Hit and miss crossover from Citroën manages to be funky and familiar at the same time
The mad popularity of SUVs these days must have made it easy for Citroën to reinvent its C3 Picasso MPV as this chunky new C3 Aircross crossover.
It looks fun, in the same way that a Fiat Panda 4×4 does. As it’s a Citroën, though, it will only ever be two-wheel drive because it’s based on the C3 supermini (and Vauxhall Crossland X) platform. So it’s not a full-fat SUV, but it does have a respectable 175mm of ground clearance, plus hill descent control, adaptable traction control for off-road use and – on some versions at least – all-season tyres. As long as you’re not a polar adventurer or a deep-jungle explorer, it should transport you to most of your favoured active lifestyle destinations.
The engine choices start with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder 81bhp petrol which you can have in a basic car from £13,995. There are three trims on offer. The second one starts at £15,100 and turbocharges the 1.2 to produce 109bhp or 128bhp. Thankfully Citroën has binned the terrible single-clutch automated manual gearbox and replaced it with a proper six-speed automatic that’s an option on the 109bhp car. For diesellers there are 99bhp and 119bhp 1.6-litre cars, neither of which can be had with the auto ‘box. The top spec Aircross is £19,525.
Citroën C3 Aircross BlueHDI 120 Flair
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Torque: 224lb ft
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1233kg
Top speed: 114mph
CO2/tax band: 107g/km, 23%
All Aircrosses throws in roof rails, 60/40 split rear seats, opening rear windows (don’t laugh, you don’t always get those on a small Citroën), and a fold-flat passenger seat. On this top-spec Flair model you also get a sliding rear bench to boost cargo capacity from 410 to 520 litres, or 1289 litres with the rear bench down. That means you can dig quite a lot of active stuff out of the garage.
As you can see, styling-wise it falls into that oft-quoted ‘funky’ category, inside as well as. If you insist on solid, high-quality cabin materials, best look elsewhere, as the surfaces here feel mainly unyielding and look eminently crackable. A bit of dolling up hither and yon gives you a reasonably favourable impression, but buyers will know they’re not in premium country. The big touchscreen that features in the two higher-spec models is slightly annoying because that’s where the climate controls are buried.
As far as driving it goes, it does the job and is maybe even a bit better than you might expect. Relative to the C3, Citroën has stiffened up the roll resistance to try and dilute the hatch’s tendency to wobble during turning, braking, or acceleration. The consequence of that characteristic is to make smooth driving in C3 a pretty challenging affair. The factory tweaks have added much more control to the Aircross. The steering is still light, and lurches a bit from nothing happening to suddenly everything happening, but some would say that’s a very Citroëny (and therefore not unwelcome) quirk. The diesel in our car was very quiet, and the manual gearshift nicely effective.
Whether you’d want to go out and buy an Aircross depends on what sort of a premium you place on standing out in a crowd. It looks different and fresh, but from a driver’s perspective you’ll find nothing remarkable going on. You’ll notice an absence of solidity, but again, many actually like that feeling in their Citroëns. Dynamically, it’s not bothersome, which sounds like faint praise and is, but its rivals aren’t exactly blinders, so relatively speaking it stands its ground in the marketplace. Same old Citroën, then – and who will damn them for that?