Citroen is at last entering the popular crossover segment with a model it claims brings the brand’s own characteristics to what is a crowded sector.
On the road
On the road
It’s clear why Citroen needs the Citroen C5 Aircross; the C-SUV segment, as the brand calls it, doubled in size worldwide between 2012 and 2017, a decent portion of which were people abandoning the previously popular MPV segment for a more stylish and less boxy alternative that hints at an active lifestyle rather than the requirement for family transport – however true that may be for the driver.
This was a problem, because Citroen was at the core of the MPV sector with the excellent C4 Picasso and Grand C4 Picasso.
However, being a brand that has in recent years begun to rediscover its individuality and creativity, Citroen has eventually come into the crossover segment with a car that it claims addresses the concerns of buyers moving into the sector, namely the habitability, modularity and boot volume offered versus more practical but out-of-fashion MPVs.
Described as the new flagship for the Citroen range, the C5 Aircross is, according to the French firm, a result of the desire to “invent the next-generation SUV with all the practical functionality of an MPV”. Which means a focus on comfort, cabin modularity and the luggage space, as well as a bold and powerful design that brings the latest Citroen styling cues, including the narrow band of headlights and daytime running lights. It also gets the Airbumps down the sides, which are a Citroen signature and can be coloured white or red as well as the standard silver.
On the inside, the much-vaunted class-leading modularity comes courtesy of three individual rear seats of the same size that adjust back and forth by 150mm and recline to five different positions, as well as folding to provide a flat boot floor. The boot volume starts at 580 litres and, with the rear seats slid forward to the point where rear passengers have to be legless, goes up to a maximum of 720 litres. Still, the 580 is huge for the segment without needing to increase it.
The bad news is that the big boot is created at least partially at the expense of rear-seat space, which is a bit tight on both the legroom and headroom fronts, even with the seats pushed back as far as they go. Taller rear passengers will certainly find themselves rubbing their head on roof lining. Nevertheless, it’s ample for kids that haven’t had a mid-teen lanky growth spurt, so it depends on your priorities.
Up front, the stowage areas are reasonable, including a huge deep central bin, but the dashboard itself is a bit too much of a collage of different colours, textures and materials. There’s plenty going on, and a lot of it doesn’t feel particularly soft-touch or high quality.
But the seats are another matter. Citroen promises comfort, and from the middle Flair trim upwards, the C5 Aircross gets what the brand calls Advanced Co
The infotainment system runs through an 8.0-inch touchscreen that has to manage everything from audio and climate controls to navigation and the various options menus. It’s a bit too much, especially when you’re using the navigation in an unfamiliar town or city and want to change the temperature or radio settings. It takes way too many touches to make a change and get back to where you were, which is a common complaint across the various PSA Group brands of Peugeot, Citroen and DS that use the system.
Comfort Seats that feature 15mm of foam padding. And they’re certainly as soft and welcoming as any seats in this sector, which is nice.
The Citroen C5 Aircross comes with a choice of two petrol or two diesel engines, in both cases either 130hp or 180hp power outputs and in both cases fitted with the EAT8 automatic gearbox as standard on the higher output and a six-speed manual on the 130hp alternative. The only difference is that the 130hp diesel can be specced with the auto as well as the standard manual. All cars are front-wheel-drive, though the clever Grip Control system to help traction in slippery conditions is a £400 option.
The three trim levels run slightly differently from most Citroen ranges, reflecting the car’s flagship status by not having the entry Touch trim, and instead adding a Flair Plus above the normal Flair range-topper. The entry Feel specification gets autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning systems, as well as rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The mid-spec Flair adds sat-nav, 18-inch alloys, front parking sensors, rear camera, folding mirrors, privacy glass and the Citroen ConnectedCam dashcam system built into the rear-view mirror. It will automatically store the recording in the event of an incident, or can take pictures and videos via a button on the system that can then be transferred to a smartphone.
Flair Plus goes even further on the spec front, adding driver attention alert and auto high beam assist functions, as well as keyless entry, adaptive cruise control, wireless phone charging, a panoramic sunroof and 19-inch alloys.
To drive, the C5 is decidedly neutral. It’s comfortable, particularly over bigger thumps in the road, but it isn’t clear at the top of the class, despite Citroen’s comfort claims. The 130hp petrol or, as driven here, diesel engines are the sensible pick on cost and emissions grounds as they are more than adequate given the car’s lack of sporty pretentions. Only people with a frequently fully loaded car or that intend to tow should really need the more powerful alternatives. But the driving experience doesn’t offer any nasty surprises, with a decent gearchange via the manual shifter mounted at a nice height in the cabin, and the steering weight and feel and the refinement levels are above average.
This is an increasingly crowded segment and the C5 Aircross is going up against a lot of well-established competition, not least the Nissan Qashqai that established the crossover niche in the first place, as well as the big-selling Kia Sportage, the C5 Aircross’s own Peugeot 3008 stable-mate and rivals such as the excellent Seat Ateca. And there are plenty more besides those.
But the Citroen is well-equipped to prosper thanks to its stand-out styling, comfortable interior, big boot, decent running costs off the back of its excellent efficiency figures, and a good residual value. Equipment levels are also good.
It’s not perfect, with rear seat space and a higher insurance group than most rivals being particular complaints, and Citroen hasn’t reinvented or revolutionised the segment. But it has added a rather good car than gives the established players something new to think about.
Although this is Citroen's first attempt at a full-size crossover, it has offered off-road style cars in the past.
The C-Crosser, which was launched in 2007, was a 7-seater based on the Mitsubishi Outlander.
That car gave way to a model never sold in the UK called the C4 Aircross (pictured) that in Europe from 2012 before being replaced by the C5 Aircross.
The new car has already been on sale in China for around a year, but Citroen wanted to prioritise the smaller C3 Aircross (the CCT100 Compact Crossover of the Year) for Europe, before bringing the bigger brother into the marketplace. It also forms a 3-car core model line-up with the C4 Cactus model, which was revised last year in a move to bring Citroen into the mainstream and cover for the lack of a competitive lower-medium hatchback.
Parent company PSA Group, which also owns DS, Peugeot and Vauxhall, is trying to position Citroen back to its traditional strength of comfort, practicality and individuality, and claims its newest model is the "most comfortable model in its segment", as well as offering "unrivalled modularity" and "best-in-class boot space".
What they said
What They Said
“The C5 Aircross offers our fleet customers something genuinely fresh and unique. Bold styling, coupled with Citroen’s Advanced Comfort Programme features and MPV-like modularity across the range, is sure to appeal to fleets. And that’s especially true when the whole package is coupled to our super-efficient Euro6.2 diesel engines and our multi-award-winning PureTech petrols."
"There are 19 safety and driver aids too, plus six advanced connectivity technologies including wireless smartphone charging and ConnectedCam Citroen, our dashcam system.”
Martin Gurney, Director - Fleet & Used Vehicles, Groupe PSA
Need to know
Three things we like...
The Flair trim’s standard colour pack adds nice detailing touches
Citroen promises very comfortable seats, and it’s a promise fulfilled
The gearlever is positioned higher than some, and it’s a comfy spot for it
...And one we don't
Wipers that don’t fully lift up are a hindrance when you need to scrape an icy windscreen
The 130hp petrol or diesel engines offer enough performance to make the 180hp alternatives a bit of an indulgence. It’s not a car with driver entertainment at its heart though.
CO2 figures stack up very well against the competition’s, getting down below 110g/km.
It depends what your priorities are; the boot is class-leading, but at the expense of rear-seat space.
The kit count is reasonable, and optional extras are well priced to tempt, especially the packs.
The C5 Aircross has a more distinctive look than many of its contemporaries and carries the family face well; the slender headlights are particularly stylish.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
Ride comfort is good, although not quite at the supreme levels Citroen promises. However, the very comfy seats that come with the middle trim do meet with approval. Engine refinement is pretty good.
There are some good storage spots including a huge central bin, but there’s plenty of cheap plastic in the cabin and too many different types of material and style.
Citroen’s latest touchscreen system takes too many buttons out of the cabin and on to the various menu screens.
Whole life costs 7/10
A good residual value and great efficiency figures work in its favour although the insurance group is high, and some rivals are cheaper.
CCT opinion 8/10
A striking design and a welcome crossover addition from Citroen.
An efficient, good-looking crossover with a huge boot, the C5 Aircross brings Citroen into the heart of the segment, and certainly not before time.