The C5 marks a welcome return by the double chevron people to real innovation after a decade spent cloning in-house Peugeot designs. Make no mistake. Underneath those anonymous looks lies a car that is anything but. You don't have to drive one very far to find out why. This hatch or estate will ride and corner differently to anything you've ever driven.
The credit for this goes to Citroen's unique Hydractive 3 suspension. Devotees of the marque who owned an XM or a Xantia will know what we're talking about here, for both of these cars featured early versions of this system. In its latest form, the advantages of this fluid-sprung set-up over conventional steel springs are almost impossible to ignore.
Thus equipped, this C5 can read the road and adapt its ride set-up accordingly, depending on the ground surface, the speed and the way that you're driving. Sensors strategically located around the car feed information to a central control system that can then change both spring and damper rates as necessary. For example, on bad surfaces below 43mph, the car will be lifted by 13mm to prevent the possibility of grounding out. Over 68mph on a smooth road however, the gadgetry will automatically lower the front of the car by 15mm and the rear by 11mm to reduce drag. You can even choose a 'raised' 40mm position for potholed farm tracks or an even higher setting to make it easier to change a wheel.
None of this you would expect from a car with styling as, shall we say, conservative as this one. We'd only suggest you give it time to grow on you - and point you towards the estate version (with looks that suit the understated shape rather better). The styling's deceiving too. At first glance, you'd swear it was a saloon when in fact it's a five-door hatch (there's no four-door option). Inside, the well-appointed cabin is as spacious as anything in the class and the 456-litre boot's enormous.
At the wheel, it doesn't feel quite as solid and classy as some rivals (blame the different plastics and mock wood for that) but it's not far off. And of course, in keeping with the theme pursued by the rest of the car, it's as hi-tech as you could wish. Airbags are everywhere, there's a great trip computer and you can specify voice activation for the stereo as well as for the optional satellite navigation and in-car telephone systems. One particularly nice touch (borrowed from the Peugeot 607) is the way the exterior mirrors fold in automatically when you lock the car.
Insist on a service history. The complex suspension system is pretty reliable, but make sure that it's been checked out because replacement parts for it are pricey.
(Approx - based on a C5 V6 - ex Vat) Clutch assemblies are about £205, brake pads around £45 and an alternator around £175. You'll pay around £220 for a headlamp, around £245 for a radiator and around £110 (exchange) for a starter motor.
On the move, you monitor each state of affairs via a multi-function screen built into the top of the fascia. There's the choice of 'normal' or 'sport' modes, though drive the car hard and you'll find that it switches automatically to 'sport' mode anyway. Where you notice Hydractive 3 most however, is on bad roads or in hard cornering. The worse the surface, the better this car feels (nothing, but nothing at any price rides speed humps better). Its real party piece however, is reserved for sharp corners. As you enter the bend, you expect the car to start rolling in the normal way - except that it doesn't. In fact, all the way through the turn, the body stays absolutely flat. It's a rather weird feeling.
Comfort then, is this car's number one priority. It's not seeking to deliver as sharp a driving experience as you could expect in a Mondeo or a 406 - though in fact, it's not that far off. Certainly, the engines are up to the job. These are sourced from the Peugeot/Citroen empire and include some familiar favourites. Most buyers will choose between four engines lifted from the old Xantia (1.8 and 2.0-litre 16v petrol units, and 90 and 110bhp 2.0-litre HDi turbo diesels) but the 3.0-litre V6 has undergone some serious surgery and there are two powerplants that are distinctly innovative.
First up is the 2.0 HPi petrol engine. With an all-alloy construction and direct injection, this is the first of a new generation of petrol powerplants that will gradually roll out across future Citroen and Peugeot models. Even more impressive however, is the 136bhp 2.2-litre HDi turbo diesel, one of the finest four cylinder diesel engines in the world. On the move, it won't take long to find out why. Under hard acceleration and at cruising speeds, it's actually quieter than its petrol counterpart. It's fast too - though not particularly so in the 0-60mph benchmark increment (10.9s). Through the gears however, it's almost faster than the 210bhp 3.0-litre petrol V6. Yet at the same time of course, getting on for twice as frugal (57.6mpg on the extra urban cycle).
The Citroen C5 is a big departure from the usual upper medium sector fare. If you want a sporty drive you should really opt for a Mondeo or a 406. If you value space, clever technology and a ride better than a Bentley then a used Citroen C5 makes a lot of sense. It'll be interesting to see what advancing age does to the C5's residual values, but right at the moment they're holding reasonably firm. Fortune favours the brave. Good luck.