LOOK AT MOI, LOOK AT MOI

Citroen’s com­ing C3 Air­cross city SUV won’t fail to gain your at­ten­tion

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - NEWS - RICHARD BLACKBURN

F rench brand Citroen is strug­gling to re­tain a foothold in the Aus­tralian mar­ket. The maker has been guilty of try­ing to sell the wrong prod­uct at the wrong price in re­cent years and lo­cal sales have dwin­dled ac­cord­ingly.

But there’s a bright spot on the hori­zon for 2019 in the form of the C3 Air­cross. Any­thing but anony­mous, it’s a look-at-me, city-based SUV with a long list of stan­dard fea­tures.

The chunky soft-roader is guar­an­teed to turn heads with its two-tone paint, coloured roof racks and un­con­ven­tional cabin de­sign.

Set to ar­rive early next year, the Air­cross will do bat­tle in the cut-throat com­pact SUV seg­ment as a Euro­pean-chic al­ter­na­tive to Ja­panese vol­ume sell­ers in­clud­ing the Mazda CX-3, Honda CR-V and Mit­subishi ASX.

Its ma­jor sell­ing point will be in­di­vid­u­al­ity. Buy­ers will choose from eye-catch­ing com­bi­na­tions of bright or­ange roof racks, elec­tric blue paint and black or white con­trast­ing roofs.

The ap­proach is not revo­lu­tion­ary — Mini has been do­ing it for years and Citroen it­self had a baf­fling ar­ray of per­son­al­i­sa­tion op­tions on its DS3 small car. It wasn’t a hit with buy­ers and was a stock han­dling night­mare for deal­ers, so the French brand has taken a unique ap­proach to the styling of the new Air­cross.

From the most pop­u­lar colour com­bi­na­tions it found in an on­line poll, Citroen will have only the top five. Lead­ing the poll was a blue ve­hi­cle with white roof and high­lights, fol­lowed by a red car with black roof and sil­ver ac­cents and a white ve­hi­cle with black roof and or­ange high­lights.

The Air­cross’s rear­most win­dows are made of poly­car­bon­ate and are painted with a vene­tian-blind style pat­tern to add an­other dash of colour. Pol­ished black al­loy wheels com­plete the look.

On the ex­am­ples we drove at the Air­cross’s in­ter­na­tional me­dia launch in France, the colour splashes car­ried into the cabin, with or­ange high­lights on the air vents, steer­ing wheel and seat stitch­ing. Citroen says it’s yet to de­cide whether to have these on Aus­tralian cars. It should.

The fresh ap­proach to styling car­ries into the cabin, where the seat fab­rics and sur­face treat­ments are a wel­come change from the usual grey or black com­bi­na­tions in ri­vals.

Tyre-kick­ers will be im­pressed by the spa­cious­ness of the cabin. An up­right dash, big win­dows and a tall, long body cre­ate an airy, roomy feel. Vi­sion is good for the driver, there’s abun­dant head­room and the rear pews have enough leg, knee and foot­room for adults.

The rear load area is above av­er­age size and there’s a handy false floor for stor­ing valu­ables out of sight. A space-saver spare isn’t ideal but is par for the course in this seg­ment.

Citroen says there will be just one welle­quipped grade, priced from be­tween $30,000 and $35,000 drive-away. That puts it at the top end of the seg­ment price-wise but Citroen says past ex­pe­ri­ence showed buy­ers shunned the cheaper mod­els in its range.

Tech high­lights in­clude wire­less charg­ing for late model smart­phones, head-up dis­play, sat­nav with speed limit warn­ings, smart­phone mir­ror­ing, bird’s-eye view re­vers­ing cam­era and key­less en­try and start. Au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing will be stan­dard. Lane de­par­ture warn­ing, blind spot alert and auto high-beam dim­ming will be avail­able.

ON THE ROAD

The 1.2-litre three-cylin­der turbo punches above its weight. It’s not the most re­fined, though, send­ing vi­bra­tions through the steer­ing wheel at lower speeds and shud­der­ing when the stop-start en­gages. It has enough urge for over­tak­ing and feels strong, if a lit­tle gruff off the mark.

Built more for com­fort than cor­ner carv­ing, the Air­cross soaks up bumps and thumps well but feels a lit­tle top-heavy through the cor­ners, lean­ing on its tyres and toss­ing oc­cu­pants’ heads from side to side over bumps. The steer­ing is light but ac­cu­rate enough for this type of ve­hi­cle. The seats are com­fort­able, with am­ple ad­just­ment for find­ing the right driv­ing po­si­tion.

VER­DICT

The Air­cross’s suc­cess will de­pend on the even­tual value-for-money equa­tion when it lands next year. Its stand­out looks and comfy cabin are a re­fresh­ing change from the rest of the city SUV set.

FI RST DRIVE

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