Smooth Citroen C5 X is the antidote to modern life

Mixture of estate, saloon and SUV ought not to work. But it does…

Citroen C5-X
Citroen C5X
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Year: 2023
Fuel: Plug-in Hybrid
Verdict: Better than an SUV, and better than a current DS too.

As I write these words, 2022 is drawing to a close but the Citroen C5 X is putting in a darned good submission for being one of my favourite cars of the whole year.

It really ought not to work. After all, it’s not the first car to try to mix and match the best aspects of a saloon, an SUV and an estate. This seems, on the face of it, a laudable thing to do but the last time anyone really tried it the result was the 2005 Fiat Croma, a car so heinous it more or less sank the company (although, in fairness, there were a lot of torpedoes in Fiat waters in 2005).

The C5 X seems to live in equally dangerous waters, given that it’s a large, roomy, quasi-premium car from a company that is supposed to be fenced-off into mass-market models these days. Indeed, Citroen is now part of the vast and sprawling Stellantis Group, which means that not only does it have its close cousin, DS, to take care of premium car customers, but it’s also now closely related to other premium brands such as Alfa Romeo and Lancia. Most other carmakers are fast abandoning this no-man’s land of large saloony offerings. The Mondeo is dead, Toyota has abandoned the Avensis, and soon there will be no more Opel Insignia.

Citroen C5-X

There’s a third thread of danger for the C5 X – large Citroens tend to crash and burn, in sales terms. The last two large, non-SUV, models that Citroen made were the gorgeous C6 luxury saloon and the handsome C5 family saloon. In sales terms, both sank more or less without trace.


So, this really shouldn’t work. Yet the C5 X has swiftly worked its way under my skin and now I don’t want to hand it back.

It starts with the styling. To appease the fashion-addled SUV fans, the C5 X rides relatively high on its springs, and has the boxy wheelarches of a crossover. However, its roofline is quite low and it ends in a sleek fastback rear with a distinctive tailgate spoiler. The X-shaped headlights work far better on the larger canvas of this car than they do on the smaller C4, and so the C5 X ends up looking really quite handsome. Okay, so it’s not the equal, in styling terms, of predecessors such as the CX nor the original DS, but then again what is? It’s nice enough.

It’s really nice inside. Our test car was a well-stocked, high-end Flair model, so it came with ribbed leather seats and a big 12-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash. There’s also a comprehensive heads-up display projected on to the windscreen which helps to make up for the relative disappointment of the seven-inch digital instrument display behind the steering wheel.

You sit low and lazy in the CX 5, on seats that are far more comfortable than those in the more perched-up C5 Aircross SUV, largely because you’re reclining ever so slightly, almost as if sat in a supportive leather hammock. The cabin features some cheap plastics here and there, but it’s well made, squeak-free, and has some lovely design touches such as the chevron stitching on the door panel, which references the company’s famous helical gear tooth badge.

In the back seats there is copious legroom and sufficient headroom given the relatively low-slung nature of the car. The boot, at least where this 1.2-litre petrol version is concerned, is large and useful at 545 litres and has a luggage cover that automatically lifts up with the boot lid (plug-in hybrid models lose 60 litres to the battery).

Citroen C5-X

Sadly, Citroen’s days of making magically soft “hydragas” hydraulic suspension (expensive to make and difficult to maintain) are long gone, but there is partial compensation in the “progressive hydraulic cushion” suspension set-up, which allows the conventional steel springs and dampers a soft landing at full flex, allowing Citroen to tune the ride quality to pillow-softness. It’s at its best on the open road, loping languorously along while you recline easily in the front hammocks and listen to Édith Piaf. Probably.

It’s not quite so good around town, where short-wave ripples send annoying judders up through the springs, and the way the car bobs gently on its nose under braking stops being quite so charming and slips around the corner into annoyance. The 1.2-litre, 130hp turbocharged petrol is also not as happy around town. Its 230Nm of torque struggles with the inertia of the C5 X’s body at low to medium speeds, often dropping down a couple of extra gears in the eight-speed automatic box, allowing it to growl and shout a little too much when you need some extra oomph.

Surprisingly, for such a small engine in a large car, it’s better by far on the open road where the C5 X cruises in blissful ease and where the engine can actually provide some very impressive long-range fuel economy.

Citroen C5-X

Why do I like the C5 X so much? Well, to be fair I’ve always been a sucker for a big Citroen as they tend to be vastly more characterful than most of their opposition. I also appreciate what Citroen has done here, in creating a car with the roominess and utility of an SUV but making it low slung enough that it avoids an SUV’s in-built vulgarity, not to mention it is more aerodynamic and therefore more economical overall. I also adore the sheer anti-sporty softness of it all, its comfort and refinement so much nicer for long-distance travel than the hard-riding precision of a German rival. It might just cause a ruckus in the Stellantis Group boardroom because, to be honest, the C5 X feels like more of a natural Citroen DS successor than any of the current, official DS models.

True, the sensible money in this big-but-not-premium segment is arguably with the vast Skoda Superb, but I can feel myself being pulled firmly in the Citroen’s direction. The C5 X won’t be to all tastes, but then that’s the point – it’s a car for someone who’s tired of the SUV sameness of it all, and wants to have a car that’s more stylish, more characterful, and yet which doesn’t skimp on the practicalities. As in so many things – food, wine, pastry, working hours – the French have gotten this very right indeed.

Citroen C5X 1.2 Flair: the lowdown

  • Power: 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine developing 130hp and 230Nm of torque, powering the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
  • CO2 emissions (annual motor tax) 147g/km (€270).
  • Electric consumption: 6.0kWh/100km (WLTP).
  • 0-100km/h: 11.3sec.
  • Price: €48,890 as tested, C5X starts from €36,990.
  • Our rating 4/5.
  • Verdict: Better than an SUV, and better than a current DS (or the equivalent Peugeot 408) too.
Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring