It is longer, wider, taller and packed with novel features – but does Citroen's new large multi-purpose vehicle have what it takes to win better fleet sales in Britain? According to Citroen UK managing director Alain Favey, the C8 will answer that question by achieving double the number of registrations as its predecessor.
He said: 'This car is such a huge improvement over our current model that we are confident it will give us more than 3,000 sales and a segment share of 8% in 2003. 'And because we will make the package very attractive to the business motorist, I don't think we can fail.'
In an interview at the international launch of the car in France, Favey told Fleet News that logic dictated the C8 would be a fleet success because it had a better appearance, greater capabilities and a wider spread of power units and transmissions.
'This is a relatively small sector that accounts for less than 2% of the total market, but we intend to make a big impression in the showrooms against the Ford Galaxy, Chrysler Voyager, VW Sharan and Renault Espace, which together account for 62% of the large MPV segment.
'Although we are still talking about pricing and specification details, this car will obviously be positioned to offer keen competition for these rivals.'
Fleet buyers have been the mainstay of Citroen's customer base for the Synergie and they traditionally account for 80% of sales. This is the kind of transport favoured by user-choosers who have large families and pursue active lifestyles, Favey said.
'These customers are looking for big cars that have good diesel engines, and a choice of petrol or diesel power in two-litre and 2.2-litre form will make us particularly strong competitors. We are looking to the C8 to add to our growth following the success of the Picasso, which leads the compact MPV sector and the C5 saloons and estate models, which are already achieving a 4% share of the medium-size sector,' he said.
Just introduced on the French market but not due in the UK until November, the C8 is the latest offspring of a long-standing collaboration between PSA Peugeot Citroen and Fiat.
Together with a Lancia which will not be imported to Britain, a total of four versions of the MPV are being built by Peugeot in northern France. Like the jointly-produced Ford and VW models they rival, the cars share a common platform and differ only in cosmetic bodywork treatment. Pricing of the various versions is also likely to be close, with entry-level cars costing from about £18,000. This means the C8 will be more expensive than the Synergie, but Favey believes the higher prices will be more than offset by major improvements in luxury, convenience, safety and performance.
'This is luxury transport that boasts a high-tech interior as well as considerably modified running gear and suspension,' he said.
All PSA versions of the co-operative car share group's petrol and turbodiesel power units and automatic transmission will be available by the end of the year. Though the biggest petrol version is geared to be nippy off the mark, lower ratios are needed to maintain progress on long motorway inclines.
The pick of the bunch is the most powerful 2.2 HDi diesel, which is also reasonably lively in acceleration but has the torque that allows it to be more relaxing over fast-route cruising. It is also well muted for most of the time and returns substantially better fuel economy.
Citroen claims that despite it being a collaborative product, the C8 features bodywork that is 65% unique to the brand. Markedly less boxy than before, it wears the 'smiling face' frontal treatment of other Citroens and has attractive lines.
Being bigger all round means the car offers lots more interior space, and curvaceous trim creates still more width while also looking distinctive. Domestic versions seat between five and eight people. UK market cars are likely to be configured to carry six, seven or eight occupants on a patented anchoring system that makes seats particularly easy to adjust or remove.
Depending on trim levels, the car can have three power-operated sunroofs and air conditioning with individual operation over four zones.
But all versions feature a plethora of storage bins, cubby holes and secret lockers and most UK cars are likely to be fitted with impressive twin electric sliding doors that glide open and shut at the touch of a button in the car or by remote control.
Behind the wheel
Everyone is treated to a grandstand view of the outside world from inside the C8, but one of the biggest windscreens in the sector allows a remarkable panorama to unfold before the driver.
Unfortunately, the sheer amount of curved glass can prove to be something of a problem because it reflects a lot of the upper dash area detailing. This can be a distraction in bright conditions and it is even worse when items are left ahead of the novel 'rail' design that contains the central instrument pod.
Otherwise, the company's designers win top marks for creating an interior that features attractive curves and an interesting, unconventional layout.
It is a pity the low-rent look of the speedo, rev counter and fuel and temperature gauges spoils the overall high-grade appeal of the C8, which represents a big step forward and makes people-mover motoring less bus-like.
Not everything about the C8 is new, however. The dashboard-mounted gear lever and outer-mounted handbrake have been carried over from the previous model to free up floor space at the front and both fall conveniently to hand.
Despite its generous proportions and the fact that it is designed to be more practical than sporting, this car is a spirited performer in the 2.2-litre form I tested. It handles competently and is able to cope with brisk cornering without undue protest from the tyres.