Gearchange takes edge of Citroen C5

It’s a mark of Citroen’s success in revitalising their image that I didn’t have the usual wave of apathy when I saw a Citroen C5 on my road test list. The new Citroen C5 is quite a stylish offering and the road test car looked quite the executive saloon sat outside our door.

One colleague even thought it reminded him of the classic Citroen DS of the1950 and 60s. I must admit I struggle to see that. Where the Citroen was avant garde to the extent that it looked like nothing else on the road, the Citroen’s only Gallic quirk in the styling is the complex double curvature rear screen. But, Citroen should be pleased by the comparison with their most famous model.

My test car was the Citroen C5 eHDi 110 Airdream EGS Exclusive Auto 4dr. The e-HDi is described by Citroen as ‘micro hybrid technology’, which refers to the rather clever way this diesel shuts down when not needed, yet restarts instantly. The result is fuel efficiency 15% better than the other cars in the range. The official combined consumption of this car is 61.4 mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions are also improved, but by just 5g/km to 120 g/km.

Citroen C5

The up-market image continues to the interior. It is comfortable place to be too, although the seats – or maybe I should call them chairs – are a little soft for some tastes. Storage space is at a little bit of a premium, with the glovebox being too small to even hold the owner’s manual.

I also felt that Citroen had been a bit over-eager to shift controls to their unique fixed steering boss (it doesn’t turn with the wheel). As a result you need to pause to consider which button to prod.

I set off on my first drive down our heavily cratered driveway. The C5 does what many French cars have done so well over the years – it really soaks up the bumps of a poor road surface. I was just beginning to feel that – with this supple ride and well-silenced diesel engine, this was a rather refined motor car, when it happened.

The automatic gearbox decided to change from first to second. I was really taken aback. It felt like someone had pressed the brake pedal, as the Citroen slowed down – even though my foot was still on the accelerator. Assuming this was some sort of glitch I kept my foot down and the engine duly picked up speed again.

Sadly, when I joined the public road, I found that this loss of power when changing gear was no glitch. It is at its worst when the gearbox is changing from first to second gear, when it feels like you have hit a giant ‘flat spot’. The revs drop almost 1,000 rpm and a large number of the 110 horses in that 1560cc engine appear to go on strike momentarily. While it is worst from first to second gear, a similar loss of power afflicts every gearchange right up to sixth.

Needless to say, this acceleration-deceleration-acceleration gets everyone’s heads nodding in sympathy. I tried everything to see if I could either banish, or alleviate, this problem. I tried switching the gearbox to ‘sport’ mode. I tried using the manual paddles on the steering wheel. I even switched off the “eco” switch. But, although I could make the ‘flat spot’ a little less severe, it was always there.

Citroen C5 interior

The most disconcerting experience was when accelerating through an uphill dual-carriageway roundabout. I had a Range Rover right behind that appeared intent on breaking and entering my boot. As I tried to accelerate out of the roundabout the gearbox decided to change and I glanced nervously in the rearview mirror concerned that my tailgating friend might not slow down in time. Fortunately he did.

The steering feels a tad light, but still reasonably precise. You might also have to get used to a little bit less self-centring than you are used to at low speeds – something which I found quite ironic, given that the famous Citroen DS actually had powered self-centring in an era when powered steering itself was a rarity.

The price of the Citroen C5 eHDI is £22,195.

It’s a shame that my test of the Citroen C5 was so completely overshadowed by this gearchange issue, because in most other aspects the car impressed. It proved to be a relaxing and effortless motorway cruiser, where gearchanges are much less of an issue than in city driving or cross-country routes on give-and-take B-roads.
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