds me of the C4 coupe rear treatment, with some CX too. I looked it up, in case the C5 is one of those cars that is still being made somewhere, like the ZX was, but no. The “Germanic” C5 is/was still available in China, losing the optional Hydractive suspension when facelifted in 2017. Given that economy/emissions have led to hydraulic steering pumps being withdrawn, would it be difficult to include Hydractive suspension even if they felt like it?

    (if Daniel is really bored, how about a mock-up of a C5 Loadrunner….)

    1. Hi Tom. I had to Google ‘Loadrunner’ to find out what you meant. I think this is great!

      It would be hard to make a C5 based equivalent look as good, but I might give it a go once I get my chores done.

    2. Here you go, Tom:

      It might just be the best looking C5 (not a high bar, granted!)

    3. Daniel: Yes, we can be proud of our small corner of the internet, free from all caps shouting and a race to see who can first bring 20th century dictators into the conversation. More positively, and if I can sound a little high-minded, there is a gap in the “literature” on car design which I think we address. We don´t need more “hate it/love it” shouting and think academic-level discourse would be unhelpful. DTW strikes a middle ground with accessible discussion of the fine points of design and I hope it serves as a support for students of design/automotive design (if there are any design students out there, please raise a hand). Curbside Classic is doing something like this for American cars and I like to think that on this side of the Atlantic we share Paul N´s aim at fostering a civil discourse on interesting and overlooked aspects of car design history.

    4. Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun:

      It’s missing a rear axle, but otherwise…

    5. If you like Loadrunners you might be interested in these Tissier specials

      or the low loader truck

      Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had a fleet of these

      They had forty or fifty of them used to transport the newspaper from Frankfurt to major cities in Europe. The cars did the trip from Frankfurt to Paris every day and were sold with 500,000 to 600,000 kilometres after one and a half year. They are sought after in the CX community.

  15. I don’t dislike the C5 design, too. I even like the facelifted version best, contrary to most DTW writers and commentators. Build quality may be sub-par, but the velour seats are second to none, with leather being a real downgrade.

    I always wondered why Citroën went from the 4.23 metre-long BX to the 4.74 metre-long C5 Mk1 with just the 4.44-metre Xantia inbetween. This side of the Mercedes A-Class, I can’t think of cars that grew that much in such a short interval of time, when compared to their predecessors. Maurice’s comment on how the project was altered to kill two birds with one stone explains it… but it is still larger than the XM, so I wonder whether somebody at Citroën actually thought about it back then.

    1. I think the claim it replaced two cars was just an excuse. I see the C5 as a Xantia replacement. It only replaced the XM by default. I can´t believe I´ve devoted so much time and brainpower to this car.
      Older buyers (Alain discussed them) are less sensitive to other people´s opinions and that´s why they overlooked the appearance and identified the packaging strength of the car. I don´t see a point in alienating customers with odd looks unless they are also in some way innovative and comprehensible (Multipla, Ka). Those C5 customers were being unusually rational.

    2. I second your view of the C5 as a Xantia replacement. After all, the only one that can be thought of a XM replacement is the C6 – in size, intentions and oddities.

    3. Hi Eduardo and Richard. I also quite like the facelift. It certainly improves the car’s stance, especially from the rear. Those front and rear ends might be quite attractive on a different car.

      Isn’t it extraordinary the number of comments the C5 has attracted (58 including this one)? That’s the joy of DTW: the breadth of our commentariat’s interest in matters automotive. The C5 would elicit little more than a yawn on other motoring sites.

    4. Indeed, Daniel. It’s awesome how a group of car geeks can discuss a bleak car or a minor decision by a bunch of engineers of a defunct brand in the early 70s, for instance!

  16. In the case of those six wheel cars, were four wheels steered or only the two at the front? If so, how bad was tyre wear as the rear tyres fought, scrubbing away tread through every corner? It must have been acute…… unless one other tyre pair was steered. If four tyres were steered, which was the extra pair steered (middle axle or rear axle)?

    1. On these extra long Citroens (Tissier did the same based on DS ans XM) there was no steering for the rear wheels.
      And you always can go one better

  17. The advantage of hydropneumatic suspension is that it allows selection of low natural frequency for the suspension. That means that the suspension tends not to transmit road disturbances into the car. It isolates them since its transmissibility is poor. The downside of low frequency is that the suspension becomes very load sensitive. Hydropneumatic addresses this with its load levelling feature. Problem solved.

    An issue which plagues hydropneumatic springing is that of adiabatic compression of the springing medium (the gas) over moderate to high amplitude high-frequency disturbances. This is a known problem demanding special attention to remedy or, at the least, to mitigate its consequences on suspension behaviour. All the Citroens suffered from it to some extent. Elimination, as far as possible, all sources of stiction in the suspension is useful, although not a cure…

    The matter of roll is conveniently addressed either by direct hydromechanical means (Citroen filed patents for a method to achieve this in the late ’50s and kept filing into the ’60s, they also built a number of prototypes and drove them, but budget stresses appears to have restrained them from progressing to manufacture) or by employing some simple valves under electronic control. The mechanical approach is similar to how dive under brakes could be controlled. The electronic controlled approach was eventually deployed in production. In some ways the electronic approach (which used switching between discrete modes) was inferior to the analogue mechanical approach (which was directly proportional to lateral acceleration).

    Direct experience demonstrates that a suitably soft (low frequency), long travel suspension defeats speed bumps quite successfully. The bumps can be taken at normal or even high speed without significant chassis disturbance and far less cabin disturbance than otherwise would be the case. This ought to be Citroen’s USP for hydropneumatic suspension- limited cabin disturbance over any sort of bumps, pot holes, road imperfection etc.

  18. Thankyou Daniel, for the C5 6-wheelers. You could be right about it being the best of the C5s; not the the extent that I plan to create one, which is what someone did to create that British-registered CX that you posted. In case you didn’t find it, here is its owner’s website: http://www.thejoyofcx.co.uk He also has a couple of Youtube videos, though I prefer this video of someone doing a slalom course in a CX-6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhEJJu95lMc

    For those who are fans of 6-wheeled cars, I have just found this (link is to Tissier, but they have more): http://www.sixmania.fr/en/pierre-tissier/ Looks like some 8+ wheeled versions existed, and some XMs.

    As JT observes, tyre scrub on the rear wheels must have been awful! I doubt the front wheels lasted all that long, either.

    One more; I never knew there was an eleven-wheel DS either: https://www.thedrive.com/news/37188/michelin-built-this-freakish-10-wheeled-citroen-to-test-truck-tires-at-110-mph

    1. In newspaper articles about the DS centipede it was explained that it was built to test aircraft tyres which would make sense because to test a truck tyre you’d simply use a truck. Tedtibg an aircraft tyre in the moment it accelerates from a standstill to landing speed in fractions of a second is more difficult.
      This particular DS was powered by two American V8 engines.

  19. Driven to write never ceases to amaze! Always offering a different and in depth perspective on a forgotten hero. And the comment section is where the story gets even better.

    I have a similar love affair with my C5 as S.V.Robinson has with the C6. This year is my 10th C5 ownership/obsession anniversary.
    Having owned a ’05 2.0hdi SX Break Hydractive 3 from 2011., and then a ’07 2.2hdi Biturbo Exclusive automatic with Hydractive 3+ from 2014.
    The 2.0 SX was bought with 134.000km and sold in 2018. with 330.000km. The Biturbo was bought with 145.000km and now has 318.000km. And I use it daily.

    What can be said about a car that looked dated already when it was in production? A car that no one wanted to take credit for designing it? A car where 205/65/15 tires with massive 13cm sidewalls look lost in the wheel wells?

    The looks are an acquired taste, that is true. I personally like it. It grew on me. And that is the main point of this car. It’s not a “test drive – fall in love” kind of car. It’s a “1000km journey – fall in love” kind of car. Where you learn to appreciate the excellent seats. Where one can drive with a hat on despite being 1,98cm tall. Where one can find excellent lighting being halogen or even better, proper swiveling xenon headlights. Where the ventilation is draft free. Where the boot is bigger even then an E class estate, and more usable because of the glass tailgate opening separately. Where you can get a complete two tone interior, not just contrasting seats. Where there’s a very pleasant wind noise. Also, the Exclusive car has acoustic glass all around. Where the cruise control is one of the best I’ve used. Where you can fit 3 child seats in the back.
    And then there’s the hydraulics… Other cars use sound deadening to give an illusion of comfortable suspension. The fact that you do not hear the shock doesn’t mean it didn’t come through to your body. The C5 has proper mechanical comfort, but lacks sound deadening at times. So the ride can appear crashy, but it isn’t. The car has a very nice rebound or extension characteristic. Like a ball going through honey. And Hydractive 3+ car has a duality in character. Similar to sailing a catamaran. Just point the course in curves and the car will follow. And no matter the load, the car always behaves the same. Just with more mass. The handling has a nice rotation tendency if you provoke it, probably because of the relatively short wheelbase.
    The 2.0hdi is more frugal and adequate, but the combination of 2.2 biturbo and 6 speed automatic gearbox is total comfort. It lacks the low frequency hum of the 2.0 at highway speeds, which you actually can’t discern in all the wind noise, but it can be very tiring on the body. Throttle response is instant and it pulls constantly well into the higher revs. The 2.0 has a narrower optimal rev range. And because of the automatic gearbox, there is no break in tractive force so the 2.2 wafts beautifully and doesn’t rock back and forth.

    I like the car so much, that I have problems when thinking about replacement. The 2.0hdi went because of family increase we needed a 7 seater. So I bought a ’12 Ford Galaxy. A practical car, it also looks ok, but I am not too enthusiastic about driving it. Only car which I could replace a C5 break would in my opinion be a CX Break Familiale. In my eyes, the last real Citroen.

    1. Hi Darko. I am very pleased you find so much to like in the C5. I have the same feeling about my XM. I can´t think of another car that would do what it does (though there are other cars I admire that do something different). Maybe you should drive a 406 and I should drive a C5. The 406 is another “drive it for a year and you´ll be married to it” kind of car.
      Your comments do make the pitiable outward appearance of the car all the more vexing. All that good work sabotaged by a design process that slid out of control. If the car had looked as good as a BX or even, dare I say it, a Xantia it would have been saved. Instead the management at Citroen towers let the design team founder and flounder.

  20. I can only confirm your statement about 406. Since my father in law now owns a facelifted 2.0hdi 110. A proper limousine, I couldn’t believe how comfortable the seats are. Velour, of course. Nice and low seating position. Pleasant cabin noise at speed. Tractable engine. Excellent car!

    The XM I haven’t experienced yet. Always liked the way it looked.
    You are a lucky man.

    1. Agreed. The 406 is a vehicle of quiet excellence. It takes a little while to understand how subtle it is. It hides its light under a bushel – I don´t think it needed to be flashy. It needed a little bit more brightwork.
      The XM is a fine machine, I like it alot. Its appearance is the decided because on many other levels a 2.0 Omega or a 2.0 Thema beat it clearly.

  21. Here is, allegedly, the forthcoming C5 Mk3, a high riding estate crossover thingy:

    Be still my beating heart…

    1. ……on conventional (non-Citroen) suspension with conventional (non-Citroen) steering and conventional (non-Citroen) instrumentation, controls and switchgear… There aint going to be much that is Citroen about it.

    2. Autocropley reports it call be called … C6, which (much to my chagrin) makes sense, as this thing looks longer than the C5 Aircross. Makes one want to weep.

  22. It is with great interest that I read all the comments on this intriguing article.

    Wouldn’t particularly observe the orig. C5 styling. I find that certain details are executed in a nice manner. As a whole it’s flawed, that much is clear. Daniel nailed it perfectly with his styling diagnostics – the upper cabin (glasshouse) is definitely of the wrong width
    in proportion to the body, making the car somewhat a segment
    in-betweener, not only length-wise (almost in the same way Renault introduced a dimensionally ‘hybrid’ solution to
    a seemingly conventional-segment vehicle, with the Logan).

    A possible scenario, that it was downplayed on purpose (so as
    not to let it ‘overshadow’ the 406/407, having in mind that the C5 was one of the last Oleopneumatic cars), is not completely
    out of the question, mind.

    The latter is also where the C5 scores highly in my book – the cheap
    access to what is (arguably) the most scientifically developed / ‘honed’ reduced-complexity iteration of the Oleopneum.system.
    I’d tend to disagree that conventional suspension systems have advanced so much so as to equal or better the ‘spheres’. For the averagely gifted driver, it’s definitely so, but there remains a handful of keen drivers (agree, not commercially viable
    to build mainstream-priced cars for…) that simply cannot
    yield the same tactile pleasures from any steel sprung vehicle.
    Especially the ‘sweet triangle’ consisting of body-control-competence vs. cabin disturbance vs. high-speed-maneuvres-active-safety.

    The C5, furthermore, is perceived to be highly reliable in the suspension / hydraulics’ department – wasn’t exactly this the ‘eternal dream’ of any Oleopneumatics’ devotee ? What with
    the 2.0 HDi steel reputation as the best/most reliable modern diesel engine ever made, it all sounds as ‘too good to be true’, especially
    in the Estate version (which is much less clumsy looking
    to my eyes). Whilst I am being tempted by the hidden strengths
    of the 406 (no longer drive first-hand experience, though), I tend
    to observe the C5 as the last chance to experience the Oleopneumatic panache in a reliable, relatively modern and useful package.

    There is something to be said about offering such secondary-ride comfort coupled to first-class seats and a dimensionally opulent cabin (‘whistles’ at speed). Whilst fully agreeing that its external dimensions are a hindrance to ‘selling’ it as the motoring of choice for the discerning driver, it does make an E39 feel cramped.
    And where can one, today, realistically, use the long-legged high avg.speed comfort (that an E39 can supply in spades), amidst
    all the speed traps and regulatory madness? The above thoughts all contrive to portray the C5 as being very far from an ill choice
    these days.

    And sometimes, “being seen in a sporting suit” is not that bad,
    after all – especially not when one is performing her/his
    favourite sport.

    1. The gist of that is that the poor C5 was a decent bit of engineering and a good package confounded by a dismal appearance. It doesn´t even have the plain austerity of a similarly talented and unloved car, the B4 Passat (which I´ve driven and fully approve of). It´s a shame the best iteration of the hydropneumatic system was parked in a grim form. You´d have to really want that to put up with the aesthetics.

  23. Richard, fully agree on your last point. Only a die-hard Homo Oleopneumens could accept such levels of visual challenge.

    Wasn’t aware of that RAC review. Thank you.
    I guess the review goes to show that apparently the visual aspect (or is it, in this case, visual residuals?) is the only thing standing
    in its path of second-hand, FSH brilliance.

    Finding a good, clean 2.0 HDi Estate, admittedly, is slowly becoming a tad akin to finding (eg.) a clean, FSH 306 XSi…

    1. It´s not the world´s biggest problem (as I like to say) but the ability of good cars like the 306 to vanish is dispiriting. Somewhat misleadingly there are at least two 306s in my ´hood: a three door and an estate. The four door is probably at risk of joining the 305 in common-but-rare category. We really do need a good and comprehensive museum of cars. It would be huge. If we allow 20 m sq per car (you have to be able to walk around them) the space required would beggar belief. I wish Bill Gates could spare half a billion for this project.

  24. Ok. A couple of questions.

    Did C5 have the active anti-roll feature that the Activa featured?

    Given the project to restyle C5 and free access to a body shop (I was going to say chop shop but am given to the understanding that the term has negative connotations amongst some) what would you do? Drws and renderings would help me to understand what you have in mind.

    1. Good morning JT. Assuming those questions are directed to me, I have posted a Photoshopped image of a modified C5 in the piece, with a smoother tail, losing the ‘bustle’ rear end, and removing the bodyside crease through the door handles. In the comments I have further refined this image with a straighter lower DLO line and shallower DLO. Here it is again, my ‘improved’ C5:

      Regarding the Activa, I am not aware that the Mk1 C5 was ever fitted with it.

  25. Hi Daniel

    Thanks for that. I saw your rendering and though it a big improvement.

    I had wondered whether going further still by lowering the bonnet (and fenders to suit) and eliminating the above-bumper upper grille (shift the chevrons to the lower grille) would help.

    Perhaps getting rid of the rear bustle altogether would be good as well- continue the roofline all the way to the back of the car. The rear window would be closer to the horizontal. The consequent loss of rear vision could be alleviated in an analogous manner to the Espada where a vertical pane of glass was incorporated in the tailgate.

    The cabin could definitely do with a little more tumblehome.

    Finally, I did like your six-wheelers. I printed those out in colour and put them up in the office. Several people asked where one could purchase that model. Looking at them made me think that the C5 probably could do with a longer wheelbase (I prefer front wheels further forward but it could work if the rear wheels were moved aft some). Perhaps the whole car really just needed a stretch (nice for the rear passengers who’d gain even more foot room- always in short supply).

    What say you?

    C5- there just must be a good looking Citroen in there somewhere, surely!

    1. ….”lowering the bonnet (and fenders to suit)…”

      I was thinking along the lines of making the car a little more sharp, reprising the CX a little.

    2. Hi J T. All worthwhile ideas, but you would quickly get to a point where you’ve changed so much that you might as well have started with a clean sheet of paper. When I originally played with the C5 some months ago, in one version I moved the front axle forward, which significantly improved its stance, but it then looked like a RWD car. (It’s on my laptop somewhere. I’ll post it if I can find it.)

      As readers pointed out when I recently played around with the SM, the more I changed it, the further away from Opron’s vision I went, until it began to resemble the Renault 25 (another excellent Opron design, incidentally!)

      Not withstanding the above, it’s still baffling to me that the C5 ended up as it did.

      The six-wheel C5 (the one with the rear wheel spats) is rather fun! Glad you liked it!

  26. The original C5 has always struck me as one of those “if I were you I wouldn’t start from here at all” designs, and certainly, reading Dan Abramsons’ recollections about the car’s stylistic and conceptual genesis, it was pushed and pulled in so many directions that perhaps the best thing would have been to start again from scratch. *

    My view is that something more akin to a Xanae-based semi-MPV style might have worked better given that elements within Vélizy seemed to have wanted a “packaging” design above all. A monospace design would have put clear water between the double chevron and the more conservative Renault and Peugeot competition at a time when such vehicles were still seen as the future. (And having experience of a first generation Renault Scenic, I can vouch for the concept). Also, the monospace, with its potential for so many changes in load/use would arguably have lent itself well to the hydropneumatic suspension, which would have given Citroen something of a USP.

    The fact that the C5 appears to have been a pretty decent car makes its unhappy appearance even more of a missed opportunity, especially given the retrenchment that took place for its eventual replacement.

    *(see ligneauto link in Christopher’s comment above)

    1. There have been quite a few testimonies to its comfort, reliability and utility. The motoring press liked it (Car immediately overlooked its appearance, for example, praising Citroen´s indifference to fashion). It´s only design obsessives like me who are utterly offended by the vehicle´s egregiously unsettling appearance. It is a design that sits between bland and ugly in an indecisive way. Blandness is counteracted by the ugliness and vice versa. It´s not cherishably bland like a Toyota can be and not love-it wierd like any number of Citroens. Part of the problem is that Citroen ignored 50 years of design heritage and latched on to a bad interpretation of themes that had not had time to establish themselves. It was like designing a lasagne-type dish and trying to make it with potatoes and chicken and no tomatoes. There was an acceptable solution to make the C5 package look good and Citroen failed to find it.

  27. Eoin

    Ahh. Reading the linked article helps understand the tragedy of the C5. Why couldn’t anyone SEE what was in front of their own eyes and act on it? Myopia? Unlikely. Corporate-meme induced wet macula degeneration perhaps?

    There are certain hard points and, once defined, around these the styling must fit. For example, the tops of the MacPherson struts or the base of the A-pillar… In general the stylist does not have the complete freedom to start with a clean sheet of paper but must temper ideas with the bounds of those hard points, some of which create challenging aesthetic problems. Some stylists seem to try to fight the hards, resisting them, attempting to bludgeon their way past (you can see it in their work), while others (real artists) are able to create greatness within the limits they encounter.

    It is quite rare for styling to be developed in the absence of the hards, although there have been new car projects where something close occurred. That does not appear to be C5. No proverbial clean sheet of paper there. Perhaps C5 stylists may have had a degree of freedom, maybe more than most (at first). Still, they were constrained within an envelope (one which appears to have been randomly “evolving” on the fly). With C5 it appears to be a matter of they got kinda close. It’s a pity no-one cared to push an effort to the finish and get it right. Perhaps Peugeot senior management just didn’t give a toss about Citroen anyway (mind you, their 407 was an aesthetic mess- someone had bad eyes while doing that beastie). Whatever the case, the management must have been THE causal element. Now, where was it that the buck stopped?

    I recall a new car project where there was a hards disaster. The hard points had been determined in order to allow packaging of engine, suspension windscreen base, carry over seats, door latching internal mechanism, HVAC assembly (in-dash), cabin height, b-pillar location (for seat-belts), d-pillar location (also for seat-belts), fuel tank and a few other things I now forget. These points were transferred to the clay model and the stylists worked to transfer ideas to that. Some members of the styling group had a very close relationship with engineering. They had worked together previously. When a new styling supremo was appointed they noticed he was in the habit of coming in to the studio in the dead of night and moving the positions of some of the hard point pegs to better suit the styling theme he wished to pursue. They knew this would have potential for all sorts of down-stream troubles. One alteration meant that the base model engine would no longer fit under the bonnet. Another alteration reduced the headroom for the rear seat passengers to the point where an average man would have to crick his neck or slide his hips forward to keep his head off the roof lining. Yet another reduced the rattlespace of the rear suspension to a comical degree. And on it went.

    Concerned, some of the stylists remonstrated within the group during meetings. They were ordered to quiet down. A chat over cigarettes outside the building with some of the development engineers resulted in the re-establishment of the original hards. Strangely enough, not so long after that there was a wholesale restructuring with the result that a series of redundancies was announced. Certain of the styling group and one entire department of product development engineers were departed. One of the consequences was that the roofline sunk lower again and then lower yet. A senior executive demanded the boot lid be lowered also. On it went.

    A young engineer, appointed “liaison” during the restructure, was bullied into accepting the lowered roof and boot. After early clinics demonstrated the problems the new roofline caused for rear passengers he was further bullied into accepting much thinner rear seat squabs to get the passengers down low enough to clear. This had the effect that it was possible for them to “bottom out” on bumps (literally). The rear seats were not suited to extended residence shall we say. The outgoing model was superior.

    And on it went.

    The doors were the next issue.

    And on it went some more.

    All in all, it did not go well and guess what….. the car was panned for its looks. People stayed away. Sales fell away.

    Oh well.

    There are some questions to be asked about cars.
    – Do you like it?
    – Do you think you’d enjoy driving it?
    – Would you take it for a drive simply because you like it and want to?
    – Do you anticipate it would it be an occasion, when you drive it?*
    – Would you want to be seen in it?
    – Would you be proud to own it?
    – Would you admit you purchased it with your own money or rather grouse about how it was company car policy that you had it or some such excuse?
    – Would you tell people you like it and that you recommend it?
    – Is it good looking?

    Perhaps Citroen forgot to ask.

    * There was a famous commentator on matters automotive stating that every drive he took in his XJ12 provided a sense of occasion. It was special and pleasurable to ride or drive the car and that’s why he owned it, despites the well-known reliability and quality problems.

  28. Good afternoon Daniel

    Yes, please! I would like to see your stretched wheelbase C5. Please do post it.

    I do agree with Richard’s conclusion when he writes, “There was an acceptable solution to make the C5 package look good and Citroen failed to find it.” I suspect they got quite close but not quite there. It seems there are a few careful alterations to finish up the job and they really are needed to get it over the line. It’s really bugging me now since I dislike half-jobs (a.k.a. unfinished) and C5 styling is exactly that. So I am keen to discover how C5 could have been finished right.

    Your six-wheelers are fun. After the reaction to the pictures around here I reckon I could sell some to my colleagues.

    One thought I had about the spatted six-wheeler is that since the rear wheels are covered it ought to be possible to reduce their diameters without looking odd. Get those diameters down enough and the rear load space would be dramatically improved by a nice full-width flat floor. So who needs a truck now? Citroen load-runners, way superior!

    On a related note, I read that some of the DS and CX based Citroen load-runners were used to transport magazines and newspapers in a hurry from city to city across Europe. My favourite story was about the guys using the turbocharged CX versions to transport the Financial Times across Germany at 160kph. Must have been an engaging job. Therefore it is hereby concluded that the six-wheelers in your renderings could have been named Citroen C5 FT160 Load-Runners!

    BTW which programme are you using to restyle cars?

    1. Hi J T. Here you go, and even more extreme alteration to the C5: the image immediately above, plus the front axle moved forwards and the D-pillar extended all the way to the tail of the car. The original is shown for comparison:


      Whatever it is, it’s not a C5 anymore!

      Despite my describing my efforts generically as ‘Photoshopped’, I actually use old-fashioned MS Paint 2D. It’s very basic, but serves my purposes fine (as long as you don’t look too closely!)

    2. Meanwhile, Mr Herriott has been busy and produced this:

      Actually, I think that the DLO line on Richard’s example is more pleasing, quite reminiscent of the C6

    3. If you haven´t looked at the original car and then go back to it from either Daniel or my latest iteration, it looks even wierder. I see efforts made to “bend” the roof around the headspace of the rear passengers; there´s a DLO that is a bit too short (or too high). The DLO seems also too high off the ground and too high relative to the body side. The car is overall a bit to short. And the resultant styling, over all that, is blobular. What we learn from this (this is research through design!) is that the actual C5 would appear to have been a saloon superimposed on something more like an MPV package. All the things one can do to improve it or rectify it reduce the MPVness of the package. I think spaciousness is an admirable quality. However, there have been plenty of spacious saloons that did not look wilfully obtuse like the C5. You´ll excuse me if I blow the XM´s trumpet: it´s roomy and looks low and sleek. There´s more than enough rear headroom.

    4. At the risk of appearing to be obsessed with the C5, and acknowledging that Richard’s design looks like a ‘real’ Citroen, I couldn’t help tinkering with it a bit further and settling on a front axle position between Richard’s design and my ‘RWD’ effort, to try and find an optimum position:

      Right, I’ll stop now. Incidentally, this makes over a hundred comments on this C5 piece. Is that a DTW record? Who would have guessed that there was so much mileage in the C5?

    5. The funny thing about this is that we´ve invested this effort in a fairly forgotten car and not, in say, addressing the problems of the BMW 3 series. We can´t even be bothered to deal that but the C5 seems to call for engagement. On that very small level, the C5 is vastly more interesting than the 3.
      I sometimes spend time in the garage (a big underground space) gazing at my XM and other cars while I have a smoke. After the usual time studying the XM and the XJ-S I occasionally force myself to look at other cars to see if I can find something of interest. Apart from a short look at the current Swift and a bit of a glance at a Tesla there´s nothing that demands my interest. The cars aren´t very wrong or all that intriguing. A really interesting design has a faint suggestion of oddness. A skilled designer will make this oddness subliminal and that provokes the mind to wonder just what is going on. The C5 has way too much of this and something like a VW Golf or a Renault Clio has none of it.

      On my C5 I moved the wheels backward as a nod to Citroen proportions. The DLO ended up being a bit like the CX for the same sort of reason: it doesn´t make much sense to run the glass to a tiny point. It handily then echoes the rear lamp.

    6. The Citroën C5 is interesting enough to warrant the effort. The current BMW 3 Series absolutely isn’t.

    7. Exactly. I don´t want to write off all BMWs though. The 2 and 4 coupés are quite nice and so are the X4 and X6. So is the i-thingy and finally the Z car is pretty hot. I´m still somewhat wedded to the notion BMW have the 3, 5 and 7 as the core cars and I grew up thinking they were supposed to be serious and sober. Both assumptions are no longer current and I would suppose many people under 32 would not think BMW = saloons at all; maybe saloons would be viewed as a niche in a range focused (focused! They have 135 models now) on, um, something else such as SUVs and fwd hatchy things (do they really make a 2 series MPVs? Yes they do.)

    8. DTW has a series coming up shortly on sixty years of BMW design. Stay tuned!

  29. Eoin

    I looked at the Xanae concept. It is attractive. It could have been a contender. There appear to be some hard point issues though. Perhaps they could have squeezed all the mechanicals in there, although Mac struts with spheres are likely not going to fit under that front. Perhaps double wishbones instead.

    Since Xanae is a Citroen, what about some practical weirdness. What about front and rear doors sliding to open? Excellent in supermarket carparks…

  30. I’ve studied these pictures for a bit. They are much better than the original. No question about that. I think it is time to print them in large format and stick them on the wall to study some more.

    The solution is in sight!

    Intriguing.

  31. Design Styling News Report, Feb 3, 2020: Swindon – Former Citroen styling chief Bart Lakebland and Citroen have announced the “director´s cut” of the Mk1 C5. “I was never happy with the way that one finished,” said Lakebland. And so Citroen have decided to release a revised version of the car. Fans of the main dimensions of the car won´t be disappointed but “expect a different ending!” laughs Lakebland who has worked for six months on a remodelled version truer to the original vision. It´s a bit longer, by 23 mm and a shade wider to give room for a deeper shoulder. The famous roofline gets a buffing so its simpler and finally, two new paints from the original launch palette will be offered. It comes in a box set with a CD of interviews with designers and a new brochure shot in period style.

  32. Daniel

    The last rendition is the best so far, but leave the front axle line in the far forward position. You referred to it as the RWD position. Such a car could still be a front driver. You’d achieve this by placing the differential unit ahead of the engine-transmission assembly instead of behind it. This would improve handling (you could exploit the revised mass distribution between axles tune out some understeer and help the car to point better). It would still look good. What do you reckon?

    Some time back Buick in the US developed a prototype they called the Bengal. It was front wheel drive with the engine behind the front axle line. They did this for reasons of aesthetics as well as improved driving dynamics. In their case this was not so tough to do (for the prototype) since the 4T65 or 4T80 transmissions were chain driven from the back of the engine torque-converter (which is located in conventional position bolted to a flex-plate which is in turn bolted to the crankshaft output flange). The chain drive was adaptable, but the castings needed some cut, weld and re-machining work… A pity they never continued in this direction. The tooling costs killed it in the end.

    During the heyday of the BTCC supertourers the engineers attempted to get the engines behind the front axle line. They deployed all sorts of radical solutions to achieve this result. The favourite has to be the Ford Mondeo which had the V-6 so far aft and so low in the car that the driveshaft to the RHS wheel travelled right along the engine valley! All of this was to get more mass inside the wheelbase in order to achieve lower polar moment, better handling, more grip etc. while retaining front wheel drive.

    1. The Toyota iQ had the engine behind the front axle line, made possibe by an exceptionally small differential that could be placed in front of the gearbox. The Peugeot 204/304/305 also had the differential in front of their gears in sump gearbox. Both cars had very short front overhangs for front drivers.
      Normally you would not do this because a differential in front of the gearbox would to lots of empty space in front of the axle line and in order to make room for the large engine and gearbox you would need lots of expensive wheelbase because otherwise the engine would sit where drivers’ feet normally are.

    2. Interesting stuff, J T and Dave. Does this make the Renault 4, 5 (Mk1) 6 and 16 all front mid-engined, like the Ferrari F12?

      That sounds rather exotic for such mundane (if excellent) cars!

    3. In the case of the R4, this was not so exotic, but rather due to cost-effective pragmatism.
      The designers took the drive unit of the 4CV and simply installed it in front of the passenger compartment of the R4 without turning it. Thus the “old” rear-wheel drive arrangement became the “new” front-wheel drive.
      Possibly they were inspired by the concept of the Citroen TA.

  33. That Renault 6 is beautiful. I love the overall reference to the 16, albeit in simpler form.

    I notice the lower feature line stays horizontal while the body is very slightly tipped forward; clever.

    1. Agreed – and it´s not as if the 6 gets a lot of press, is it? In that way it´s like the Peugeot 304 which is equally tidy and satisfying. These are very light-looking, elegant vehicles with much character packed into their few lines. Since then much has gone wrong. As the very latest example, the Peugeot 208 has a crease on the body side that looks like a reflection and the double creases around the wheel arch look like literal translations of pencil lines into the metal´s profile. Over at VW they have a feature pressed out with double-creases (which is cheating, in my view).

    2. Yes – the Renault 6 looks simple, and then when you really look at it you can see the care and skill employed. I love the pressings around the wheel arches to give it a ‘base’ to sit on, almost. It deserves its own article.

    3. Richard, you are right. Those closely stacked sharp creases are extremely difficult to manufacture with any precision and currently the only manufacturer capable of doing it is VAG.
      But is the desire to show off a reason to spoil the design of a car?

    4. The Renault 6 is one of those deceptively simple, but really clever and thoughtful designs. In addition to what has already been mentioned, I would add the flat-topped rear wheel arches that accommodate the asymmetric position of the rear wheels without drawing attention to it. Here’s a later facelifted example in a lovely cheerful colour:

      If only car designers (and company bosses) had the courage to put a simple, clean design such as this into production today.

    5. And there’s the ‘spear’ on the front wing that grows in to a soft, broad shape around the windows. Then there are lovely touches like the door handles, the hub caps that remind one of the Renault logo, the side exiting exhaust, the funny little side repeater lamps on early versions, the ‘twist and pull’ gear change…

  34. Quoting, “Normally you would not do this because a differential in front of the gearbox would to lots of empty space in front of the axle line and in order to make room for the large engine and gearbox you would need lots of expensive wheelbase because otherwise the engine would sit where drivers’ feet normally are.”

    Not necessarily.

    Placing a transverse engine behind the front axle line moves weight aft, as intended. It also makes threading the steering shaft down to the rack much more difficult. A solution used in several of the BTCC cars was to deploy a pair of bevel gears. The steering shaft was in two pieces connected by the bevel gears. This allowed them to go around, get over the top of or get past the engine one way or another. The TWR Volvo is a good example of this.

    In the Volvo the steering shaft emerges from the bulkhead and is directed near horizontally forwards through the engine bay. It is received by the bevel gearbox just ahead of the engine. The bevel box has a ~90 degree direction change. A second shaft emerges from the bevel box heading directly downwards and is received at the steering rack. Others did similar things.

    Note that in the BTCC rules of the time it was not allowed to appreciably alter the front bulkhead in shape or position. Hence it was not possible to move the engine to a location which clashed with the driver’s foot well (that is, a position where the driver’s feet would normally reside). The bulkhead was an immutable structure. Instead the racers squeezed their in-line engines down into the space between the bulkhead and the front axle line. In the case of Ford, the Mondeo had a V-6 and while it was possible to get one bank of cylinders into the same location (relatively) as the in-line engines, the other pointed forwards, ending up with one cylinder head being slightly ahead of the front axle line. Nevertheless all of them got the CoG of the engine well aft of the front axle line without moving the front bulkhead. No-one moved the front wheels forward either, as that was also forbidden by the rules. Basically, the BTCC racers became masters of packaging!

    The main reasons for normally not going down this path are to do with front structure and sub-frame design/development, fitting the front assemblies to the car on the production line, access for maintenance, front traction on low friction surfaces, especially when going up inclines. In other words, design and development costs, manufacturing tooling and process limitations at the factory, possible difficulties with warranty and maintenance work expected to be carried out at dealerships, a possible traction issue in certain situations. Many manufacturers really don’t care enough to consider where the CoG ends up or even what the polar moment of inertia is (let alone pitch centre, K values, steering feel, phase delay etc. etc. etc.). Many are not interested in retooling for a revised transaxle (to put the differential on the front side), totally new type of sub-frame, alternative engine mounting set-ups and so on. None I can recall are at all interested in working out how they can hang the front suspension directly off the engine and keep cabin NVH to an acceptable level (there are ways to do it, but they demand development to achieve successfully and repeatedly- that is, budget). Instead they do like pretending a car is a cellphone or a laptop… touchscreen anyone?

    By the way, the space freed up in front of the axle line can be used for the spare tyre, the cooling pack, a greatly improved crash energy absorption structure or even to reduce the front overhang by rather a lot.

    1. Hello JT and thank you for your valuable input.
      From your past posts I can see that you are technically inclined.
      So can you please elaborate how one would hang front suspension of, off the engine. I know its being done in motorcycle applications where the engine acts as supporting part of the frame. And I believe some supercar manufactures do it, but its usually in a mid engine configuration.

  35. Hello Darko

    To achieve this would be similar to how you’d do it for a motorcycle, certain supercars or racecars. You cast or fabricate lugs or brackets which are mounted on the engine/transmission or are part of the engine/transmission assembly or the engine/transmission structure itself. To these you mount the suspension components. For example, you could trap bushes in a lug or bracket attached to the engine and swing a wishbone from that. Alternatively, you could make up a subframe (or several) which would mount to the engine/transmission assembly. The suspension pieces would be attached to those. Or, another alternative would be to solid mount the engine to a subframe, or several, and attach the subframe/s to the vehicle body via isolating medium (bushes, rubber blocks etc.). The suspension would attach to the engine/transmission assembly either by isolating medium or solidly. There are other methods also. Plenty of room to innovate!

    Cheers

  36. Daniel

    I came across a car which could be slightly altered to be a Citroen. It is attractive and would look as the C5 ought to have. A plus is that it is an attractive car, well proportioned, good stance, lots of room inside (well packaged) and it has front wheel drive. It is the 1998 Chrysler Intrepid (it had quite a bit of French in its DNA).

    What do you think?

    1. Hi J T. Here’s the Intrepid, for those who are not familiar with it:

      I’m always liked these ‘cab-forward’ Chrysler designs and can certainly see some resemblance to the C5. However, I think it might fall down on lack of interior space relative to its overall size, with that coupé-like roofline. Richard mentioned earlier that the C5’s roofline appeared to be contorted in the C/D-pillar area to liberate more rear headroom and that’s certainly a plausible explanation for it. The Intrepid profile is nice as it stands, but wouldn’t respond well to such treatment. That said, a proper rearward extension to the roof and a liftback rather than a boot might work, but then you’re getting closer to the Photoshopped images of the C5 above.

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