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Citroen launch new C5… again

2010-02-24 10:35

Angus Thompson

Take two! Citroen reintroduce their C5 (and themselves) to South Africa under the wing of Citroen France. We drive the brand flagship.

You might say it was back to the drawing board for Citroen SA after a relatively unsuccessful tenure under local importers, the Imperial Group. From January of this year the brand now falls under the care and custodianship of PCSA, Peugeot Citroen South Africa, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the French mothership, Citroen France.

Despite the economic downturn, which has forced hundreds of car dealers to shut their doors across the country, Citroen is audaciously opening doors to five more dealerships - taking their tally to 16 countrywide. By relaunching the brand and introducing a new corporate identity across their dealer network, Citroen hopes to position themselves as a slightly more premium offering over French stablemates, Peugeot. Think of it as the Audi equivalent to Volkswagen in the VW Group.

Past and current Citroen products, like the C2, C3 and C4, have always been fairly well received in SA due to their bold, exterior styling and dynamic driving character. But should they wish to compete head on with the German brands from now on, they would need to improve not only their brand’s appeal and corporate image, but the buying experience at dealer level as this has never felt as premium as its rivals.

Before, Citroen staff rarely alluded to the company’s French roots, as a high parts pricing stigma and unreliability reports plagued the image of all the French carmakers (including Peugeot and Renault) locally. But under the official guise of PCSA, Citroen has been going to great lengths to reintroduce themselves to their existing customers and the media.

Making ground

They started by setting up a customer call centre for any queries and contacting each existing customer to ensure them that their warranty and servicing would still be honoured and reassure them that Citroen were here to stay. When asked how they intended to overcome the high price perception associate with French cars locally, Citroen said with the formation of PCSA, both Citroen and Peugeot would now share a dedicated parts centre cutting down on logistical costs. They also feel they’re in a better position now as a group to capitalise on exchange rates and will be able to price each part more competitively relative to their premium competitors.

Only time will tell if they can successfully shake this stigma, a key factor to their future local success.

But they’re confident of the product to come and now speak proudly of their French demeanour sighting past achievements such as: the creation of Hydro-pneumatic suspension in 1954; the floating engine system in 1932 and their ground breaking expeditions across Africa in 1924.

I like this positive energy and confidence they exude; it bodes well. After all, what better way to change perceptions about your brand than to introduce them to a flurry of appealing, emotive products.

Not-so-new C5

The first of which is hardly new, but then again no one really knew of its arrival when it was launch to rapturous silence at the last Johannesburg International Motor Show. Only a handful of C5 units, 16 to be exact, made it to South Africa and were sold through dealers in the following months.

Which is an opportunity wasted for the flagship I feel, because as a product it ushers in a new era for the brand and holds its own against the best German and Japanese in its segment. Repositioned with a revised specification and revised engine offerings, the C5 looks to encompass all the new ideals of its parent company moving forward.  

Visually, it adds a strong and svelte counterpoint to its rivals. At 2.82 m long (8cm longer than an A4 and 25cm longer than a 3 Series) it’s more generous inside and out, particularly in terms of rear legroom and luggage space with both rear seats folding totally flat.  In the exterior there is a coupe like sense of class that emanates from the sleek five-door sedan and the interior materials are plush and luxurious.
Where the Citroen C5 scores highly is on value for money, offering a high level of standard specification (USB and Bluetooth connectivity, MP3-compatible audio system , cruise control, and leather-upholstered seats) for a competitive price, in relation to its rivals, where most of these features are options.

The design and tactile quality of the C5’s cabin is on par, if not better, than some of the Germans, I feel, although much of the interior facia feels cluttered by the extensive array of satellite controls on the fixed steering wheel hub.

Refinement and ride quality are both excellent however, with impressive NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) levels thanks to triple door seals, laminated window glass and deeper bonnet insulation.
Other noteworthy standard features include: heated and electrically adjustable front seats, automatic headlights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, front and rear parking sensors and an electronic parking space 'gap' measurement system.


The 177kW 3.0 HDi V6 automatic tops the range and features Citroen’s unique Hydractive III+ active suspension as standard. This system automatically adapts to the bump and rebound of the suspension as well as the centre of gravity of the vehicle depending on the prevailing road conditions. One can even raise the suspension by around 15cm manually when traversing steep access ramps and speed bumps. The C5 will also automatically self-level its suspension when towing and provides two dynamic settings, ‘comfort’ and ‘sport’

The soft mode offers a supple and compliant ride, while the firmer ‘sport’ setting tightens body roll with further steering feel, feedback and added body control.
Despite its size, the C5 is an adequate match to its German counterparts dynamically (when last could you say that about a French car?) as is its build quality, while offering more comfort and interior space.
The smaller capacity 2.0 HDi AT is the pick of the C5 range at its price and prefers a more conventional double wishbone layout at the front with a multilink set-up at the rear.  It offers a healthy 120 kW and 340 Nm of torque producing a budget-friendly 6,8 litres/100 km on the combined cycle.
The previous C5 was also praised as one of the most user friendly vehicles for wheelchair-bound passengers due to the size of its doors and comparative ease of ingress and egress. At first glance, the new version looks to be just as compliant with wide door apertures and plenty rear loading space.

Achieving a five-star rating in the latest Euro Ncap safety tests, the C5 boasts seven airbags, the obligatory ABS, EBD, EBA, ESP, three ISOFIX child seat anchorage points, an Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) and automatic hazard light activation.
Additionally, the 3.0 HDi V6 AT gains an automatic electric parking brake, Hill Start Assist Function and integrated tyre pressure monitor.
At R369 000 for the 2.0 HDi Auto and R465 000 for the 3.0 HDi V6 Auto, you can’t really ignore the comparative value (considering its standard specification) of the C5 versus its German rivals. But this is just the first step in a long race for the French brand and the immediate challenge will be at their dealer level. If they can restore customer faith, reposition the brand and improve the buying experience, we may just witness our own French revolution.

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