Citroen is to set about the South African market with a vengeance this year, with no fewer than three new models entering the fray - the new Citroen C5, the sporty Citroen C2 CTS three-door (due later this month), and the Citroen C4, the latter the replacement for the Xsara medium car, and scheduled for mid-March.
A diesel version of the C5 will come in the third quarter of this year.
First up is the C5, currently the marque's flagship in this country, and recently acclaimed as the highest scoring car to date in the important Euro NCAP safety tests.
The car was launched in Gauteng, and we were able to drive it briskly on a varied route between Johannesburg Airport and Sun City.
Available currently in three models - 2-litre petrol in manual and auto, plus a 3-litre automatic with a brand-new 6-speed automatic gearbox - the C5 is aimed at the fleet and executive car market.
And the big news is that it comes onto the market with extremely keen pricing that sees it at the lower end of its segment when it comes to purchase, while offering an unusually high number of features.
First impressions might indicate that the new C5 is just a facelift on the previous model - which it replaces at lower cost than before - with new front and rear lights, plus styling changes to the bonnet and boot area, but under the skin there are a number of important enhancements.
Not least of these is the latest generation electronic stability control which helps get the car back under control when the driver has over-cooked it, plus a new steering column airbag to protect the driver's knees and shins.
It is also the first Citroën to make use of Xenon dual-function directional headlamps, as well as front parking assistance, and a speed limiter.
However one thing that doesn't change is the renowned hydractive hydraulic suspension, which gives passengers a superb ride while at the same time ensuring sure-footed handling.
Another plus point is the spacious interior, again a Citroen strong point, while changes include a new central console area complete with electronically-controlled air conditioning and a super sound system complete with front loader CD player and radio.
The sleek C5 styling, with smoothly flowing lines reminiscent of an aircraft wing shape, see boomerang-shaped light units front and rear.
There's a new bonnet design and badged radiator grille flanked by boomerang shaped lights, with two strong chevrons outlining the radiator intake, bringing the C5 into line with the styling of the baby brother C4 first shown at the Paris Motor Show last year.
At the rear, the Citroën C5 shows stronger contour lines, with the boomerang shape again predominant in the taillights.
There are also chrome features on the lower body panels and the bumpers, and a bigger chromed chevron badge.
Inside are chrome and black lacquer-plated features to give the car a more modern look.
Two engines are available. One is a four-cylinder 2-litre 16-valve developing 103 kW with torque of 200 Nm at 4 000 r/min.
Making its debut on the Citroën C5, this engine is coupled with a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed auto-active sequentially controlled gearbox.
The other is a 3-litre V6 24-valve with continuously variable valve timing, developing 152 kW with maximum torque of 285 Nm at 3 750 r/min and coupled to a new lightweight six-speed tiptronic automatic gearbox.
The latter is supplied by Toyota (it's used in some Lexus models) but has new computer software developed by Citroen to match the specific characteristics of the C5.
We drove the V6 yesterday, and I must say it is an impressive car from the first turn of the key.
The engine is very smooth and powerful, and pullaway is quick, as to be expected from its high output.
At first the steering feels very light, but as speed increases it tightens up to give more road feel.
The gearbox is ultra-smooth, and also offers both sport and sequential manual functions.
The ride, as expected, is super-smooth, possibly the best available in this regard.
Push it harder, especially in tight cornering, and one can feel that this is a car that?s designed for comfort rather than sporting handling, although one never feels it's going top get badly out of shape.
Farmers in particular will be interested to know that the suspension can be jacked up at the touch of a button to deal with the dreaded middel mannejie and a sports suspension setting, which reduces the ride height at high speed.
And the car is very spacious. The front seats on the V6 model are electrically adjusted, and very comfortable, while interior space has to be seen to be believed.
No compromises were made in the design of the passenger compartment, which features generous headroom, remarkable space at the front, and an exceptionally spacious passenger area at the rear, combined with a flat floor.
Citroen says elbow room is the best in the segment - 1 520 mm at the front and 1 540 mm at the rear - while the combination of a raised driving position and a cabin length of 1 720 mm contributes to the feeling of spaciousness.
Add to that great sound-deadening that cuts both road and engine noise, as well as excellent aerodynamics and window sealing, and the car comes through as a luxurious and quiet car that feels like one of those you'd gladly drive from Jo?burg to Cape Town.
If there's a criticism, it's that the flowing lines make it difficult to place the front and rear when parking - hence the parking aids - and that the steep windscreen means the aircon has to work hard to cope.
Touch the screen and it feels hot, though the aircon does keep the interior cool even on a hot day.
On the plus side there are sensors which tell the aircon which side of the car is in the sun and adjust cooling air accordingly.
There's front and rear parking assistance with visual assistance from a multifunction screen on the V6 version, plus both cruise control and a speed limiter.
The C5 is 1 780 mm wide, 1 470 mm high and 4 470 mm long, with a wheelbase of 2 750 mm. It is one of the longest in its category, and 16-inch alloy wheels are fitted on all versions.
The C5 2-litre has a drag coefficient of 0.29 and the 3-litre a Cd of 0.30.
The instrument dials feature round, metal rims and two-tone backgrounds, with apricot-coloured lighting at night.
Another night feature is the swiveling headlamp system available on the V6.
As soon as the driver starts to take a bend, sensors analyse the degree to which the wheels are turned, using the steering wheel position and the headlamps pivot horizontally over an angle of up to 15 degrees to the right or to the left (eight degrees for the headlamp on the outside of the bend and up to 15 degrees for the headlamp on the inside).
This lights-up areas that were previously in darkness.
As well as the new-generation ESP (electronic stability programme) with ASR traction-control there's ABS braking with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) assisted by emergency braking assistance.
The C5 is fitted as standard with two front airbags (driver and passenger), two front side airbags and two front/rear curtain airbags.
The passenger airbag can be deactivated using the ignition key, in order to install a child seat at the front. An indicator on the instrument cluster informs the driver that the airbag has been deactivated.
All the seat belts are fitted with a warning sensor, very useful when carrying children, for example, and a presence detection system for the front passenger seat. At the rear, the two side seats are equipped with Isofix anchor points.
The dashboard, doors, and seats all feature stowage units, with two other stowage compartments available in the side of the boot.
The front suspension is based on a hydraulic MacPherson-type strut while at the rear is a cross-member, cast-iron trailing arms, an anti-roll bar and four bushes with variable flexibility.
However, there are no conventional springs - hydraulics are used instead, and the suspension requires no maintenance for five years or 200 000 km.
High-performance Michelin Primacy tyres measuring 215/55 R16 fitted to all versions.
All cars come with a 3 year/100 000 km warranty plus a 5 year/100 000 km maintenance plan, and service intervals are 30 000 km.
Citroen claims a top speed of 207 km/h for the 2-litre manual (207 auto) with the 0-100 km/h dash in 9.1 secs and 10.2 secs respectively.
The V6 has a trop speed of 230 km/h and accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in 8.6 secs.
- Citroen C5 2-litre 5-speed R214 995
- Citroen C5 2-litre 4-speed auto R229 995
- Citroen C5 3-litre 6-speed auto R299 995.