Citroen’s goal to create a comfort-focused wagon seems well-suited to Australia, a claim we seek to investigate over the next three months
Citroen is a niche player in Australia, but the French manufacturer seems to be comfortable with that. Its limited local range is targeted at urbane, worldly Australians – perhaps people who’ve admired the cars while travelling abroad in Europe.
With its long history in Australia, the French brand doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, despite its slow run rate of around 200 sales per year in this country. We tend to focus on sales growth as the metric of success here, but in many ways it seems like Citroen moves to its own beat.
But does Citroen deserve to do better than its extreme-niche status allows it to? We quite like the brand’s C5 Aircross midsize SUV, and the marque has just added a Subaru Outback-esque wagon to its range in the form of the C5 X. A long, practical car, the C5 X is a return to what Citroen arguably does best – uber-plush cruisers that are unashamedly focussed on comfort.
It may not run hydropneumatic suspension, but like the high-riding Aircross SUV, the C5 X wagon does get ‘progressive hydraulic cushion’ bump stops in the dampers that should provide an additional layer of polish over prima facie rivals like the Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, and Volvo V60 Cross Country.
We know the C5 X isn’t likely to be a blockbuster-selling car in Australia. But sometimes, we like to dedicate resources in our long term test fleet to cover the weird and wonderful – vehicles that might deserve to do better in our market.
Will the C5 X impress in such a way? We’re going to find out over the next few months.
Citroen’s take on the Subaru Outback might lack AWD, but the C5 X has a raised ride height, additional ground clearance and an unashamedly comfort-focussed suspension. That recipe sounds perfect for touring Australia’s broken-up B-roads.
It’s not surprising that the Citroen C5 X arrives in Australia in one fully-loaded Shine variant, with just one choice of engine (a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol). As a low-volume car, we’re pretty fortunate to get the big Citroen at all. Sadly, no diesel is available – French diesel wagons have a bit of a niche following in this country.
As equipped in striking army-green tinged Amazonite grey, our C5 X Shine hits the road at about $63,000 driveaway in New South Wales.
Standard equipment for the single-variant C5 X in Australia takes in:
This update, Chasing Cars’s deputy Editor Curt Dupriez snags the keys to put Citroen’s comfort claims to the test on some dusty country roads
As Chasing Cars’ resident old bloke I recall wagons were once the big family deal.
However, it has been many moons since I used to roll around in the luggage space of Dad’s Valiant Safari like a loose duffle bag as a kid, en route to the weekly cultural highlight that was Thursday night shopping.
Ah the ’70s. How did we survive unthinkable practices to witness the eventual, towering rise of the SUV, a term yet to be coined back in the day.
I still love wagons. And I share the loud section of the chorus who bemoan the traditional five-doors’ slow slide into obscurity.
So I ought to ‘dig’ (groovy baby) the Citroen C5 X, a staple Chasing Cars long-termer and a model its maker claims amalgamates sedan, SUV and wagon attributes as its broadly-appealing pitch.
You’re not fooling me, Citroen. It’s a wagon. And one that, in my sporadic long-termer experience, is great in places, not so convincing in others.
The C5 X is 4.8 metres in length, so it feels like an innately old-school wagon. But it’s powered by a boosted 1.6-litre four, and such a large device with such modest underbonnet literage is a contemporary European formula that does depart dramatically from Aussie traditions.
I’m all for small-turbo propulsion. If it functions well. And, frankly, the powertrain of the C5 X wagon only works well enough some of the time.
I’ve spent considerable time commuting in the C5 X, where its powertrain straddles a 20km/h threshold between pretty good and not nearly good enough.
Above 20km/h, in the torque converter auto’s second-to-eighth ratio operating band, it’s generally smooth and amply punchy around town. But below 20km/h, where it lingers often in the work commute, it’s a sloppy, shunty mess of uncouth forward progress.
The prognosis of why is a real head-scratcher. Bad form is that the conventional auto behaves like an average dual-clutch.
Making matters worse is a stop-start system that occasionally causes a shunting shock in tandem with the auto’s low-speed gremlins. That the stop-start also kills the electric power steering conspires to genuine challenges to long-term ownership satisfaction.
But what about the open road, the great Aussie road trip we maturing types associate with roomy wagons and the good-old (younger) days?
What finer experiment to gauge the French-branded, Chinese-built machine’s broader capabilities – with its lounge-like seating and so-dubbed “flying carpet” ride quality – that a 2000-odd-kilometre interstate trek across our sunburnt land in the tail end of summer.
An early morning jump of ‘tradie peak-hour’, exiting Sydney, has me sizing up the 12-way electric Paloma leather-trimmed driver’s seat as the first caffeine hit kicks in. The seating’s plushness is down to the soft underlay of what is possibly memory foam.
Funny seats, these. They are undoubtedly good, if particularly in normal daily-driving doses. But as the trip settles in and the long kilometres pass, I do find myself making many micro-adjustments on the fly during the nine-hour outgoing voyage to regional Victoria.
I do this trip regularly and ideally seat contouring ought to be relaxed enough to facilitate large posture shifts.
The C5 X’s otherwise fine pews could be a little less form-fitting, though this a very small grumble from a bloke who still remembers the sting of sun-scorched Valiant vinyl seat trim from a time when aircon and seatbelts were inaccessible luxuries.
The big Frenchie is certainly quiet, at least outside of overtaking semis along uphill sections of The Hume.
The 133kW 1.6-litre turbo four is impressively punchy in most situations, but at cruising velocity its 250Nm is absent and the C5 X makes a fair racket as the engine screams in efforts to raise the speedometer numbers.
But settle into long stints on the adaptive cruise control and there’s pleasant dignity to the C5 X’s manner that’s polished and genuinely premium, particularly in the suppression of tyre and wind noise.
It’s stable and surefooted, requiring little interaction and intervention at the helm apart from moments when a warning flash up in the instrumentation commanding me to pay attention to my steering inputs or the road ahead – or something – in an annoying manner Dad’s Valiant never would.
For its drivability shortcomings, the modern turbo 1.6 is vastly more frugal (and powerful) than the Val’s old slant six. Three tank fills for the trip yielded a 5.9L/100km average for the C5 X, with a highway-centric best of 5.8L.
That’s shy of Citroen’s claims – 6.0L combined, 5.4L highway – though the real-world numbers suggest a mathematical range potential of 888kms: or Sydney to Melbourne just, with mere fumes left in the fuel tank.
Nice. Though a 95RON minimum and no ethanol compatibility does, erm, pump the fuel outlay up a bit.
Benalla to Bendigo, the back way, presents ample opportunity to drop the kerb-side wheels off into the dirt at 100km/h in situations where oncoming trucks are wider than the modest width of the available coarse-chip sealed backroad.
It’s not quite the Birdsville Track rough, but there’s plenty of loose surface driving – and inevitable potholes – in northern Victoria.
Be it rain or snap heatwave, the C5 X ran like a rolling leather-trimmed oasis throughout the 2000km round trip. And the only real faults that surfaced tended to do so coming to halt or moving off the mark.
A fine grand tourer for a big country? I think so. The C5 X mightn’t be capable of covering quite as much of our land as, say, a Land Cruiser 300 Series but, then again, neither did Dad’s old Valiant either back in the day.
Come to think of it, despite some misgivings, the modern French wagon is a damn sight better than the old Safari around too.
Wagons have historically served as a great way for families to carry everyone and everything efficiently and comfortably, so how does this Frenchie hold up against the daily grind? Production specialist and family man Tom Place investigates.
Editor Tom Baker and I share a lot in common; our first names, our 180cm heights and the least original motoring journalist trait of all time: a love of wagons – so it was never going to take long before I snagged the keys to his swish long-roof long-termer.
Is it a wagon? We think so, at least, and I’m personally a fan of the overall design of the C5 X, which turns what could have been a very confused mishmash of car genres into a rather cohesive and unique, yet practical design.
Those eyeing an SUV will be surprised at the ease of egress and ingress thanks to the raised height of the C5 X and when you’re greeted with ample leg room and those shapely leather seats, it’s easy to start off on good terms.
Unlike it’s very popular Japanese rival the Subaru Outback, the Citroen C5 X offers lumbar adjustment with a full 10 directions of adjustment for the front passenger (and 12 for the driver) to suit a greater range of body styles, which earned the favour of my partner and I after previously spending six months and 10,000km in its aforementioned rival.
I tip my hat to the European manufacturers who seem quite determined to provide their customers with comfortable and supportive seats, which you might think to be a given in most cars beyond $50,000, but you’d be wrong.
Generous specification seems to be a running theme of the Citroen which goes some way to justify its not insignificant price tag. It’s not just a box-ticking exercise either as most of the C5 X’s features have clearly been designed with everyday use in mind.
For example, many cars nowadays come with a huge touchscreen and a 360-degree camera but Citroen has formatted its crisp camera viewpoints across the 12.0-inch display to great effect, advising the driver of some of the C5 X’s more mysterious angles.
Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay operated without issue during my testing, though I did encounter one uniquely French quirk where the operating system reverted the C5 X to its mother tongue after installing an update.
It was quick fix, but I can imagine it would be notably less humorous if it happened a second time around.
Some may say that the investment in features such as these would otherwise be money better spent on an all-wheel-drive system to match the Citroen’s rugged looks, but in my experience what matters most in soft-roading situations is ground clearance and the C5 X, at 194mm, has a good amount of it.
That figure bests the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack (173mm), comes close to the Subaru Outback XT Sport (213mm) and is nearly as good as a traditional family SUV such as the Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI (201mm). Not bad.
At least once a week, I switch over our baby seat from one car to the next so I like to think I have a pretty good handle on the nuances of this undignified and tedious process, and thankfully the C5 X is one of the better places to strain your back.
Doors that swing wide open, a roof line that isn’t too low and second-row legroom generous enough to squeeze in a supporting foot when reaching over the seat all make for a relatively painless experience and the latter also meant my partner barely had to move her seat forward to fit.
Loading the boot up for a family beach day saw us squeeze all kinds of heavy items into the rear but rails designed to help cargo slide fore and aft made packing the car a touch easier – though the sloping rear roofline of the C5 X meant some boot tetris was necessary to fit it all in.
Once on the move, I quickly appreciated the quiet cabin and soft-yet-controlled suspension as our little girl dozed off to sleep, with the standard rear sunshades aiding the backseat comfort.
Being Sydney though, eventually our movement came to an abrupt stop, and it’s here that the Citroen shook us out of our otherwise pleasant experience with its grumpy eight-speed auto.
Despite being a torque converter, it engages aggressively like a dual clutch trying to extract as much power as possible from a breathless engine. Clearly some more tuning is needed here.
It’s strange because while the 1.6-litre turbo isn’t monstrous, its 133kW/250Nm outputs are perfectly adeqate. Chasing Cars recorded a 0-100km/h time of 8.18 seconds at our test track, for reference.
Ultimately though, could I live with it? No car is perfect but when its rivals offer a generally more comfortable experience for similar outlay, I’d rather tolerate a rowdy Subaru CVT.
It was a real dampener on what was overall a good two weeks with the C5 X, and proves that wagons are still well up to the task of family duties.
In a car market drowning in SUVs, the Subaru Outback manages to be both unique and incredibly popular. So we decided to find out why by attempting to clock 10,000km in a top-spec MY21 Outback Touring over the next six months
Variant tested SHINE 1.6 THP 132
Key specs (as tested)
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