► C3 Aircross: first homegrown SUV
► SUV version of C3 hatchback
► Big on space, price and comfort
The French were slow to spot the SUV trend, a one-time sales trickle that has turned into a tidal way. An SUV like the new Citroen C3 Aircross on review, after all, runs au contraire to their motoring values.
The French, traditionally, like rational cars. They are not big buyers of German premium brands – too flash and too expensive. They pioneered the MPV, a deeply logical car. They were early hatchback innovators, appreciating their extra practicality and functionality.
SUVs, on the other hand, are not rational, especially for road use. What, asked our French friends, is the logic behind vehicles that are bigger, heavier, more cumbersome, more fuel consumptive, more polluting, and more expensive than the hatchbacks or saloons on which they’re typically based? Yet usually no more spacious or versatile?
Too late! Finally, even the French have now fallen for their Faustian charms. So Renault, Peugeot and – last off the blocks – Citroen are all playing catch-up. The new C3 Aircross is Citroen first SUV, if we exclude the small volume C-Crosser, a rebadged Mitsubishi that’s about as Parisian as a bento box.
It’s a new Citroen. But it does it have any old-school Citroen sparkle?
Well, yes it does. Under new UK-born boss Linda Jackson, Citroen is now making some distinctive cars again. Forget old-school technical leadership. I fear we will never again see new Citroens with anything like the old DS’s, GS’s or CX’s technical élan. Yet, at least, the new models are increasingly stand-alone in style and in substance.
As with its hatchback brother, the C3 prioritises comfort and space. Sadly, few other mainstream makers do so. The seats are softer, wider and bulkier than the class norm, and well cushioned.
It rides well and with a suppleness alien to most small hatches, even if it lacks the agility (or ride/handling combination) of the excellent new Fiesta. (Crossovers or SUVs are never as much fun to drive as a good hatch.)
It’s also roomy for a car so small – this six-footer could sit behind another same-size driver, no problem. Three adults could ride in the back. Its appealingly boxy shape allows easy ingress and exit.
The rear seats slide fore-and-aft, rear backrests are rake adjustable and the back seats can fold flat. The front passenger backrest can also fold, to accommodate really long items. So it’s a versatile load-lugger.
CAR lives with a Citroen C3 hatchback
Yes, but isn’t some of the Aircross’s tech a bit gimmicky?
It’s true that when a new Citroen’s headline technical ‘innovations’ include 90 different exterior paint combinations, bright coloured air vents, a panoramic sunroof, wireless smartphone charging and Apple CarPlay, my heart does sink.
But there’s also little doubt these will appeal to many SUV prospects, especially at the car’s impressively low cost (from £13,995 – although you’ll need to pay just over £15,000 to get most of the tasty toys). In value for money, it trumps its keenest rivals.
Tech also includes cruise control and lane departure warning (standard on the base model), active safety braking, active headlamp high beam and a head-up display, all novel for the class. It can self-park, too.
Like most new-school SUVs, the C3 Aircross is no more designed for the rough stuff than a 16th arrondissement Parisian is likely to enjoy camping. Yet it does have optional ‘Grip Control’ that allows you to select Sand, All-Road, Snow or ‘ESP off’ programmes, and is like a junior version of Land Rover’s Terrain Response. As it’s front-drive only – no 4x4 is offered or envisaged – don’t go searching for tracks where Land Rovers would fear to tread.
Oh, and the engines are good. Two are offered: the excellent ‘Pure Tech’ (oh dear, these naff names!) 1.2 petrol triple (in 82, 110 and 130 horse power guises) and the surprisingly sweet Blue HDi four-pot diesel (100 or 120hp versions available). The sweet spot is probably the 130 petrol complete with six-speed manual ’box, in mid-range ‘Feel’ spec.
This is an appealing, distinctive and well-equipped little SUV. Good value, too. It’s roomy, versatile and rides well – at least for a modern small car. The supple suspension absorbs nasty bumps and pimpled roads, and – surprisingly –it’s more entertaining to drive than the rather anodyne normal C3 hatch.
The keenest of drivers should still look elsewhere – just forget SUVs and crossovers and buy a Fiesta and smile. But for those who want a small car with space, comfort, functionality, a hefty dose of gadgets and gizmos – and want something a little different from the mainstream – the C3 Aircross is a good choice. It’s also evidence of the apparently unstoppable momentum of SUVs, that the French learn fast, and that Citroen has firmly rediscovered its pleasingly ‘think different’ mentality.
More Citroen reviews by CAR magazine