Opinion : Last-chance saloon, French style

The new Citroen C5

I’m on tenterhooks here. It’s coincidental that Mike publishes an article here sub-titled ‘Last-chance saloon’ today. Why, you ask? Tomorrow, at 9am, Citroën will be unveiling the first pictures and technical details of its next large car – and I can’t help feel that it’s going to be the double chevron’s last shot at fighting larger, traditionally-bodied vehicles.

As the former owner of a Citroën C6, as well as multiple C5s, XMs and CXs, it’s been the cause of considerable pain for me that, once the last C5 went off sale in the UK, the company’s been without representation here. Yes, there was the Citroën DS5, which mutated into the DS 5, but that always felt like it belonged to a different bloodline, as interesting as it was.

So, as the company moves rapidly towards sating the demands of Europe’s SUV buyers, its flagship car has been the C5 Aircross, which is comfortable and practical, but it is a long way from being elegant in the way that a big Citroën really needs to be. And to me, that’s the core to a big Citroën’s appeal – its elegance.

What I’m hoping for

Citroen C6

I’m in the fortunate position to have interviewed former Citroën CEO Linda Jackson (ex-Rover France, I’ll have you know) and her replacement Vincent Cobee, and, in both cases, the matter of how they were going to replace the C5 was a subject I kept coming back to. Linda always took great pains to say the new C5 would be important to the company, and it would be ‘a proper Citroën, cigar shaped and as comfortable as you’d expect’.

These were encouraging words, mainly because it felt that after the wonderful C6’s (above) commercial failure (sorry, but it was many things, but it was a sales flop, even in France), there might be a resistance to innovating. The C5 was a much more conventional-looking car than the C6, but it was technically very interesting for its continued used of Hydractive 3+ suspension, a fixed-hub steering wheel and sleek and cohesive styling.

But – again – the C5 didn’t set the new car market alive, especially in its latter years, and despite all of the above qualities, buyers increasingly went for German saloons and hatchbacks over the C5… and that’s before we take into consideration the rise of the SUV as an alternative to the trad saloon and hatch.

However, despite that, and with Linda Jackson’s words ringing in my ears, and that she said it would draw heavily on the looks of the 2017 CXPerience concept (below), I’d expect that the new C5 (it can’t really be a C6, as the Chinese market already gets one of those) will be sleek and elegant, especially as it should share its underpinnings with the Peugeot 508 – a proper looker.

Citroen CXPerience

Are looks enough?

Will a good-looking car be enough to fight the premium manufacturers as well as the SUVs? This is the million Euro question, because big Citroëns were always much more than just good-looking cars. The original DS was otherworldly, the SM was sublime, the CX was aerodynamic and efficient and made great use of its hydropneumatic suspension, whereas the XM added computer control to make it drive better in all situations. The C6 made it fully active via AMVAR (to mixed results) and, if you include the Xantia Activa, it developed anti-roll to a peak that’s never been topped in a mass-market car.

The new C5 is going to have to innovate in the same way in order to continue this hallowed bloodline. But it must do so in a way that attracts customers back to Citroën and make money for the company – something that probably eluded the XM and definitely never happened with the C6. Profit is important to parent company Stellantis, and this one will need to butter its bread in order to avoid being bypassed completely for DS in this market sector.

So, it needs to innovate, but not too much. With memories of other left-field glorious French failures such as the brilliantly pointless (but oh-so desirable to me) Renault Vel Satis and Avantime as well as the Citroën DS5/DS 5, Citroën won’t want to get punished by crossing over bodystyles too blatantly – but, with those SUVs flying out of the showrooms, it may well need to in order to appeal to just those buyers. The new C4 hatchback blends some SUV attitude into its design, and you can see Citroën’s logic in doing so, but it’s too early to say how new car buyers are taking to it.

Citroen C4

Why should you care?

Why indeed? In an increasingly homogenised legacy automotive world, we’re running increasingly low on free-thinking players to cheer on. Citroën is a small cog in the sprawling Stellantis empire, but it’s a vitally important one. Yes, the group’s luxury ambitions are being handled by DS (and it has to be said that the new DS 9 does look very good), but the new C5 will represent an important mission statement about Citroën’s place in the new car world – if this one fails, it will become just another maker of small hatchbacks and family SUVs.

I really want to see some genuine progress in suspension design, and new standards of silence for its class achieved. There’s the drive and talent in the company to achieve this and, under the current management with Carlos Tavares at the helm, you can guarantee that any new innovations are immaculately costed.

So, I’m rooting for this one, and I hope you forgive me for opining about Citroën on this primarily UK-based channel. But Citroën has been such a big part of my life – from that very first toy SM Matchbox Car aged five, via my first BX back in the early 1990s, to the beloved C6 that served me so well a few years back – that it can’t be anything other than important to me.

Come on Citroën, don’t disappoint me tomorrow!

Citroen CX GTi Turbo

Keith Adams

34 Comments

  1. I’m not a big fan of Citröens (and just in case you are wondering, that is because I have owned/driven a few, rather than because I have never set foot in one…) but agree that it would be a great pity if they stopped making interesting/different cars and just ended up churning out ‘spot the difference’ blandwagons.

    • They nearly drowned when PSA took over and created AX, ZX, XSARA and even the 1st C4, bland wagons, just Lada competitors then.

      • ZX and Xsara – given. But the AX? Probably simple in styling, but in many other areas up to previous Citroën standards in terms of innovation (weight and space efficiency, aerodynamics, used of high strength steel). It is not always the visibility of innovation (or even strange features), the AX was in many ways class leading as ultra efficient small family car.

        • I know the ZX was unpopular with Citroen purists but seemed to last better in the long run for being mechanically simple. It also helped that the other mid rangers in the early 1990s were hit & miss.

          While more stylish the Xsara seemed overshadowed by the Picasso MPV, which still can be see around in reasonable numbers.

          • The ZX was a nice drive too, it handled and rode really well, helped by having independent rear suspension, something dropped on more recent efforts in that class

  2. Large French car launches always feature heavily on French TV news, usually being tipped as a sure “Mercedes beater”.

    In the past, it was the Traction Avant, Fregate, etc. Then over the next 50 years various others were
    launched with hope, but ultimately failed.

    • I do not think any French manufacturer spoke Mercedes-beater. They always made it different, the problem is that the customers want German cars ! The most German French car was the Safrane, good car but who, French taken apart, would purchase a German car made in France ? The they change back to the Vel Satis, good car but the look !!!

  3. China already has a C6, but looks like a Peugeot with a citroen front end. Citroen coming back to a market that has seen the announcement that the Mondeo is going is strange. Saloons just don’t sell unless it has a premium German badge – it’s a fact. And even they are now starting to slow down as they SUV sales rise. Its funny how many people want to save the planet, but buy SUVs!

    • It’s a former 508’s derivative. Not marketable in Europe. Right : saloons just don’t sell, German premiums taken apart.

  4. Based on the 508 – a lot like the DS 9, then. Perhaps we can expect a less expensive, less opulent DS 9. I like the idea of that, and kudos to them trying if that is the case, but I feel a kind of pre-emptive sadness because it will flop.

  5. I find it strange that Citroen will re enter a market they failed in miserably with the last couple of cars they had in that sector, and with the NEW DS9 coming which is a luxury saloon, it should do away with this in a quick one two…. they really need to come back with something special, like Renault is doing with the new 5 and even NEWER 4L, why they can not bring back a new version of the DS and have that as the new big Citroen, now that will sell, even today that design looks far more modern than some of the rubbish out there.

  6. My father owned a fantastic DS21 Pallas with fuel injection from 1972, which was like driving in your front room, sitting upright on velour settees, and then a CX Pallas from 1976, another excellent car, but modern, advanced for its time, and lower slung. It is sad that the large Citroens that followed just did not have the same allure, while German manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes created such solid cars, that they became the sensible choice, including vitally, for French buyers. And if you do not have the support of your own market, you are already very much on the back foot. If Citroen want to carve out a part of that market segment, they need something special.

    • The CX could have been a BMW/Audi killer with a V6, or even with the decent Renault or Chrysler alloy OHC fours, the old pushrod 4 pots DS-derivative was not the right engine for the segment, the Renault engine with the CX20 and CX22 went tool late, and the V6 did not come at-all. The Renault 25 was more the kind of thing, sadly the Safrane was not, too expensive and … too German !

      • I hadn’t realised the PRV V6 hadn’t been used in the CX.

        As much as I like the SM, I did wonder if Citroen should have put the development money towards a decent engine range for the CX rather than dragging out the engines with roots back to the Traction Avant.

        For all the time the DS was in production they seemed to developing the smooth revving engines it needed, only be be thwarted by the lack of money.

        • The CX was planned with the old DS 2.0 and 2.2 and then with a Wankel for the top of the range. You know what happened with the Wankel, the reason why they just lanched it with the carb 2.2 despite the DS23 i.e. had the EFI 2.3 with 15 more bhp ! It lasted at least one year before the EFI 2.3 went back on the CX and then smoothly evolved to 2.5 and 2.5 turbo.
          For sure they lacked the money, Peugeot had just purchased them from Michelin close to bankruptcy due to the Wankel disaster.
          Extending the GS flat-four to flat-six with about 2 liter, would maybe have given 120bhp with EFI and 911-sound.
          Would have been great but the transverse architecture did not allow.
          And Peugeot probably would have stopped investment while having the Douvrin “Renault” OHC aluminium block ready.

          • I heard the sold the GS with a Wankel for a time, then bought them back when the project was candelled so they wouldn’t have to do any warranty work.

            Earlier on the DS was supposed to have a flat 6 based on the 2CV engine, but it lacked power and would have cost a lot to get upto standard.

          • @Richardpd true, the GS birotor was a total failure, and put an end to the Citroen Wankel while NSU carried-on a couple of years but engine-change was not seldom.

            There were some pushrod flat-six sketches, not sure any was built for the DS.
            Citroen management was not at-all interested in engines even though they had the money to develop it, they spent a lot in the DS but were then healthy thanks to the Traction and 2cv sales.

            After the F catastrophy with no engine, due to Wankel delay and no possibility to purchase any engine from Renault, Peugeot nor Fiat – the latter due to French government, Fiat being then open to cooperation, Citroen decided to study the G project to receive either a flat-four or a Wankel and then was the GS !

  7. Brave decision given how Ford is retiring the Mondeo. Still, with no future Mondy and Beemers that look like they’ve been stung on the nose by several angry bees, perhaps there is a chance it’ll catch on.

  8. Ive never owned a Citroen despite viewing several BX and Xantias over the years but always being swayed in the end by the more conservative Peugeot 405s. My wife had a 1.4 ZX which she loved.
    The days of the quirky big Citroens are over, German saloons have this market now and I cant see the Citroen’s quality stealing too many sales back.

  9. This car has already been previewed on the Car magazine website. Its conventional in appearance and engineering being closely related to the Peugeot 508. Perhaps that explains why it wont necessarily be the last big Citreon – PSA are becoming as adept at platform sharing as VAG allowing specific models to be produced profitably at low volumes. Also – although we wont see many in our local Morrisons car park, there will be enough cruising the Champs Elysee and lapping the Periphique to keep the production lines rolling I’m sure.

  10. It will either be a complete flop, the only time you will see one is when you see a French politician getting out of one.

    Or, people bored of generic SUV’s and tired with pretending that their bland cooking version German sedan has anything beyond a passing resemblance in common with the to the halo model that costs nearly as much as the super car it is nearly as fast as, decide that what they want is a big funky fastback and they will have a massive sales success.

    I suspect it will be the former, but hope for the later.

    • Sadly they have gone down the IPace, bit of everything and not quite anything path (although the IPace had the usp of being an all electric Jag and first genuine Tesla alternative).

      I understand why, including as it probably allows space under the floor for a full BEV version as some point, but unless it is very cheap, its hard to see it succeeding against ts German competitors.

  11. A few observations
    – The Peugeot 508 is stunning and quite a sales success
    – Saloons do sell in China
    – German quality esp Mercedes ain’t what it used to be
    It’s worth a punt IMHO

      • Yep, a mess of slashes, swathes, false vents, and LED adornment to try and distinguish a deeply uninspired, and uninspiring, shape. Available at a huge discount near you soon.

  12. Disagree but looks so close to the late DS5 ?? A little lower and longer though. Does not look that futuristic now.

  13. I’d think it looks quite appealing . The interior looks so much nicer than the coal mine that is your average Audi. If I was in the market for a car around that price it would definitely make the test-drive list

  14. Citroen are too close to Peugeot to be a innovator , their products are merely contemporary, for innovation I quote the latest Honda Jazz and Crosstar hybrids with the new 2-motor drive train and 60 to 70 mpg, the Suv style Crosstar Honda Jazz is outselling the Jazz hatchback according to figures on forums, I amazed that how many people will pay another 15% for a few bits of plastic trim on the bodypanels, bumpers and wheelarches

  15. It will be a wasted effort by Citroen, they need to mimic Fiat and their 500, by bringing out a retro car styled as the 2CV

  16. Just had a look at the release photos, and it’s a resounding nope from me. Too busy styling, about as elegant as a Clark’s Polyvelt shoe, with too much tacked on bits of plastic, and a generic modern day dashboard. I don’t understand the suv/large car hybrid (in the same way that I didn’t get the Rover TGV concept car). Call me old fashioned, but if I were in the market for a large car, I’d expect it to be elegant. If I wanted a SUV I’d buy one. If you want an example of a true successor to the Citroen’s of old, look to the Ami electric car, but not this…….

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