The Citroen C3 Aircross. It’s stylish but is there any substance? Here’s our full road-test report
21 March 2018
Able to attract attention in rear view mirrors like pint-size John Bercow commands the House of Commons, the Citroen C3 Aircross has a presence to be reckoned with, fusing modern, cute and rugged into manageable proportions. Thank goodness Citroen has stuck to traditional Gallic principles and allowed its compact SUV crossover newcomer to proudly stand out as individual in a crowded market segment brimming with samey creations.
Like a brioche spread with Marmite
Although the most exciting adventure many C3 Aircross drivers might experience is a family trip to that equally quirky flat-pack furniture store, Citroen’s ‘true SUV’ with its suggestive off-road addenda certainly looks ready for action in the urban jungle or on a rocky trail. The car’s short and elevated bonnet, jacked-up pose, funky alloys and distinctive front and rear lights are met with an array of conversation-starters like the gloss-black chevrons, 3D-effect taillights and rear pillars with a Venetian blind-effect, which to us looks naff in orange but is more palatable in darker shades.
With no fewer than 90 colour combinations, there’s a C3 Aircross for everybody, spanning an eight-strong primary body palette, four roof colours, and alloy wheels in 16” or 17”. The test car’s Mistry Grey paint job admittedly one of the more mature picks, Spicy Orange looks awesome for those with Richard Ayoade’s fashion confidence.
Equally refreshing on the inside
Citroen once again refusing to be a sheep, the C3 Aircross’ interior is treated to an array of novel touches from rounded oblong shapes, knobbly textures, tactile fabrics, quirky features like a Cobra’s head-shaped handbrake and geometric surfaces to plenty of shamelessly orange elements echoing the uncannily-named Orange Pack on the outside, the horizontal red stripe across the seats finishing the refreshingly different vibe off nicely.
Although hard plastics can unsurprisingly be discovered when straying further afield, most of the car’s main controls feel reasonably tactile and are positioned well ergonomically, apart from climate control, which is perhaps distractingly adjusted using the 7-inch touchscreen on Feel and Flair trim models. The infotainment system doesn’t require a science degree to get to grips with and Flair trim comes with sat nav courtesy of TomTom, which works intuitively but looks dated. Bluetooth synchronisation was a doddle, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported, and the Hi-Fi system sounds surprisingly good for a car of this price point.
Comfort, practicality and space
The C3 Aircross’ front seats are surprisingly flat with hardly any visible side support or indeed adjustment, yet proved comfortable on long journeys, and leather can be specified if the test car’s cloth isn’t your bag. With a flat and upright bench in the rear rather than sculpted outer seats, the C3 Aircross is optimised for functionality over comfort, and while the back seats individually slide as standard on Flair trim, this is an optional feature on Feel variants and is well worth specifying as it allows boot or passenger space to be prioritised to suit various situations.
For a French car, storage in the C3 Aircross isn’t mind-blowing, with a small glovebox and no covered cubby between the front seats, but the door bins are a decent size and plenty of oddment storage for coins and keys has been thought about. The boot’s standard capacity of 410 litres comfortably beats the Hyundai Kona with 334 litres, the Kia Stonic with 352 litres and the Vauxhall Mokka X with 365 litres. The facelifted Peugeot 2008 offers a smidgen more with 422 litres as standard, but the C3 Aircross’ sliding rear seats allow 520 litres to be created, and the front passenger seat can also be specified so that it folds flat, further amplifying this MPV-SUV-crossover’s practical abilities.
Driving the C3 Aircross
PSA’s tried-and-tested three-cylinder, 130bhp, 1.2-litre PureTech petrol engine is as likeable as a neighbour’s cocker spaniel that bounds up each time it sees you, quiet and refined most of the time but producing a welcome thrum when one puts one’s foot down.
Exciting performance is far from a priority for the C3 Aircross but this practical and style-focussed compact SUV is no limp lettuce with the 130 engine at its heart and can hold its own on motorways and more twisty rural roads. This French newcomer is generally fairly well hushed and a pleasant place to be - on all types of roads - but wind noise at higher speeds can be annoyingly intrusive.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is surprisingly pleasant to use, with no notches and a very positive action to it, while the steering is nicely weighted and provides unexpected levels of feel and overall responsiveness for a value and practicality-focussed car like the C3 Aircross. French cars have traditionally featured soft suspension but not so in Citroen’s new compact SUV, a firmer setup helping control its taller body. Good all-round visibility and a tight turning circle make it ideal for urban driving.
Totting up the figures
Compared to 53.3mpg on paper, notching up an average combined fuel consumption figure of 50mpg is easily achievable for people who mainly drive solo, while a Citroen C3 Aircross Flair S&S PureTech 130 manual regularly used by families and their paraphernalia will likely see a still respectable average in the mid-40s. CO2 emissions of 119g/km CO2 translate to £160 for the first year’s road tax.
The standard fit of features like lane departure warning, speed limit recognition, ESC and hill start assist across all trims has helped the C3 Aircross attract a 5-star EURO NCAP safety rating, although the story would be even better if Active Safety Brake (autonomous emergency braking) was also fitted by default and not just to Flair models.
The Grip Control system at £400 comprises a rotary dial with Standard, Snow, All-terrain and Sand modes plus hill descent control and sees the C3 Aircross’ tyres upgraded to StabiliGrip all-season versions. It’s well worth specifying, helping the front wheels work their most efficiently on varying surfaces, which proved reassuring as ‘The Beast from the East’ loomed over the UK during our week testing this new Citroen. The £600 Park Assist pack was also specified, bringing the total price of the test model to £21,410, sandwiching it between a similarly-specified Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona, for instance.
With funky, individual looks, a comfortable and fairly practical interior and a sweet 1.2-litre engine ideal for anyone who doesn’t munch a zillion miles per year, this Citroen has got a lot to offer in a market segment admittedly swamped with choice. By leasing one of these on business or personal contract hire (PCH), you certainly won’t end up with a compact crossover that gets lost in a sea of familiarity, gaping grilles and formulaic posteriors. The C3 Aircross is like a little ray of sunshine.