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Test of C5 2,0i 16V SX

The steering wheel has a nice feel, as do the switches - but either the wheel was misaligned or there was something wrong with the binnacle moulding since I could hear it scraping inside as I turned the wheel.

The door mounted window/mirror switches are mounted on a panel that moves as you operate them.  The switches for the electric windows are confusing. 
The tachometer is too small, is calibrated in single digits and has no red line.
The seats are an improvement over those fitted to the Xantia thanks to a longer squab but they are surprisingly firm after the XM’s hedonistic creations. I did not like the textile used, a sort of pseudo velvet that is too light and therefore guaranteed to show up the dirt and would probably be unpleasant to sit on with bare flesh.  I kept my trousers on so did not test this hypothesis. 

The driving position is good, one sits up high and there is good forward visibility but the dual focus mirrors are confusing since two images appear in them.
The gearchange was excellent, being precise and with a nice feel to the knob, the clutch was light and progressive.  However, every time one selects reverse, a loud electronic BONGGG! sounds – this would infuriate me and I never did determine whether it could be silenced. 
The brake pedal required very low pressure and, since it does not employ high pressure hydraulics, has a long travel.  However, it doesn't feel radically different to the fully powered set up which in turn begs the question why, if it was consumer hostility that was responsible for the change, did they engineer a braking system that is so similar in feel?  The brakes pulled to the left on this car.  Electronic brake assist is very effective but does make a drama out of hard braking and it took me a while to fathom out that you have to reset hazard flashers by pressing the hideous red button or by accelerating.

The steering felt imprecise, it was nicely weighted but a bit dead in the straight ahead position.
The handling was good - mild understeer, but rear steer was obvious feeling almost feels like the onset of oversteer - you have to unwind the steering and then wind it back on.  Lift off in the middle of a fast bend and the same thing happens.  While this might be fun on a race track, it feels disconcerting on the road.  Perhaps one gets used to it and learns to trust the car but I did not like it.  My XM also has passive rear steer and the effect is absent - the XM goes where you point it, without drama or fuss.
The car also suffered from noticeable torque steer and if this is noticeable with this engine, it must be very noticeable with both the diesel and V6 - unless the additional weight of these two engines masks it.

The 2 litre engine is surprisingly torquey at low revs for a 16 valve unit, although it really only comes on song between 3000 and maximum revs. 
Maximum torque is generated at 4100 rpm.  There is a throaty growl on acceleration but it quietens down when cruising. 
Use of the gears is necessary if you want to make rapid progress.
Much of the underbonnet is covered with plastic cowlings

But what of the ride?  Is Hydractive 3+ any advance over Hydractive 2 or even regular hydropneumatics?  Hydractive 3 comes in two forms - regular Hydractive which is analogous to the hydropneumatic systems fitted to the D, SM, GS, CX, BX, lesser Xantiae and lesser LHD XMs but with the added refinement of automatic ride height adjustment.  Hydractive 3+ is analagous to Hydractive with a Sports setting, automatic ride height adjustment and auto-adaptive facility whereby it reads your driving style.  This car was fitted with Hydractive 3+.  The ride was firmer than the XM but I was less aware of the suspension switching modes. Rough road surfaces were handled just like any well engineered conventional set up and broken tarmac in the middle of a bend were transmitted into the cabin, through the wheel and could even throw the car off line. 
The ride seemed more consistent than in either of my XMs.  Body roll was subdued - turn into a bend and the car leans slightly and then, just as you expect it to lean more, it doesn't.  Very impressive indeed.
There was very little transmission of road noise into the cabin but the car pitches diagonally on some road surfaces. Couple this with the torque steer, the pulling brakes and the rear steer effect and it feels less stable than either an XM or VSX Xantia.  As expected, the sport setting made the car feel tauter.

The two electronic ride height switches (why is it that all too often, using electronics means the replacement of one control with two?) were neat as was the electronic display of ride height selected (above left, above right and below left). 
I was unaware of the automatic ride height in operation (the ride height is lowered by 15 mm at the front and 11 mm at the rear at speeds above 68 mph  and raises itself to the normal height when speed drops below 56 mph). 
Using the manual controls, the car changes height much more rapidly than any hydropneumatic car I have ever driven.

© 2001 Julian Marsh/CitroŽnŽt