Unmistakably German: that, believe it or not, was the advertising strap line devised for the big promotional push of the 2008 Citroen C5. In the TV ad a blonde businessman drives the car through a German landscape backed by a Wagner soundtrack. Boris pauses only to eat some Bratwurst in a bier keller before parking up at Berlin's Brandenburg gate. The Citroen C5, a heavily accented voiceover tells us, is "unmistakably German - made in France".
The intention was to underline the supposed Germanic quality of the C5, positioning it as an alternative to the increasingly popular saloons from BMW and Audi. The effect was to undermine a century of Citroen heritage, diverting attention from the reasons that people might actually buy a C5. The car is big, comfortable, well equipped and not German. It's also distinctly affordable on the used market.
There was a time when car buyers with families trooped down to dealerships in their droves and bought medium range family cars. Sales levels for this category of vehicle were then swelled further by company car user choosers and fleet managers who selected this kind of vehicle with blinkered diligence. Times were good for big four-door cars with mainstream badges but it wasn't to last. The choice available to family buyers exploded with the advent of compact 4x4s, MPVs and the growing fondness for German compact executive models amongst the fleet fraternity. Earlier Citroen C5s had been around for the boom times but the 2008 model, despite being a vast improvement on those, was going to have to work far harder for every unit sold.
The C5 launched early in 2008, arriving with 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol engines plus a wider line-up of HDi diesels of 1.6, 2.0, 2.2 and 2.7-litre capacities. Trim levels were SX, VTR+ and Exclusive. The handsome Tourer estate model came a few months later and the 2.7-litre V6 diesel was replaced with a 3.0-litre diesel unit a while after that. The diesel engines sold far more strongly than the petrols and were upgraded at various intervals to improve the economy and emissions which were so important to the fleet and business customers that the C5 relied upon.
What You Get
The C5 definitely has a more classically handsome look about it than its bulky predecessor. It follows the broad conventions of the medium range car market but uses some expertly conceived detailing to mark out its own personality. In Tourer estate form, it's even more of a stunner but the saloon bodystyle still has the capacity to draw admiring glances. The large Citroen double chevron badge that extends right across the nose suggests a car proud of its parentage, while the heavily contoured flanks draw the eye along to the neat rear end with its small boot lid spoiler.
In the cabin, claims to Germanic standards of fit, finish and materials quality do fall a little flat but if by German, you mean BMW, Audi and Mercedes, that's hardly surprising. Cars from these marques that match the Citroen C5 in size operate in the compact executive sector and are substantially more expensive: The fact is that the C5 is competitive with its family car contemporaries if you're evaluating the way the cabin looks and feels. There are too many small buttons clustered together on the steering wheel and the centre console to make the control interfaces easy to grasp but the lines are clean and that hint of quirky Citroen design is in evidence.
Would a German manufacturer fit a fixed-hub steering wheel? Of course it wouldn't and Citroen's one works very well. The centre section of the wheel remains stationary so it's easier to locate all those buttons and, importantly, so there's a stable platform for the driver's airbag to deploy from. The big comfy seats in the C5 don't feel very German either. They might lack a little support if you're going to fling the C5 round a corner but they're a superb place to sit out a motorway marathon.
Space for rear seat passengers is helped by the flat floor. Go for the Tourer estate and the 439 litres of boot space offered by the saloon rises to 505 litres with all the seats in place and nearly 1500 litres with the seats flat folded.
What to Look For
Insist on a service history for the C5. The complex suspension system fitted to certain models is pretty reliable, but make sure that it's been checked out because replacement parts for it are pricey. Electrical glitches are not unknown so make sure that all the minor controls work properly.
(Approx - based on a C5 2.0 HDI - ex Vat) Clutch assemblies are about £250, brake pads around £45 and an alternator around £200. You'll pay around £300 for a radiator and around £150 (exchange) for a starter motor.
On the Road
Higher spec models have the Hydractive 3 Plus self levelling suspension that adapts to the road surface in order to deliver a smooth, magic carpet ride. This system lets the driver select from three modes that offer progressively firmer suspension settings for a sportier driving experience or a more comfortable one as required. Lesser models lack this feature but are still set up for long distance comfort rather than B-road blasting. When you think how the majority of C5s are used, it's hard to dispute that this was the right way to go. The C5 isn't a sharp driver's tool like Ford's Mondeo and is some way behind the German compact executive elite in terms of handling dynamics but it can match all comers in terms of comfort and beat most of them with Hydractive 3 Plus installed.
The HDi diesel engines are very impressive. The range kicks off with the 1.6-litre unit that's used extensively across the Citroen range. It's a 110bhp engine that takes a lengthy 13.4s to get the C5 up to 60mph but it feels faster than that thanks to torque of 240Nm from 1,750rpm. Although the 1.6 HDi doesn't feel overwhelmed, the 2.0HDi is a more rounded proposition. In later cars it was upgraded to 160bhp and 340Nm. The 3.0 HDi is probably the best engine fitted to the C5, a 240bhp affair with 450Nm that can ease its way through 60mph in 8.0s. It's very well suited to the relaxed character of the car.
Citroen wanted to make a step up in quality with this C5 and that's presumably what led to its German themed launch promotion. The fact is, however, that it is a very different proposition from and Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series of similar age. The C5 has its emphasis on comfort and it's a very good car for eating up big mileages. There's a good amount of space, lots of equipment and build quality is reasonable. There are better driver's cars in the medium range sector but the C5's blend of qualities and its steep depreciation make it a fine used choice if your needs tally with its abilities.