A Matter of Standing

Altura del estilo.

Citroen C5 X. All images: The author.

Your eyes do not deceive you — this isn’t Cork[1]. Ireland’s second city does have its charms, but the weather isn’t one of them — not unless horizontal rain is your idea of meteorological bliss. Hence, today’s meditation finds us in more Southern (and far warmer) climes — Marbella to be precise. And while there is plenty to divert any visitor’s attention, either along the Costa del Sol, or inland, it remains for me, something of a (lately impoverished) car-spotter’s paradise[2].

Now, some of you might characterise this pursuit of automotive ephemera as being something of a busmans’ holiday[3], especially while nominally on retreat, but having been at this Driven to Write lark for almost a decade now, I’m not really certain I have the ability to really ‘switch off’. I keep getting distracted. Which is just as well for you, dear reader, for I have been busy with the camera phone[4].

And so to today’s subject, the Citroën C5 X, the first I’ve encountered in the wild[5]. I’ve written in some detail about this car already, so I’ll try not to repeat myself, but suffice to say, the Citroën flagship lives up to its billing. It’s big and it’s imposing. This is fine as it stands, and befits a car of its nature, laying claim as it does to a tradition stretching back to the Traction Avant.

There is, as has already been stated, a tremendous amount going on stylistically, more than can really be absorbed or dissected at first glance — especially given that this particular example was jammed between a large recycling bin and another vehicle. Marks for parking skills…

What stands out? Well firstly, the car’s face is a mess. Discordance for discordance sake, and worse still, discordance without rationale or an over-arching theme. I sense that Citroën’s designers, now shorn of the fundamental engineering principles which once underpinned its design tradition, lack the essential intellectual understanding and marque-specific semiotics[6] and as such, can only offer up pastiche.

Received wisdom: Citroën = polarising. QED.

The side profile is clean enough, and the glasshouse/ canopy carries enough historical Citroën design references to keep the journalists happy, although why the kick over the rear wheel was deemed necessary (power!) is quite beyond me. Again, this speaks of a basic incomprehension about Citroën design heritage; the car is after all, driven by the front wheels![7]

The rear end is handled tidily enough, although to my eyes the tail lamp units are somewhat over-elaborated; laboured might be a better description. Still, this is nit-picking really. It’s fine[8]. Here one can absorb the strong visual references to the C-Xperience and DS Numero 9 concepts; the chromed ‘spear’ above the DLO being another clear reference to the latter. Speaking of daylight openings, the ham-fisted attempt to visually ‘pull’ the windscreen across to the side glass is particularly crass here. Vélizy needs to stop this immediately — as a visual conceit, it simply doesn’t work.

But above all, the outstanding characteristic of the C5 X is its stance. Since this represents the fundamental raison d’etre for the car; it being billed as a crossover/ saloon/ coupé/ hatchback; a whole new type of vehicle in Vélizy-speak. Fine and dandy if you imbibe the Citroën pressé, and certainly, its high-riding nature is quite evident. But to my eyes, what it resembles most is a traditional hydropneumatic Citroën with its suspension inadvertently set to maximum height. Awkward, but fortunately for the double chevron, anno-2023, the public have short memories.

In his 2021 Design Field Trip dissection of the C5 X design, Christopher Butt perceptively noted that its design was in effect running to stand still; creating the illusion of movement, where none was in fact forthcoming. To further this analogy, the purpose of the C5 X is trompe l’oeil; to create the illusion of innovation, of ‘Traction Avant’, if you will. It is of course nothing of the kind, because for all its high-riding credentials, fundamentally, this Citroën lacks stature.

[1] For a proud Corkonian, there is nowhere on earth better than their home city; the running gag being that the Corkman, presented with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (or similar wonder) exclaims, “Well, it’s nice. But it’s not Cork”.

[2] Before any of you write in to say that there is nothing unusual about these vehicles if you lived around here, I admit defeat. But where I’m from they have become vanishingly rare sights, if seen at all.

[3] A Busman’s holiday is an British term describing someone who takes a vacation, and spends their time on holiday doing exactly what they normally do for a living. (If only…)

[4] More anon.

[5] Our local Citroen dealer in Cork has a C5 X demonstrator outside their premises, but I don’t think that really counts. However, I wish them luck…  Since writing this, I have viewed several other examples locally and have felt no reason to alter my opinion as stated on these pages. 

[6] What’s left of them at least.

[7] The spirit of André Lefèbvre must be apoplectic with impotent rage. Meanwhile, on the subject of wheels, these designs resemble cheap aftermarket wheel trims.

[8] There’s a half decent design lurking underneath all the barnacles. But will Vélizy facelift it into being? Consider it unlikely.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

38 thoughts on “A Matter of Standing”

  1. The pictures make it look like as if Citroën almost reinvented the estate (a.k.a. station wagon) class with the C5 X, but it did not – the rear part feels steeper in person and the overhang actually serves no real purpose in terms of load capacity. It’s like a shooting brake, but with an extra black plastic spoiler added to demonstrate it’s Citroënnes (seems to be standard on every trim level, though I prefer the clean and uncluttered Citroën tail as seen on the smaller C4 X).

    The front end is even more puzzling, I’m not sure why Stellantis employs such a long nose for cars based on this platform – the Peugeot 308 and 408 have bonnets with the surface area of a king size dining table as well. As a design clue it almost suggests a V8 is hiding underneath, though these cars are equipped with 1.2-1.6 liter I3/I4 engines and even those units are mounted transversely. The massive crashbox fitted in the front could explain part of it, but it must be a pain seeing over it (another safety feature that makes cars less safe). It also looks very weird when compared to the C5 Aircross – a car bearing the same C-number in Citroën nomenclature – and yet looking nothing like it’s cousin.

    All in all, it seems to be a successor to the DS5 in the sense that they packed both full of visual distractions, but customers probably don’t miss out on anything if they just buy a “normal” Citroën.

  2. Oh dear, Eóin! It’s a nice enough car, as modern cars go, but it doesn’t really say Citroen, does it? Take the double chevrons off it, and it could be anything from the next Tesla Model Z to a new Kia Soulless.
    The messy face seems to be the early-twenties’ equivalent to those oh-so-fifties tail fins. Personally it makes me want to take to it with a facewasher. Scrubbing brush. Maybe oxy torch? And it is so inappropriate here. When I think of Citroen, I think of sleek and minimalist. Certainly not a bluff front with several strata of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal details all jumping up and down, competing for the viewer’s attention. And the old Focus-inspired taillights. Likewise the sculpting on the rear doors. I’m prepared to accept the rear wheel ‘haunches’ as being a sort-of nod to the XM, maybe. I’m in a good mood today.
    I guess they must think there’s a market for it.
    You said it though: crossover/saloon/coupe/hatchback. Do these sort of mutants actually sell in Europe?

  3. I agree, the C5X more than any other current car i’ve seen looks like it’s standing on stilts. I think it has to do with the big flat wheel design which you’ve very appropriately likened to aftermarket wheel trims.
    And the front is too baroque and heavy for the rest of the car.

  4. Good morning Eóin. I cannot quite believe what I’m about to type but, on reflection, I don’t hate the C5 X. Yes, the front end is too busy and it could do without those ‘quartic’ wheel arch pressings, but the flanks are relatively clean and unfussy and the whole thing hangs together reasonably well. Let’s take a look at it when not parked next to the bins:

    That said, my aesthetic senses might have been numbed by something I saw parked in town last weekend…

    1. So which camera is telling lies? I had to keep scrolling up and down between the two sets of images to convince myself we’re looking at the same car. The one is a mess, the other almost likeable. But I can’t decide why. Is it the darker colours which flatter the otherwise ridiculous tail lights? Or perhaps the location (the background of the silvery Tay certainly helps Daniel’s final image)? A Citroen conundrum indeed.

    2. It’s partly the camera angle (and lighting too, of course). Cars often tend to be photographed from three quarters on, shooting upwards, as it were (with the photographer kneeling down). I don’t know enough about photography to be able to explain why this works – I suspect there’s all sorts of aspects to it such as avoiding foreshortening of images and so forth.

  5. It was this, a Hyundai Tuscon:

    There is so much going on in the styling, it really is migraine-inducing. Unlike Eóin, I rarely photograph cars on the street but, as we supped our cappuccinos, I became transfixed. Overlaid on top of all those slashes and creases is a cacophony of smaller, fussy details; stakes in the trailing edges of the black plastic wheel arch surrounds, diamond patterned blanking plates in the bumpers, etc. As Dougal might have said, “Ah, that’s just mad, Ted!”

    It’s not as though I can avoid the bloody thing either: the Tuscon was the best-selling car in Ireland in 2022 with an amazing 6.10% market share, accounting for more than half of Hyundai’s 12.06% share, which is second only to Toyota on 15.23%. Clearly, my taste in matters automotive is very poorly aligned to that of my fellow countrymen although, in fairness, many may be choosing the Tuscon in spite of the way it looks, thanks to Hyundai’s excellent reputation for quality and reliability.

    1. That really is truly ghastly – styled by a drunken panel-beater with a lump hammer.

    2. I believe many people like the front and rear graphics and the whole thing is quite distinctive. They’re trying out things and I respect them for that. The Citroen on the other hand to me manages to somehow look generic and irritating at the same time. If you removed some of the details on the Tucson you’ll end up with a pleasant yet unique looking car. In my opinion, the C5X is fundamentally wrong, just look at the stance on the rear 3/4 picture you shared. Is there another new car of such size that manages to look so unstable and ‘hollow’?

    3. Even the cops have them, now that the i40 Estate is discontinued.

    4. I’m surprised you even noticed the Tucson, Daniel, they are so ubiquitous I literally fail to see them. Rather like the Corolla K30 or the original Focus in their days, a Tucson is just part of the streetscape.
      Thing is, I don’t find it as repellent as you do. Yes, it’s a mish-mash of every design element in the box, but that’s a criticism one could make of many cars now, including the Citroën at the core of this discussion. I find though that on the Tucson the disparate elements seem to gell better than they do on most of the others. The best analogy might be a good example of cubist painting, where the whole surprisingly turns out better than the sum of the parts considered individually.
      Or am I suffering from Stockholm syndrome?

      * also: my apologies for my insanely naive analysis of cubism! I realise that what I have just written is a gross oversimplification at best, and plain wrong at worst…

    5. I shouldn’t worry Daniel. There will be another, completely different Tucson along before you even realise it. They don’t keep ’em in production long at Hyundai.

    6. Hi Michael and Eóin. I had previously noticed the Tuscon, but this was the first occasion on which I was compelled to look at it for more than a moment. I tried to make some sense of it, but there are so many different (and conflicting) design motifs thrown at it that it’s impossible for me to disentangle. It’s hard to believe that it comes from the same design studios that created the Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6, both of which are, I think much more coherent expressions of their (different) design themes:

      I don’t think either of the above is perfect, but I think I understand the thinking behind them.

    7. The Tucson´s lines hang together on a simpler grid system than the Citroen. What upsets the Citroen most are the sub-rounded wheel arch features. Had they avoided those it might have been blandly acceptable. At the rear there are small zig-zags on the lower edge of the lamps. One arc could have joined the bumper panel gap to the lamps but they had to add a blip and add further noise. And the front end is so complex as to be indistinct. They could have left out half of the elements with no loss. As noted above, it´s the 20´s equivalent of 1950s tail-fins. This trend must be soon completely over.

    8. The Ioniq shown below, the one with the falling waist-line is to me very clearly the kind of car Citroen should be selling. It has strong shades of the Lineage concept for one thing. The bumper and grille area is verging on the simple too – someone in the styling studio is aiming for visual calm. Only the vertical features are a distraction. It would be excellent with covered rear wheels too. There must be someone in Citroen whose job it is to ensure modern Citroens do not look like Citroens and keeps a photo of the C5 over their desk.

    9. There might be some Citroën thinking behind the Ionic6 and also the idea of simplification, which I appreciate. However, the execution is very poor in my eyes. It looks like an elephant sat down on its back. They try to lessen this effect by the rear spoiler, but it just manages to make the whole thing even uglier.
      I also fail to understand what they want to achieve with the dark coloured area below the rear bumper (starting in front of the rear wheel). And do the wheels really have different colours front and back? Did they do that on the other side, too?

  6. Perhaps someone better at images that me can do this… I see something of the GS headlamp shape, but fragmented into separate elements – in the C5 X.

    The point about conveying the FWD drivetrain is really interesting – thank you for that! The way that the rear wheels are covered on the DS, GS, Ami and CX (even 2CV) all suggest they are just dragging along, less important – while allowing for an unusually smooth side-view with a long sill (OK, made a bit busy by the pressings in the Ami’s flanks).

    1. David – I had the same thought about the wheels. I think the C5 X is meant to look as though it is ‘poured over’ its wheels, to suggest lithe power. Citroëns used to be the opposite – you got the impression that they’d prefer that wheels weren’t necessary. The Visa and AX carried on the tradition of having semi-hidden rear wheels, or a nod in that direction, at least. I guess something like the XM was the last to have this feature.

    2. David JK: This was a principle espoused by none other than André Lefèbvre himself, when he was one of the leading lights within Citroën’s bureau d’études. It is documented that during the 1960s, some elements within engineering believed that Citroen should make a rear-wheel drive car, a suggestion Lefèbvre vehemently opposed. He was also behind the idea that the rear wheels should be covered, so as to accentuate the cars’ front-drive design. Lefèbvre was a total convert to front-wheel drive, insisting upon it, even for Projet S (which he initiated), which later became the SM.

    3. Thank you Eoin, that’s fascinating. Of course I forgot the SM! The same design element appeared successfully in cars as different as the Ami and the SM – subtle enough to be a common identifier of the brand and its philosophy, yet not a “Russian Doll” approach. Thank you for more Driven to Write thinking-matter!

    4. Cars that have the rear wheels covered smoothly tend to have a rather narrow rear track. OK for a low-built saloon, but unwise for a jacked-up SUV, even with all the electronic ‘safety’ gizmos.

    5. That’s a great description, Charles: poured over the wheels. “Sporting” brands used to do that. Citroën and many others used to be different, but now every design strives for that look. If I can believe the journos (not having driven one myself) Citroën and Skoda in particular have let go of that “sportiness” in their suspension set up, yet espouse it still in their design. Making it a crossover doesn’t help a bit: to me the car seems to be continously teetering on the brink of keeling over. Rather the opposite of planted, which seems a prerequisite for such a “poured over the wheels” design to work in the first place.

      A big problem for a characterful marque like Citroën is of course that their designs used to be dictated by the technology they used, which is impossible when they’re part of a large conglomerate. Eóin’s description of the designers lacking the intelligence to translate that heritage into a design that is not married to the technology as much (since that’s shared across Stellantis) seems on the nose. It’s a whole new design challenge that a lot of marques seem to be failing at currently.

      As stated before by me and others, I think Christopher Butt described a design trend that might be one solution to that conundrum nicely: reference the past, but not copy it (https://www.design-fieldtrip.com/read/measuring-culture-appeal-hyundai-ioniq-5-6-n-vision-74-sangyuplee-korea-pop-culture).

      I don’t hate the Tuscon by the way. Not a masterpiece, but most of the ideas are nice enough (I rather like the headlights). Just a bit too many at once with proportions that don’t quite work either. Maybe the wheelbase is too short.

    6. It’s interesting how people seem to want to see aspects of fragments of classics like the GS in some aspect of current Citroëns – e.g. headlamp shapes and overall silhouette profiles (often cited in the case of the current C4). Of course the profile of the C4 apes the GS because the latter was a very early example of the fastback shape that has become the staple of the modern hatch (even if it lacked a hatch until later). Of the headlamps, I will admit I am struggling to see the likeness in the C5X with those on the GS. In fact, I get a little irritated with these attempts to validate current Citroëns (and their DS siblings), because they can’t hold a match (let alone a candle) to their trail-blazing forebears.

    7. SV: I hypothesise that the reason for this comes down to a single word: faith. All Citroënistes, much like Lancistas (heaven protect us) suffer on in the mostly futile hope that the situation, no matter how dire, will improve. Hence the reading of tealeaves and other forms of magical thinking. I cast no aspersions by the way. I am as prone to it as anyone.

      Citroën, Lancia, Jaguar – I’m not right in the head, am I?

  7. On this car, the elevated stance is exacerbated by the relative proportions of wheelbase to overhangs; the whole car looks pinched. From both a design and engineering perspective, Citroën doesn’t exist anymore, it’s just a brand that, like Dacia or (at one point) Skoda, is now used to be the value price point in the Stellantis portfolio. The latter became more obvious once the DS brand was spun off to occupy the luxury positioning that certain Citroëns used to represent.

  8. I quite like Cork – just as well as I have to go there twice this week. I would never take a car to Marbella, the parking there is much too close for comfort.
    I am happy to ignore Peugeot-based Citroens, though I have seen worse wheels than those on the C5X.

  9. I think the idea of a big roomy and very comfortable car without a premium attitude and a high price tag is an idea that suits the DNA of Citroen.

    But the C5X is well meant but poorly executed. I don’t like the front design theme of all new Citroens (exept the restyled C5 Aircross).
    I don’t like those supersized rearlights. The additional ground clearance should be an option combined with a more robust version. The biggest disappointment is the dull interior and the lack of color options inside and outside. And the car is produced in China. As long as China does not want the importation of european cars to China, i am not happy with a chinese Citroen.

    I like covered rear wheels too, but not at this car….

  10. Am I alone in thinking the wheels are too big? To me the car seems stretched uncomfortably over and between them.

    1. The wheels are perfectly in proportion according to the design reference:

  11. In my opinion the design feature that characterised big Citroëns until the last C5 was the long wheelbase with the combination of a very short rear overhang. This car is too far away from this rule, and therefore one cannot recognise it as a Citroën, as it used to be the case with the models of the past. Moreover it looks to be a case of a form that is not really interesting, let alone handsome, and the designers tried desperately too hard with fussy details. Just like the cook that tries to hide the past their best and / or indifferent materials with loads of spices.
    I must say also that the first time that i saw that rear 3/4 view, i thought about an older Mitsubishi Lancer, somewhat blown up…
    Its twin, Peugeot 408, just manages to look more attactive, in the way Peugeots somehow manage to look rather attractive lately, and is also made in France. Regarding sales in Europe and particularly in France, i guess that the 408 will run rings around the Chinese made C5X.

    1. Of course, every Peugeot has to look more attractive than a Citroën. It has been like that since 1974, but rarely as extreme as it is now.

      I really think they want to drive people away from buying the ‘budget’ brand and going for the ‘semi-premium’. Usually Citroën nowadays seem to be the last ones that get new technology, after Peugeot, DS and even Opel. That’s how far a former technology forerunner has come. The garage where my C6 is serviced has been a Citroën dealer for about 50 years and two generations. They have now stopped selling them, as there’s nothing left people will buy. And I don’t even mourn it.

    2. Frankfurt had our country’s largest and oldest Citroen dealer – Häusler.
      They were large enough to be allowed to use their own logo as the only dealer in the country. When the official Citroen logo were two red chevrons with a white background Häusler used a large red H with two white chevrons superimposed.
      A couple of years ago they dropped Citroen and became a Kia/Hyundai dealer, then – of all things – Opel was added.

  12. Daniel, are you going to subject us to a picture of the Ioniq 6 without even some argument to justify such a blow to our eyes? That’s gratituous visual violence!

  13. Mi impressions on the C5X design:

    1. In official pics it looks quite handsome. I think we have to come to terms with the fact that we’re in a sort of digital baroque era, with abundant slashes, surfacing, scooping of lateral panels, etc… Some manufacturers go too far, others make no sense, and others still make all that work surprisingly well on some models. The C5X is one of them in my opinion.

    2. On the showroom floor the C5X looks imposing and expensive.

    3. On the road, the high ground clearance and low, flat general shape that raises towards the rear makes it look a bit odd, like a giant dress shoe.

    Overall, it looks good, but not awesome like its Peugeot 408 cousin.

  14. Hi Eóin, thanks for this well-written post. In the photos, I noticed something: the windows behind the B-pillar are way too dark, and manufacturers seriously need to kill this trend NOW. It’s a lethal hazard, and I’ll explain why.

    This week, we had a Fatal Distraction / Forgotten Baby Syndrome incident here in Greece: a dad from Arta was supposed to take his baby daughter (five and a half months old) to daycare and then go to work. This wasn’t his usual daily routine – most of the time, he just went straight to work. Work stress, fatigue, and a call from work as he was underway caused him to not follow his planned itinerary, but go on “autopilot” instead and drive straight to work. He forgot he had the baby in the car. He forgot he had to take her to daycare.

    He simply parked the car near his work (he works for the Public-but-Totally-Privatized Power Corporation’s infrastructure branch) and rushed to get in a company van and head 78 km away to Lefkada (the island that’s also a popular tourist destination). It looks like privatization, “rationalization”, and “investor-friendliness” mean such places have to depend on personnel and equipment from far away places.

    And what about the baby? And how does it relate to tinted windows? The car had been parked on the street. Because of its darkly-tinted windows, passersby couldn’t see there was a baby in there. The baby stayed there for eight hours and died of hyperthermia. Unnoticed.

    First, because of the fatal distraction (look it up, it’s a real neurological failure). Second, because no one could see inside the car.

    I’ll be blunt here: yes, tinted rear windows may make you feel posh; they also make it harder for others to see if you’re engaging in some backseat rumpy-pumpy. But they also mean certain death for your kid if you get hit by fatal distraction.

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