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Car reviews - Citroen - C3 Aircross - Shine

Our Opinion

We like
Funky exterior looks, (mostly) roomy second row and boot, creamy engine, well-calibrated transmission, superb ride comfort, surprisingly playful chassis
Room for improvement
Way too expensive, plasticky cabin, interior packaging issues, slow acceleration, hit-and-miss steering, prevalent body roll when cornering at speed

Citroen begins brand relaunch with promising but expensive C3 Aircross small SUV

19 Apr 2019

CITROEN has been waiting a while to relaunch itself in Australia with the C3 Aircross small SUV, but it’s finally here. Better yet, it is shaping up as the French brand’s best-selling model Down Under – at least until the one-size-larger C5 Aircross launches later this year.
Needless to say, the C3 Aircross has to be good if Citroen is going to be relevant again locally, and given it is closely related to the C3 light hatch that has disappointed on the sales charts since its arrival, things could be tough for the crossover.
So, does the C3 Aircross have what it takes to not only be a significant player in the fastest-growing segment in Australia, but to return Citroen to its former glory? We’ve put the single-grade model through its paces to see how it stacks up.
Drive impressions
According to Citroen, its Australian customers are only interested in highly specified vehicles, so there is only one grade, dubbed the Shine, for the all-important C3 Aircross.
And with pricing starting from $32,990 plus on-road costs, it certainly wants to be pushing the boundaries for a small SUV … but it doesn’t quite reach its ambitions.
As far as we’re concerned, the French brand would be better served if the C3 Aircross was at least a few thousand dollars cheaper, as its value equation doesn’t quite stack up, especially for a brand looking to build itself back up.
The awfully similar C3 now costs $26,990, so the premium for an SUV that rides just 20mm higher is $6000. Yikes. It goes without saying that the C3 itself should be more affordable, but that’s a story for another day.
Nonetheless, camera-based autonomous emergency braking (operational up to 30km/h) is standard, and while lane departure warning is also fitted, it would be nice if lane-keep assist was along for the ride, too.
Being a Citroen, the C3 Aircross is style focused, but not at the cost of practicality. As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we think this small SUV has a funky aesthetic, although its cutesy looks certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
The bright contrasting trim of the exterior is contradicted by the blandness of the cabin, with the pops of colour enjoyed in the C3 missing as shiny hard plastics act as the canvasses for an abundance of blacks.
In typical French fashion, a number of quirky touches add some personality to the otherwise drab interior. For example, the oddly shaped handbrake comes at the cost of a central armrest, while the monochrome multi-function display looks like a Casio watch.
Then there are the more bewildering touches, such as wireless smartphone charging coming at the cost of a pair of front cupholders. Instead, you get one behind the aforementioned handbrake … which, of course, is where rear air vents should be … but they’re not. Oops.
And being a new-generation Citroen, there are no hard keys to operate the single-zone climate control. Instead, they are integrated into the easy-to-use infotainment system that’s projected onto a 7.0-inch touchscreen.
While we appreciate the inclusion of head-up display, it is of the flip-up variety, which just looks a little half-baked, even if its functionality and physical controls below the steering column are quite good.
As mentioned, packaging is not compromised. The second row is very roomy, with two and three inches of headroom and legroom respectively behind our 184cm driving position. And there’s plenty of toe room, too.
However, with the C3 Aircross measuring in at 1756mm wide, the rear bench is quite narrow. It’s certainly not large enough to accommodate three adults abreast, even on shorter journeys, but at least all five seats are comfy.
Nonetheless, it excels with its 410L of cargo capacity, which is awfully generous for a small SUV that’s on the smaller side. Not enough? Fold the split-fold rear bench flat for 1289L.
The C3 Aircross again traces its origins back to the C3 with its 1.2-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder engine that produces a modest 81kW of power at 5500rpm and a handy 205Nm of torque at 1500rpm.
In keeping with its award-winning form, this unit is a real peach. Both creamy and rorty, it is keen off the line thanks to a wad of Sir Isaac’s best being delivered just above idle.
As such, there’s more than enough urge for the urban jungle – the 1203kg C3 Aircross’ natural habitat. However, take it out onto highways and country roads and it becomes evident that it lacks punch in its higher reaches.
A claimed zero-to-100km/h sprint time of 10.6 seconds is probably evidence enough, but in-gear acceleration is slow, very slow. An extra 30kW and 50Nm – at minimum – would go some way in making this a class-leading powertrain.
An Aisin-sourced six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is responsible for sending these outputs to the front wheels and does so – for the most part – brilliantly.
Gear changes are delightfully smooth, while the transmission is smartly calibrated for everyday driving, while generous throttle inputs are met with prompt kick downs.
Want to maximise performance? Push S for Sport and shift logic becomes even more aggressive, which is perfect for stretches of spirited driving.
Given Citroen’s emphasis on comfort, it’s no surprise that the coil-sprung C3 Aircross’ ride is very plush. This is particularly true around town, but even coarse-chip country roads are soaked up with aplomb.
That being said, while it is composed over a bump, rolling bumps see the rear end become a little unsettled, not tragically so, but it’s still a black mark against the torsion-beam set-up.
The C3 Aircross’ electromechanical power steering is well-weighted, feeling a little light in hand – but in a good way as this enhances manoeuvrability in the city.
Feel, however, is rather limited. Granted this is no sportscar but feedback across the front wheels’ movements is still an important element of the driving experience. And it’s on the slower side, too, despite its variable ratio.
When pushed hard out of a corner, the C3 Aircross has a tendency to understeer, although its chassis is surprisingly playful, catering for a bit of mischief when the occasion arises.
Despite not riding anywhere near as high as other SUVs, the C3 Aircross is prone to a fair amount of body roll, especially upon turn-in through faster bends. So, it’s not the first word in dynamism.
So, will the C3 Aircross be the model to underpin Citroen’s return to prominence? After a brief taste, we’re not totally convinced. It certainly has plenty of merit, but there are key areas where it just doesn’t get the formula right.
Nonetheless, this is Citroen’s most competent SUV yet and the aforementioned C5 Aircross is already shaping up to be a bigger and better hit with its smarter approach to family life.
In the meantime, if standing out from the crowd and doing it in comfort is what you want in a vehicle, it might pay to give the C3 Aircross a look given it is our first taste of the Citroen of the future.

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Model release date: 1 April 2019

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