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.

85 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.

  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.

  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.

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