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Citroen C5 Tourer 2.0 HDi VTR+

Click to view picture galleryThe Citroen C5 braves an uncertain
  New Year. But it
s got what it takes
  because it is cost effective, stylish
  and practical — and that
s exactly
  what car owners need right now

WITH THE SEVERE DOWNTURN IN THE NEW CAR MARKET, especially with a shortage of retail customers, business users and fleet operators now hold the key to maintaining volume sales in 2009 for all manufacturers.

Although retail buyers are putting off changing their cars now — or if they are, then they are generally downsizing — fleet and business customers have no option but to change their cars on a regular three-year cycle in line with the duration of the finance, lease and contract hire agreements.

Citroen has long been the 'value for money' champion for the retail buyer but in the current economic climate maintaining, or at least limiting, the drop in overall sales, volumes will depend on what deals can be done with fleet and business users.

Luckily for Citroen they introduced the all new C5 Saloon and Tourer estate models to the UK in 2008. To date, 70 per cent of their 5,000 new C5 sales have been to fleet and business users — and in the last few months of 2008 the C5 became the best-selling French-built model in its sector, outselling the ageing Peugeot 407 and new Renault Laguna.

The Saloon is the largest seller of the two body styles, accounting for two thirds of C5 sales so far, but interest in estates in the upper medium D-segment is growing as users move away from large MPVs and 4x4s, so the C5 Tourer should emerge as a strong sales contender in 2009. However, it still faces stiff competition from the top-selling Ford Mondeo, the new Vauxhall Insignia (the European Car of the Year), the Honda Accord and VW Passat — all of which will also be on business and fleet shopping lists.

To get their 2009 sales off to a good start Citroen are offering zero per cent finance terms over three years with a 30% deposit on all C5 models. For customers — both retail and business — through their Elect 3 PCP personal contract purchase scheme, the C5 models are available with a 10% deposit with a typical payment, depending on the exact model, of around 349 a month for three years at an interest rate of 5.9%.

Following on from my first drive, I've just been catching up with the C5 Tourer, Citroen's very stylish five-door estate priced from 16,639 up to 25,251. Various engine choices are available — 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol; 1.6, 2.0, 2.2 and 2.7-litre HDi diesels — and the 2.0-litre petrol and 2.0/2.7-litre diesel units have the option of an automatic transmission. There are also three equipment levels: SX, VTR+ and Exclusive. VTR+ is the most popular choice with fleet and business customers, whilst 70% of retail buyers go for the fully-kitted Exclusive models.

The single best-selling Tourer model is the 2.0 HDi 138bhp with VTR+ specification and a price of 19,476, as tested here.

The headlines for the C5 Tourer are stylish, roomy, well built and well equipped. Citroen's cars, it goes without saying, have a certain 'style' and their cars always seem to look different from other mainstream brands. If you remember, the latest C5 was launched as having German 'looks' and quality, but with French flair. All true.

The C5 remains a true Citroen, with a sleek wedge-shaped rising waistline linking an elegant front with the familiar horizontally-slatted grille and a sculptured aerodynamic looking tail. Roof bars elongate the design still further. The overall length of the Tourer is 4,800mm — long enough to limit a few parking space options but the front and rear parking sensors help.

The long length and extra width does mean really good leg and shoulder room for front and rear passengers alike, plus a huge load space ranging from 505 to 1,462 litres. However, due to the futuristic and aerodynamic shape of the rear tailgate window and the small rear side windows, visibility at the back is not that great.

All models have cruise control with speed limiter, air conditioning, adaptive front lighting, acoustic sound and heat reflecting front windscreen and numerous front, side and curtain airbags; and most models have an automatic electronic parking brake and hill-start assist. All models also have Citroen's futuristic fixed-hub steering wheel which houses duplicate controls for many functions. Indeed there are buttons and controls liberally situated throughout the front dashboard and console. They are quite confusing and some buttons are really very small and not at all user friendly.

My test VTR+ version, the best-selling model, had a very high level of specification as standard. Too many items to mention but 17-inch alloy wheels, front/rear electric windows and door mirrors, automatic lights/wipers, halogen headlights, fog lights, ABS, electronic stability programme and traction control plus a premium quality interior lighting system give you an idea how well specified this improved quality C5 now is.

In true Citroen tradition the C5, in both body forms, is a very comfortable car. This generation C5 has the option of a conventional coil spring and damper suspension or Citroen's usual 'floating carpet' air system. For me there is no choice: steel is best because this system provides better, more controlled and trustworthy handling and yet it remains remarkably comfortable. The electronic power steering is somewhat vague and will not appeal to drivers who like sports handling. The C5 is built for style, comfort and accommodating space — typically French then.

The power unit in my test C5 Tourer was the long-serving and current best-selling 2.0-litre, 138bhp HDi turbodiesel unit. Now, and without telling tales, this engine is due for an upgrade and the 140bhp Euro 5 version is already in the Peugeot 407 range. The new engine is a little stronger mid-range, quieter at tickover and cleaner, so it cheaper for VED road tax and BIK company car tax.

However, this current 138bhp engine in the C5 Tourer I found to be better for fuel economy! The new 140bhp engine tried recently in a Peugeot 407 SW estate returned 43.5mpg. The older unit in the C5 Tourer returned 48.7mpg. The driving conditions, vehicle load and the weather conditions were similar, so I think it is a fair comparison. Officially, the 138bhp HDi C5 Tourer returns 35.3, 46.3 and 56.5mpg respectively on the urban, combined and extra-urban cycles.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the 138bhp unit, and mated with the slick 6-speed gearbox and with 236lb ft of torque available from 2,000rpm it is a responsive and flexible performer. Indeed, it made very light work of coping with French autoroutes as well as the twisting Cotswold lanes closer to home. The previous C5 models were well loved by the towing fraternity and I'm already starting to see new C5 models on our roads with tow bars. For the record, the C5 Tourer with the 138bhp diesel engine has a 1,800kg maximum braked towing capacity.

Not so appealing is the C5's dull steering response, confusing switches and controls and limited rear visibility. Also, real life residual values are as yet unknown. On the plus side the C5 can offer stylish good looks, it's roomy, well equipped and has a very comfortable ride. In addition, there is a good choice of engines and it's well priced in its class.

Although the new C5 in either Saloon or Tourer form is a very striking and well equipped vehicle, the segment it sells in is suffering heavily from shrinking sales as customers downsize. The competition in this class is also tough, coming as it does from the Ford Mondeo and the soon-to-be-with-us Vauxhall Insignia. However Citroen will always be competitive on price and offers so the C5 should not be overlooked by money-wise drivers — private, fleet or business. — David Miles

Citroen C5 Tourer 2.0 HDi VTR+
| 19,476
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 12.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 48.7mpg | Power: 138bhp | Torque: 236lb ft
CO2 160g/km | VED Band D 145 | Insurance group 10E