Citroën C3 Aircross
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
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In late 2019, Citroën made a return to South Africa after a short three year break. In a kind of automotive symmetry, they returned with three models: the C5 Aircross SUV and the C3 hatchback - both of which we've already driven - and the C3 Aircross.
The C5 Aircross is at the top end of the range, the C3 is at the lower end; so the C3 Aircross is in the middle of the lineup, which is fitting because it is basically a combination of the two, with the trimmings of the C5 Aircross and the more compact footprint of the C3.
And it looks very much like a Citroën - that automatically means it's quite different to anything else on the road. Even though it's fighting in the competitive crossover segment, the C3 Aircross isn't scared to show off typically strong traits; which probably won't please everybody, but it certainly gets it noticed a lot. The rear is the most generic part of the design, featuring squarish tail lights that are similar to the C3 - or the Volkswagen Polo for that matter. But from there it gets immediately more interesting. The rear window between the C and D pillars has permanent horizontal orange stripes; up on the roof, a pair of bright orange roof rails, which, instead of blending with the A pillar up front, project forward in a sort of on a horizontal horn shape. Which probably presents a health and safety hazard, but more than that, it does create a problem on the move.
Before we get to that, though, the rest of the styling is made up of more orange highlights for the mirror caps and headlight surrounds. Those headlights are recessed into the bumper below a set of thin LED daytime running lights. The C3 Aircross is a sort of upright, yet chunky, yet well-proportioned thing that does a really great job of standing out.
Citroën’s return to the country may be part of their parent company’s attempts to get a bigger market share across all its brands (which include Peugeot and Opel), but in South Africa’s case, the comeback has been slightly limited. In Europe, you can order your Citroën with petrol, diesel or even hybrid drivetrains. But for the time being in South Africa, there are only two choices of engine: a 1.6 turbo petrol for the C5 Aircross and a 1.2 turbo petrol for everything else.
That means the C3 Aircross gets the 1.2 petrol with 121kW kilowatts and 205 metres. Drive is to the front wheels through a six speed automatic gearbox, which is the only choice in that department as well. But besides that lack of choice, there's not a lot to complain about because this car has absolutely no problem shifting along, and it's equally good around town and on the open road.
I did a mini road trip with this car, covering about 500 kilometres on a getaway to the mountains, and it just always felt good - even with a full load of passengers and luggage. There's a manual mode for the gearbox when you want to prepare for and overtake, but even without that, the crossover coped with the long haul with no issues at all. The mixed conditions I drove gave a better indication of fuel consumption. Citroën claims a combined figure of 6,5 litres per 100km, and the final figure achieved was an impressive 7.0 per 100km.
More impressive than the engine's performance was the interior space and the ride set up in general. On the mechanical side of things, the C3 Aircross has got decent handling, and even managed to react quickly to sharp steering inputs - useful when dodging mountain road potholes. As a bonus, it's also got a pretty tight turning circle. From an occupant happiness point of view, the suspension set up offers a lot of really smooth comfort.
Citroën is shouting about the Advanced Comfort Seats, which they say have a particular design for the padding, a reinforced structure, an exceptional lumbar support. They're not wrong about the advanced comfort. But whether it's a five minute commute or three hours on the open road, the cabin is just such a nice place to spend some time, and the seats have a lot to do with it. I've said previously that the best seats in the business belong to Lexus - and I stand by that - but the Citroën design isn't too far down the scale.
The rest of the interior is pretty much like the styling in that it's typically Citroën, with a user friendly layout and good materials. Our test car was the Shine spec, which is the higher of the two spec levels available. It's got some nice toys like cruise control and sat nav as standard, with a touchscreen set that includes smartphone integration. The real highlight in here, though, is the space.
We were for up on our road trip, all adults, one of whom was six feet tall and chose to sit in the back. So it was a full complement of bodies and a weekend's worth of stuff for each of us, and a supply of food. While a small bag did find its way into the rear of the cabin between the passengers, the rest all fitted in the boot, thanks in part to a split load floor. And despite that bit of carry on in the back, everybody remained comfortable throughout the trip.
I have been pretty well impressed by all the Citroëns that I've driven. They all seem to fill their roles really well with an added slice of individuality. And for me, there's been really no question about their ability to compare with more popular brands and products in South Africa. But the C3 Aircross hasn't been as impressive. There are a couple of reasons why: the first has to do with those roof rails I mentioned earlier. Yes, they look great, but they also have a design flaw in that they add a noticeable amount of wind noise when you're on the move. There are also a couple of minor build quality issues at low speed: a very odd rattle coming from the left hand air vent, and squeaky right rear door. With just four thousand kilometres on the clock, it seems the C3 Aircross we drove already needed some attention.
I will concede the test scores do have a hard life, so maybe those two things are particular to our test car. So reducing the font size on those issues, the C3 Aircross was given a chance to prove its crossover skills, and it absolutely scored. Wherever I took it, it stayed comfortable and offered good space with a great drive. And on top of that, it's got a measure of style that just isn't matched in its class.
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