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.

CAR (UK) - - Contents - By Phil Mc­Na­mara

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

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