Car reviews - Citroen - C5 Aircross - range
Quiet and smooth drive experience, keen steering, comfy seats, cabin storage, big boot, digital dash
Room for improvement
No adaptive cruise control, we expected more rear legroom, comfort claims perhaps overstated
Compelling C5 Aircross mid-size SUV marks Citroen’s long-awaited return to relevance
19 Jul 2019
THE Australian arrival of Citroen’s C5 Aircross mid-size SUV completes a product-led total reboot for the French brand in this market and does so with arguably its most compelling and relevant model in almost a decade.
In today’s contracting market and economic uncertainty that has car buyers fleeing toward safe bets and familiarity, Citroen has one hell of a task on its hands in convincing Australians to even take a look at this left-field option.
Good job, then, that it has delivered a competitive and well-rounded offering with a deft combination of value-for-money, practicality and an enjoyable journey for the driver and passengers alike.
To say the C5 Aircross is a make-or-break product for Citroen in Australia could be a vast understatement. It might yet prove to be the right product at the wrong time, given the fact we’re deep into the second consecutive year of new-vehicle market contraction as economic clouds threaten to unleash a hailstorm of broken dreams.
But doom and gloom aside, we reckon the C5 Aircross is more than good enough to be Citroen’s comeback hero.
Citroen perhaps sets expectations a little too high in terms of comfort levels in the C5 Aircross, making much of its bespoke ‘progressive hydraulic cushion’ suspension and numerous other measures under its ‘Citroen Advanced Comfort’ banner, from special seat padding and laminated acoustic glass to unusual wheel and tyre dimensions.
Both variants get the special suspension – the Feel grade opens up proceedings at a keen $39,990 plus on-road costs – but the Shine that costs $4000 more has all the advanced comfort upgrades along with wireless phone charging, electric driver’s seat adjustment and aluminium pedals.
There’s loads of standard tech, including am excellent customisable digital dash and decent 8.0-inch touchscreen with three flavours of smartphone mirroring capability. It’s all useful, intuitive, responsive and the long list of standard driver-assist systems also work well. But we’re disappointed that adaptive cruise control is omitted.
Visually, there is precious little to differentiate the two variants inside or out. Both have lovely two-tone cabin designs with pleasant materials and classy, expensive-feeling seat fabric. You might spot the taller (but narrower) 19-inch alloys on the Shine, which also gets part-leather upholstery on its allegedly more comfortable seats.
Even without the fancy foam, this Citroen’s plush, supportive and gently figure-hugging front seats are fantastic. They feel instantly right, require minimal adjustment and have got to be best in class. Honestly, they are nothing short a revelation in a mid-size SUV segment riddled with uncomfortable front seats.
However, having driven both C5 Aircross variants back-to-back on noisy, poorly surfaced roads around the Hawkesbury River region north of Sydney, we’d hesitate to say they rode better than well-set-up rivals such as the Subaru Forester or Hyundai Tucson.
Then again, the Citroen felt like a limousine compared with, say, a Renault Koleos or Volkswagen Tiguan.
Is it any quieter? It’s certainly one of the segment’s quieter offerings, although during the launch drive, the Shine and its acoustic glass wasn’t obviously quieter than the entry-level Feels that does without.
The good news is that Citroen’s focus on ride comfort hasn’t resulted in a wobbly, wallowy drive. At just 1430kg, the C5 Aircross feels nimble and controlled, it grips well on its Michelin tyres and doesn’t lean excessively into bends. It’s better than a Honda CR-V or Nissan X-Trail in this regard, although we did detect the rear end occasionally skipping and bobbing about on uneven corner surfaces.
It also steers beautifully; it’s keen and buttery smooth, with a natural and intuitive weight and feel on the move that seamlessly transitions to ultra-light assistance for low-speed manoeuvres. Unusually for a French car, the brakes are pleasantly progressive too.
The result? A Citroen SUV that is unexpectedly enjoyable to punt along. At all other times, it’s as smooth and fuss-free as even the most user-friendly rivals. Few French cars in living memory can claim that. Similarly, we also found visibility to be a strong point.
Another C5 Aircross party piece is the rear accommodation. Three identically-sized, individually sliding and folding seats provide almost endless flexibility for the carrying of many sizes and shapes of luggage and human.
In addition, varying the alignment could provide extra shoulder room when three abreast or make it easier for older children and adults to coexist with bulky baby seats (there are three top tether anchorages and two sets of Isofix attachments).
Our posteriors detected that the foam in these seats is not quite as special as is reserved for up front and, behind a six-foot driver, legroom is merely adequate – even with the rear seat slid all the way back.
A compromise of the individual seating set-up was that tall outboard occupants felt uncomfortably close to the sides of the car and would find their temples colliding with the bodywork when uneven roads caused head-toss. We wonder how this would affect side impact protection in a crash. As well, the design precludes a rear central armrest or cup-holder.
On the upside, the rear floor is almost flat and air-con vents are provided. But we’d happily forego some of the Citroen’s massive boot space for a little extra knee room.
Yes, the boot really is a whopper at 580 litres with all three rear seats all the way back. Citroen claims 720L with them all in the forward position but for this to work, both rows of occupants need to be seriously petite. Still, the flexibility is there if you aren’t travelling with five adult passengers.
The hands-free powered tailgate rises high to reveal a uniform load area with small storage wells at each edge and a false floor that can be lowered to liberate a little more space below a two-piece parcel shelf that threatens to be a bit fiddly in daily use.
Cabin storage is dominated by a vast space between the front seats, below a split central armrest. The centre console has useful spaces for phones, snacks and keys and it’s good to see a French car fitted with two proper cupholders, although none of the door bins are really suitable for securing drinks bottles. As with seemingly all Peugeots and Citroens, there is a large obstruction taking up most of the glovebox.
And finally, the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine and six-speed automatic transmission combo. Outputs of and 121kW and 240Nm provide adequate performance, delivered in a smooth and linear fashion. Slick, intelligent gear shifts are consistent with this car’s easy-going yet capable nature. You don’t need to think about it, just get in and go.
With the C5 Aircross, Citroen has successfully rolled a lot of what people have come to want and expect from their mid-size SUV and gone the extra mile in a number of areas.
For once, all this has been achieved without straying toward infuriating quirkiness or poor usability. And the C5 Aircross is competitive on price, specification and aftercare with mainstream brands that enjoy vastly greater economies of scale.
Until we get chance to test it further, we’d hesitate to say Citroen ‘nailed it’ with the C5 Aircross. But they certainly seem to have come close, without diluting the reputation for bespoke design and innovation embodied by the double chevron logo on its nose.
Now Citroen just needs Australians to take notice and put faith in a brand that may be totally new to them, despite having been around for a hundred years.
Model release date: 1 July 2019
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