It isn't often that a model is introduced mid-way into the life of a car that specifically targets fleet drivers. Citroen has done this with the C5, a car that made its UK debut two years ago. The model in question is the new VTR – a badge that has helped sell thousands of Saxos over the past seven years, and also adorns sporty petrol and diesel Xsara models.
Other VTR cars in Citroen's range could be described as 'warm hatches' rather than hot ones. The C5 VTR struggled to warrant even this description, using a 117bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine and the 110bhp 2.0 HDi diesel tested here.
These are engines at the lower end of the C5 range, unlikely to set pulses racing. However, Citroen's PR people insist that in the C5 VTR they are providing the type of car that will sell to fleets.
It has low carbon dioxide emissions, an attractive price, room for all the family and a badge to show off in the company car park. So the C5 VTR comes across as a sheep in wolf's clothing. There are little details that give it the appearance of a high performance saloon, but there is an absence of substance under the bonnet.
There are 16-inch alloy wheels, bespoke blue/grey interior trim and colour co-ordinated seatbelts, leather-trimmed steering wheel, carbon-fibre effect inserts, anti-theft alarm and rear wash wipe.
Until the end of March the car comes with a £400 VTR pack, which includes chrome-effect mesh lower front grille and rear spoiler. However, you won't find a sports setting for the suspension as you do on higher-spec C5s – just the Hydractive 3 suspension which is self-levelling and reduces the car's ride height on motorways to improve fuel consumption.
On the road, there is little the C5 does badly.
However, its limelight has been somewhat stolen by the introduction of the Vauxhall Vectra, Mazda6 and Toyota Avensis, all of which have raised standards for the sector in their own ways.
Quality in the C5 isn't at the same level as the Avensis, it isn't as much fun to drive as a Mazda6 and it doesn't feel quite as solid as a new Vectra. However, it is roomy and comfortable, and while the soft suspension might not allow the car to feel as surefooted on challenging roads as any of the other cars mentioned above, it eats up the motorways without batting an eyelid.
As my week with the car progressed, it probably covered more than 600 effortless motorway miles, returning an average of nearly 50mpg, a key attraction for fleet drivers and managers alike.
Apart from all the things we take for granted in a modern upper-medium car (four electric windows, air conditioning, ABS with electronic brake force distribution with emergency braking assistance and six airbags), the VTR also has automatic windscreen wipers and headlamps as well as speed sensitive stereo volume.
As for the carbon fibre-effect trim, on closer inspection the design resembles fish scales. Perhaps a metallic-effect plastic might have worked better.
Straight-line performance is adequate while the brakes are in the mould of traditional French cars – instant, reassuring stopping power.
So the C5 HDi VTR proves to be an ideal high mileage motorway car, but I can't help feeling a little short- changed by the VTR badging. It might have been better to use it on the more powerful 2.2 HDi diesel or 2.0 HPi direct injection petrol car in conjunction with switchable suspension settings.
Citroen C5 2.0 HDi VTR
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £16,360
CO2 emissions (g/km): 147
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £110
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 50.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,625/28%
Depreciation (18.04 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,824
Maintenance (2.50 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,500
Fuel (7.68 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,608
Wholelife cost (28.22 pence per mile x 60,000): £16,932
Typical contract hire rate: £324 per month
Three rivals to consider
THERE is little to choose between the rivals here, with the only impact likely to be felt on personal benefit-in-kind taxation. We are in the territory of generous fleet discounts where the volume is large enough so transaction prices for each of the cars here would bear little resemblance to what appears on the P11d form. The Vectra might look good value at first glance, but its engine is the least powerful here and is the only one to do without common rail injection technology.
THIS is a bad round for the C5, although the difference between the best and worst only adds up to £180 over three-years/60,000-miles. The Vauxhall and Ford are evenly matched, an impressive feat considering the Vectra could reach 30,000 miles between services compared with Ford's 12,500-mile intervals. Renault's 18,000-mile interval gives it a clear lead, as do the bolt-on plastic front wings which reduce labour time during crash repairs.
ALL these diesel-powered cars are economical, but the French pair manage more than 50mpg on the combined cycle (more than 51mpg for the Laguna) while the Ford just slips under the 50mpg barrier. The Vauxhall falls behind, achieving 47.9mpg. While the figure might be respectable in isolation it is below par for this class. But because these models are still closely matched. Over three years/60,000 miles, the difference between best and worst is £330.
DESPITE the lowest percentage figure for depreciation according to CAP, the C5 fares well in our pence per mile depreciation figure. However, the Vectra scores a victory here with the highest percentage for retained value over three-years/60,000-miles of 30%. This lowly figure is good for a sector that has been ravaged by the worst of the residual value falls in the used car market over the past few years. The Mondeo's familiarity is its downfall, as the quantity of ex-company cars on the used market push down values.
THE C5 finishes third when all the figures are added up, thanks to the Laguna's all-round low running costs and the stronger residual values of the Vectra. However, the difference between the C5 and the Laguna over three-years/ 60,000-miles in cash terms is £156. When you are looking at large volumes it's probably enough to sway a fleet in favour of the less expensive car, but it is worth pointing out that the most popular fleet car in this sector, the Mondeo, is the most expensive to run.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE C5 will protect the driver from benefit-in-kind tax increases for longer, remaining in the lowest tax band for non-Euro IV diesels at least until 2005. The C5 will cost a 22% tax-payer about £59 per month for the next two years. The Vectra driver's bill will be lower during 2003/04, but will rise in 2004/05. The C5 and Laguna qualify for a £110 annual VED rate compared to £130 for the Mondeo and Vectra.
Although the engine line-up in VTR trim does not justify the badge, it is not the least powerful car in its class and it can munch the motorway miles with the best of them. Also, it gives drivers the choice of a sportier-looking model without harming wholelife costs and finished a close third here. However, victory goes to the Renault Laguna because it is cheaper in the long run and is an accomplished all-rounder.