Richard Aucock
26/07/2006 00:00 | By Richard Aucock, contributor, MSN Cars

Citroen C5 2.2 HDi 173 review (2004-2007)

Citroen C5 (© Citroen)

Model: Citroen C5 2.2 HDi 173
Bodystyle: Five-door hatchback
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Date of test: July 2006

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What is it?

The C5 is not new, but its 2.2-litre engine is. Part of the PSA-Ford joint venture, it’s an all-new four-cylinder turbodiesel, with the latest common-rail fuel injection and a set of counter-rotating balancer shafts to aid smoothness. But the big news is its means of induction – two turbos, one small, one large. The smaller, so the theory goes, is there to aid snappy response at low revs, while the larger provides the power higher up the rev range. Result: smooth, rapid throttle response at all revs. A power output of 173bhp suggests right away that it’s doing something right, but how does it work in practice?

Where does it fit?

This engine, soon, will be fitted to a huge number of cars: Peugeot 407, next Ford Mondeo, Citroen C6, Volvo S40, Land Rover Freelander, Ford Galaxy, Ford S-Max… the list of possibilities goes on. In the C5 range, as in the Mondeo and 407, it’s a high-end diesel, priced from around £20k, offering lots of power and equipment for the price of a basic BMW 318d (amongst others). It won’t sell in huge numbers though, because you’d have to be mad to fork out £21k + for a top-end C5, cashback incentives and all. Companies also won’t like the high pence per mile costs the car’s high depreciation levels create. But that should take nothing away from the merits of the engine.

Is it for you?

Citroen buyers can be quirky, so if the financial security of a 3-Series or A4 is not for you, and you fancy a powerful new diesel engine mated to the unique Hydropneumatic suspension and a hill of equipment, you’ll probably find yourself tempted by a Citroen dealer’s cashback offer of many £thousands. But the majority out there, usually company car drivers, will go for the German badge and hang the electric rear windows or additional 50bhp. We can see their logic, but still carry a candle for the C5 – particularly with this engine.

What does it do well?

This is a wonderful new powerplant. Turbodiesels are great once on boost, but they don’t half show a bit of lag (delay as you press the throttle before acceleration floods in). Even the best do, but here? There’s barely a smidgen. Thanks to the twin turbo setup, that smaller turbine rapidly provides thrust almost instantaneously – and what thrust, with a mighty 272lb/ft of torque offering go that few 2.0-litre turbo petrols can match, never mind diesels. What’s more, the torque curve remains flat from 1,500rpom to 2,700rpm meaning mid-range go is always there too. This vibrancy is matched by peerless refinement. Other than a hint of mid-range throb, it is also smoother than almost any other four-cylinder rival; even the switch-off shudder that blights so many diesels has been eliminated here. The C5 also, surprisingly, complements it, with the most cosseting, well-damped, flowing ride in this sector. It’s incredibly relaxing and really helps the big Citroen stand out from the competition.

What doesn’t it do well?

Comfortable it may be, but the C5 doesn’t half feel dated now. Never a beauty, the lines were facelifted a few years back, which helped, but it’s still a tall, flat-sided saloon-look hatch with strange mini-MPV overtones. The plasticky interior is dated and flimsy too. The gearbox displays ‘shunt’ when the throttle closed and reapplied, like 1980s Renaults used to do, and the shift is a bit rubbery and notchy. The ‘floating’ sensation can at times feel a bit strange (such as the pitch when you accelerate from standstill), and bigger bumps can shudder internal trim; turn the stereo up, mind, and you won’t feel them. It’s extremely competent on twisty roads too, but lacks the sporty feel of rivals; we like it this way, but can understand why others won’t.

What’s it like to live with?

The C5 is vast, with acres of room in the rear (plus a flat floor) and an enormous boot. It’s also well stocked and an easy thing to live with, offering good visibility, high levels of refinement and the advantage of self-levelling, height-adjustable suspension. The engine is also a star, demanding little maintenance and pleasing day-to-day with its ability to warm up quickly and not offend the neighbours too much, even in the depths of winter. Reliability is less assured. The engine will be fine and the suspension is guaranteed for 125,000 miles, but Citroens can suffer from electrical and build niggles, as owner surveys frequently show. Rampant depreciation also won’t help endear it to you, though let a company take the strain and this will be a lot of car for the money after three years.

How green is it?

A combined average of over 46mpg is exceptional for an engine offering such performance, response, refinement and flexibility. It’s also ultra-clean, with a diesel particulate filter ensuring minimal particulates emissions. It’ll probably meet Euro V emissions regs with not too much trouble; it certainly breezes through the Euro IV standard.

Would we buy it?

Not new, but in three years’ time? We’d consider it. The C5 has its obvious flaws but also offers the real attribute of its unique suspension, which gives it so much character. And it is this setup that complements a brilliant 2.2-litre HDi engine so well. Almost impeccable in every respect, we’ll be quite familiar with this engine soon enough – and it’s so good, we can only conclude, ‘bring it on’. So, would we buy the engine? You bet; and when it appears in the next Ford Mondeo, hold onto your hats…

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