Citroën C3 Aircross Cactus style, actual substance
Cutesy small SUV is the third car in Citroën’s comeback. If you like the looks, there’s a lot to like.
CUTE. BABIES, KITTENS, Pixar films, American compliments – they are the home of cute. But how many car companies do cute? Citroën, that’s who. The C3 Aircross is the renewed brand’s third instalment after the C4 Cactus and the C3. It’s the Toy Story
3 of cute, if you will. It’s a teeny SUV, not much longer than a Fiesta-sized hatch, but with its raised ceiling allowing for higher-mounted seats, there’s extra interior space and a more commanding driving position. Indeed Citroën describes the C3 Aircross as an SUV outside and an MPV on the inside.
There’s truth in that marketing line. The rear seats can accommodate knees and heads belonging to people up to 6ft 2in; Citroën claims that’s best-in-class. They also fold 60:40 and the backrests recline; choose a top-spec Flair for a ski hatch and sliding rear bench to boost the bounteous boot space (its minimum 410 litres is more than a Focus or Golf can muster).
Spend up to £490 on the family pack to add a fold-flat front passenger seat for carting long loads, and safety features such as automated emergency braking and high-beam lamps, plus a driver monitoring system. The C3 Aircross is a car that really tries to please the family.
And what of pleasing the driver? The Aircross is a much better steer than the C3 hatchback, the sister car which shares its PF1 platform. Engineers credit bespoke dampers and chassis tuning, which have eliminated the supermini’s disconcertingly floaty ride and its nautical bobbing under braking. Decent body control and ride comfort feel more Ford than Citroën (that’s a compliment), and the front struts and rear beam are pretty good at suppressing the clonks of ravaged tarmac. The effortlessly light steering puts the airiness into Aircross: it’s a bit vague around the dead ahead, but probably fine for the target customer.
We drove the 1.6 BlueHDi diesel with 118bhp, coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox which, like a teenager, responds much better to gentle guidance than hasty force. This is a very personal observation, but if you have long legs and short arms, opt for the torque converter auto, as eliminating the third pedal leaves a space through which to extend your leg to get comfy. The auto ’box was tested with the anticipated best-selling engine, a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol with 108bhp.
Shifts can be a bit hesitant at times so engage the Sport button to make them snappier, or row through them in manual using the gearstick. PSA’s engine is one of the best three-pots on sale, with flutters of encouragement as you wind it up. Performance is nothing special – 0-62mph in 11.8sec (half a sec slower than the six-speed manual); the gruffer diesel takes 10.7sec.
While the front-drive Aircross has no pretensions to conquer Jeep’s Rubicon Trail, £400 buys Grip Control. A Land Rover-style controller tweaks the throttle map and traction control to help you scamper across mud, sand or snow, and comes with all-season Hankook tyres and automated braking downhill for controlled descents.
Citroën bizarrely had us drive the Tour de Corse, Corsica’s ‘10,000 turns rally’. So I spent much of the test drive hanging from the seatbelts like a marionette on its strings, rolling through second-gear hairpins and seldom getting out of third. The endless tight cornering highlighted the enormous blind spot at the base of the windscreen pillar. We’d love to tell you definitively how the Aircross fared on motorways, but there weren’t any. A brief stretch of 60mph carriageway suggested road and wind noise are adequately suppressed; the snappy brakes don’t suffer from any Gallic laissez-faire.
But enough of all this driving talk, the C3 Aircross prioritises design and aesthetics. Citroën offers 90 different flavours of Aircross, thanks to exterior and interior upgrades which customers will find hard to resist. Owners can try to mirror their favourite fashion accessory or footie team’s colours: Man City blue or Netherlands orange metallic paint costs £520. To which you can add a contrasting roof, and a choice of white, silver or orange colour packs which spice up details such as the roof bars and rear quarterlight lacquer. There are four optional cockpit upholstery choices too, ranging from enticing rough fabric (£350) with a dash section lined in what appears to be carpet tile to £750 Colorado leather. One gripe is that pretty much everything is controlled via the central touchscreen: surely it would be better to hide occasional-use items like Grip Control in an electronic menu, and have hard control shortcuts for essentials like air-con.
The C3 Aircross will be a deeply polarising car, with as many appalled as attracted by the cartoony graphics and primary colours. But there are rational benefits and good value beneath the cute. The C3 Aircross wants to please. And it has what it takes to become a Woody or a Nemo – a real family favourite.
Double-length glass roof is the Aircross’s most expensive option at £950, adding to airiness of cabin
No awd but Grip Control stops you becoming a sandcastle
Rocks at 11 o’clock! Blind spot makes tight turns tricky
Odd protuberances come as standard: that’s the handbrake; gearknob’s the size of a golfer’s 1-wood