Citroen joins the ultra-competitive baby SUV sector with a new model designed to offer comfort, a strong identity and sensible practicality
On the road
On the road
It feels like another small crossover gets launched every week at the moment, with the Hyundai Kona, Kia Stonic, Seat Arona and Skoda Karoq all arriving in the UK market within weeks of each other, and the Citroen C3 Aircross is a car that can certainly fall into that same pack.
Don’t forget, too, that the new Vauxhall Crossland X was launched in early summer, weeks before Renault facelifted its popular Captur, while the Nissan Juke, the biggest seller of this breed and the car that effectively invented the segment, is due for replacement in the next 18 months or so.
So it’s certainly not easy to grab more than your share of attention right now, but in this fast-growing and now big-selling area of the market, it’s important to have a presence.
The C3 Aircross comes into the range to replace the mini-MPV C3 Picasso as company car drivers and private buyers flock towards these more stylish high-riding lifestyle cars. It comes with an aggressive price as Citroen looks to grab attention.
Engine choices are the 82hp, 110hp and 130hp versions of the 1.2 petrol and a 1.6 diesel in either 100hp or 120hp form, with the middle petrol expected to be the biggest seller. It’s probably the best option given it’s more than £1,000 cheaper than the 100hp diesel, and the two sit in the same benefit-in-kind tax bands thanks to the 3% currently added to diesels.
Add £1,200 to the 110hp petrol’s P11D value and you can have the EAT6 auto gearbox if you must, although it also adds 11g/km and two BiK bands. Still, the manual is a nice enough shift, even if the big, chunky gearlever is a bit much, and doesn’t feel like it’s been designed to slot nicely into the palm of a hand.
The entry-level Touch trim exists purely to get the car well below £14,000 as a price entry point and will account for a very low percentage of sales, with the Feel and Flair trim taking the vast majority. All cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, lane-departure warning and speed-limit recognition systems, as well as automatic lights, while Feel trim adds aluminium-effect skid plates, LED daytime running lights and rear privacy glass to increase the style. It also has Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a 7.0-inch touchscreen system, electric heated door mirrors, a spacesaver spare wheel and leather steering wheel.
Splashing out for the top-spec Flair brings additional goodies including 17-inch alloys, the Bi-Tone roof, Style Pack, the Citroen Connect emergency assistance system, climate control, auto wipers, rear parking sensors and keyless entry, as well as a 60:40 split-fold rear bench seat, rear electric windows and satnav. That’s a lot of kit for the extra £1,800 it costs to go up to Flair, and well worth the money if you can afford it. It also shifts the C3 Aircross from being a cheap car versus rivals to one that costs the same but is better equipped.
Only the Flair trim gets the Bi-Tone roof that adds distinctiveness to the car, although the exterior colour pack that’s standard on the top spec is a £250 option worth having on Feel trim. It gives the Aircross a lift by colouring the foglight surrounds, mirror caps, roof bars, wheel centre surrounds and rear window insert in a choice of white, silver or orange. The rear window insert is a funny one, with the Venetian blind-look being something that works on the outside, albeit not to universal acclaim. It’s worse from the inside, where the stickers across the rear quarterlight window make it feel like you’re inside a heavily liveried advertising car. Worse still, the stickers render the window into something you can’t see out of. Still, it’s different.
In the C3 hatchback sibling to the Aircross, Citroen claims 61% of cars are sold in the top trim, and including options specced on the mid-spec car, 95% end up with a two-tone roof. It’s a shame that the latter won’t be replicated with the SUV, as it’s only available on top-spec cars.
The first noticeable thing in the cabin is the oddly large and flat handbrake. It takes a second to suss out how to grasp it, but once you’ve worked it out, it functions well. Not so well that it was actually worth reinventing the handbrake, but it’s a very Citroen sort of move to do things slightly differently for the sake of it, and it isn’t anything that’ll cause offence. Otherwise, there is a good array of stowage spots, including mouldings in the door pockets to stop bottles rolling around, and a nice variety of materials, textures and shapes, although the coloured centres to the air vents are maybe a touch too try-hard in the character and atmosphere stakes. The infotainment system suffers from the usual Peugeot-Citroen gripe of running too much through the touchscreen, meaning if you’re using the navigation that’s standard on Flair and a £600 option on Feel, you have to come out of the map screen altogether to change the temperature control or audio settings. There is also at least one too many button presses to go back into the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto screen.
Our test car was fitted with the £950 opening panoramic roof that, while letting a nice amount of light into the cabin, robs rear headroom so isn’t a wise move if adults will be frequenting the back seat. But otherwise, rear space is in line with that of rival offerings, and one adult can sit comfortably behind another as long as they’re not both too tall. The 410-litre boot is big for the class, and also features a handy movable floor.
On the road, the first impression is that the 110hp 1.2 engine feels more powerful than the figures might suggest, although you have to be a little patient while waiting for the turbo to kick in. Still, once it’s spinning, the 1.2 is a great little engine, and definitely the choice of the range. It is more than a touch noisy under serious acceleration though, and the overall driving experience is compromised by overly light steering. On the flip-side, however, that does help with low-speed manoeuvring.
The ride quality, meanwhile, is generally decent in terms of bump absorption, if a touch wobbly for body control. Wind and tyre noise at higher speeds are subdued rather than quelled completely.
Overall, the driving experience, while not being that of a sparkling performance machine built to deal with B-roads, doesn’t offend, and that’s really all this sort of car needs to achieve.
All versions of the C3 Aircross are front-wheel drive, although Citroen does offer the Grip Control system, including Hill Descent Assist, as a £400 option on all bar the 82hp petrol engine. This set-up offers increased ability to cope with slippy surfaces.
The price gap from a regular C3 hatchback is only around £1,000, depending on engine and trim, and although the C3 Aircross is slightly less efficient, it offers a much larger boot, increased space and the in-demand crossover looks. That ultra-competitive pricing, with a specification comparable to more expensive rivals’, makes Citroen’s newest model look appealing. Add in the reasonable driving experience, low running costs and more interesting styling than most rivals, and the C3 Aircross is up there with the better cars in the ever-expanding class. It’s not perfect – in particular there seem to be some quirks inserted for the sake of being quirky rather than adding any real benefit – but no small crossovers yet launched have nailed the sector, and that gives Citroen a good opportunity.
Citroen is the latest brand to jump on the small SUV, or B-SUV, bandwagon, a hefty category that now includes the Hyundai Kona, Kia Stonic and Seat Arona joining the more established Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, Vauxhall Crossland X and market-leading Nissan Juke.
The C3 Aircross replaces the supermini-MPV C3 Picasso (pictured), a more boxy and utilitarian model, and Citroen says the sales volumes of the small SUV versus MPV sectors made it a no-brainer to move towards this more fashionable end of the marketplace.
Citroen is trying to blend the best of both sectors, and says the new car combines the design and performance of an SUV with the interior space, convenience and comfort of an MPV. It sits 50mm higher than the regular C3, and that model will be the only Citroen that outsells the C3 Aircross in its first full year of sales next year.
Next year, the C3 Aircross will be joined by the larger C5 Aircross, which has already been launched in China. European markets will have to wait until the tail-end of 2018 for the car that shares much of its development and underpinnings with both the Peugeot 3008 and Vauxhall Grandland X.
What they said
What They Said
"New C3 Aircross brings the largest boot in class plus sector-leading modularity and space for occupants. It is an excellent choice for fleets needing the enhanced traction that Grip Control brings without the cost and complexity of all-wheel-drive.
A range of driver assist systems including Speed Sign Recognition, Driver Assistance Alert and Active Safety Brake help to ensure that duty of care needs are easily fulfilled.
Citroen’s tried and tested engines and superb RV forecasts should help deliver low total cost of ownership."
Martin Gurney, Director of Fleet & Used Vehicles, PSA Group UK.
Need to know
Three things we like...
There are lots of handy little stowage spots across the cabin
The handbrake looks odd, and takes a bit of getting used to, but actually works nicely
The coloured stripes on the back window add some colour from the outside...
...And one we don't
...but look like some sort of advertising decals across the window from the inside
Peppy engine once it gets spinning, although the light steering could do with a touch more weight to it.
Out-done by Vauxhall’s Crossland X, but otherwise emissions put some of the more long-standing rivals to shame.
Boot space is decent, and rear space for adults is in line with the class. There’s a good variety of stowage areas up front.
Mid-spec is OK, though the leap to the top trim isn’t too expensive . It would have been nice to get the Bi-Tone roof that’s standard only on top-spec cars – it really helps the car stand out.
Possibly the best-looking of the new breed of SUVs, it’s certainly got character and presence, but as mentioned, the roof colour and option packs are part of that.
Comfort and refinement 7/10
The 1.2 petrol engine that will be the biggest seller can be a bit loud under acceleration, but the ride quality is good enough.
Follows the characterful design of the exterior, although theoptional coloured inserts can look a little too try-hard.
Not the car’s finest element, with several functionality irritations including having to exit the nav screen to change temperature.
Whole life costs 9/10
Excellent P11D price is backed up by good residuals and emissions versus those of key rivals.
CCT opinion 8/10
In this most competitive of segments, the new C3 Aircross acquits itself very well indeed.
Stand-out design, efficiency and very competitive pricing are among the strong points of a new model worth considering in what is now a rather crowded segment.