Citroen reveals its big idea.
It ought to be obvious really; that incredibly fertile period of Citroën design overseen by the recently departed Robert Opron and presided over by CEO, Pierre Bercot was merely a blip; a marvellously inventive, optimistic and futuristic one, but a blip nonetheless. One where high speed travel in supreme comfort was to be made available to the broadest possible audience. Lamentably, we live in rather different times now.
Automobiles Citroën has been living in vastly different (and decidedly interesting) times for close to a half-century now; one punctuated by brief periods of creativity, only to be suffocated amid sojourns in the arid landscapes of profound banality.
The bookend of that most recent creative drought was heralded by the emergence of the C4 Cactus model of 2014, perhaps the first product bearing the double chevron in generations to viscerally appeal to the kind of customer who mourned the loss of the innovative and intelligently conceived Citroën’s of yore. The Cactus heralded a fresh direction for brand-Citroën – softer, more playful.
That it proved a good deal less than the sum of its parts was an unfortunate consequence of money and management, but nonetheless, the cars which followed it did bear some of its ethos, albeit in seemingly ever-decreasing circles. Little by little however, the reimagined Citroën design template became clearer. An emphasis on visual trompe l’oeil; one is intended both to see and yet not see, and certainly there has been little shortage of visuals to be deciphered in Vélizy’s latterday confections.
Busy has been the adjective which sprung most obviously to mind – unnecessary being another. But for brand-Citroën, achieving a form of visual dissonance was considered a requirement, given the commercial and reputational mountain they have needed to climb.
Last year’s C4 debutant was the most eloquent pointer to where stylistically speaking, the double chevron seemed headed. However, this week’s announcement of the latest C5 X lays a further, more substantial, and perhaps definitive layer to the current Vélizy gateau.
The C5 X is Citroën’s latest and long-awaited D-segment offering; its first since the demise of the previous generation C5 saloon, a car which had its adherents, but left a great many Citrophiles decidedly unmoved, to say nothing of the average car buyer it was so clearly targeted towards. Perhaps the latter’s only durable claim to history being the fact that versions were the last Citroën-branded cars to be fitted with the final vestiges of hydropneumatics – a once noble system decontented to unviability before being consigned to the waste paper basket of history.
Citroën’s PR function cites the 2016 C-Xperience concept as the C5 X’s visual inspiration, but also takes pains to mention the recently ennobled CX as its creative forebear – which to be frank is difficult to discern, even after a good hard stare. In another trompe l’oeil attempt, Citroën would have you to mentally connect the C to the X here, a disingenuous and somewhat cynical act to these eyes, but that’s marketing for you. What nobody seems to have recalled is the 2012 Numero 9 DS concept, from which the production C5 X appears to have imbibed rather more heavily from.
Stellantis’ more playful French outpost would also be rather pleased for you to view the C5 X as an entirely new concept in the D-sector, when of course it really is nothing of the sort. Nevertheless, as an early attempt at a metaphorical post-saloon, one can at least acknowledge the effort, and gratefully appreciate the fact that it isn’t simply another by the numbers crossover CUV.
While it shares an over-familiar rhapsody of over-worked surfaces, inlets and indents, the fact that these are smeared over a larger canvas somewhat aids the C5 X’s case – one perhaps lacking in its more compacted siblings. Utilising a longer wheelbase version of the shared Stellantis (former PSA) platform which underpins the Peugeot 508 also helps; the Citroën majoring on cabin space, even if it isn’t quite as spacious in the rear compartment (some 7cm short) as the Chinese-Market 508L.
Nevertheless, there is now a coherence to Citroën’s visual offer – one rooted in incoherence, one might be moved to venture, although I’m fairly certain Citroën’s designers would argue quite forcefully to the contrary.
Citroën’s current design chief is relatively new to the role – Pierre Leclercq’s immediate predecessor, the well-regarded Alexandre Malval having left to join Mercedes Benz in November 2018. This means that both production C4 and the latest C5 X were largely complete upon Leclercq’s arrival, and probably don’t necessarily reflect his creative vision for the brand – insofar as we can discern at least.
Leclercq’s CV is a somewhat chequered one; having recently departed KIA Motors for the Vélizy gig and prior to that had spent a number of years in China at Great Wall Motors. Earlier still, he served under Chris Bangle at BMW; his Vierzylinder palmarés including the second-generation X5 and the execrable X6. He now reports to Jean-Pierre Ploué, who currently oversees the entire Stellantis design portfolio.
Clearly, on a more macro level, the massive personnel changes that have taken place across the Stellantis empire are likely to precipitate further creative upheaval over the coming years, but given the timelines, conceptual toe in the water exercises notwithstanding, we are unlikely to see much of Leclercq’s hand at Citroën for some time yet.
A new styling director is usually an opportunity for a carmaker to rethink its creative offer. For Leclercq, it represents a chance to underpin something both necessary and important. Citroën’s press release makes much of the C5 X’s warmth, tranquillity and serenity, as espoused by its “Citroën Advanced Comfort active suspension system” [no joke, they actually said that], and extra bouncy seats. Fine and dandy, but it might behove both double chevron and you, the potential consumer to be presented with something a mite calmer looking in the coming years.
After all, creative dissonance only gets you so far.
 Don’t mention the F-word.
 May those responsible be forever haunted by the ghost of Andre Lefebvre and Paul Magés.
 While any resemblance to the CX is frankly for the birds, the author of the design review published on the excellent (and highly recommended) Lignes-Auto suggests there is more than a note of XM to the rear quarter light treatment.
 Both AMC and Subaru (amongst others) have mined this particular seam in the distant past and a number of rival carmakers now appear bent on promoting it as the new frontier for the saloon format.
I also highly recommend this fine dissection of the C5 X design on Design Field Trip.