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Driven: Citroen C3 Aircross. Image by Citroen.

Driven: Citroen C3 Aircross
The idiosyncratic C3 Aircross sort of replaces the C4 Cactus and C3 Picasso. Is it any good?

   



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Citroen C3 Aircross

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: Distinctive looks, interesting interior, ride comfort, three-cylinder engine

Not so good: Not the most spacious in class, front end feels a bit woolly, uninteresting to drive

Key Facts

Model tested: Citroen C3 Aircross Flair PureTech 110 S&S Auto
Price: C3 Aircross range starts from 13,995; Flair PureTech 110 Auto from 19,200, car as tested 23,020
Engine: 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed EAT6 automatic
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 126/km (VED 160 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 50.4mpg
Top speed: 114mph
0-62mph: 11.8 seconds
Power: 110hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 1,500rpm

Our view:

Citroen has returned to its traditional roots of offering out-there styling on many of its vehicles in recent years. The C4 Cactus was the watershed moment for the French firm to once more go fully excentrique on us, and we couldn't be happier. The Cactus, the C3 supermini and now this, the C3 Aircross, which is (rather unsurprisingly) based on the C3, are all eye-catching machines that could only be Citroens. Albeit the company has decided to try and aesthetically tone the Cactus down for its midlife facelift, which we think is a terrible mistake.

However, Citroen says that the Aircross will now fulfil the wacky crossover function the Cactus used to, as well as replacing the unloved C3 Picasso small MPV, so it's a good job this C3 Aircross looks cracking. There's a wealth of detailing to drink in and not an Airbump in sight, either. So enjoy the silver skidplates in the big, chunky front and rear bumpers, take note of the coloured pinstriping around the main lamp clusters that is repeated on the door mirrors and roof rails in certain specifications, delight in those strange graphics on the glass in the C-pillars - the Aircross undoubtedly has an appealing appearance all of its very own. Any car that can carry off a colour called Soft Sand with consummate ease has to be a decent bit of styling, we reckon.

The interior is also excellent, with an interesting dashboard covered in a light-coloured fabric and air vents which recreate the exterior pinstriping effect. The tidy PSA infotainment screen is located centrally in the console, with useful shortcut buttons for key functions on the centre stack and a pair of comfortable, attractive seats up front. As it's a bigger car, there's more space inside the Aircross than there is in a regular C3 and it also has a boot that kicks off at a useful 410 litres.

Equipment levels on the Flair are also impressive, with dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and go, Citroen Connect Navigation, auto wipers and cruise control among a lengthy standard kit list. Options on our test car (beyond the 520 metallic paint) amounted to an opening panoramic roof (950), the 600 Park Assist Pack, the Metropolitan Grey ambience (350), a Techno Hi-Fi pack for 650 (decent sounds on this) and the Family Pack (350). Grip Control (400) to boost traction on the front-wheel drive Aircross and the no-cost orange colour pack for the exterior brought the total for the crossover to a reasonable 23,020.

It's a shame most of the materials used in the attractive dashboard feel a bit tough and unyielding, but other than that, for looks, interior feel and equipment levels, the Aircross is a success because it's obvious there's plenty of showroom allure to a well-stocked vehicle that looks like this for less than 25 grand. Oh, and two quick plus/minus points we found after a week in the car's company: we were annoyed at having to turn Lane Departure Warning off every single time we started the Citroen, which requires a lengthy press-and-hold of a button down to the right of the steering column; but we were impressed with the fact that the sequential side-gate of the EAT6 automatic had its shift pattern the correct way around - back to go up a gear, forward for down.

In terms of the driving experience, it's much like the C3 hatch, but there is one crucial improvement and it's another classic Citroen trait: a floaty ride quality. Slightly taller and (presumably) softer suspension than its stablemate gives the C3 Aircross a wonderfully supple motion to the way it traverses knobbly asphalt. It's still not perfect - it's no hydropneumatic CX, for instance - but it's definitely smoother and more Citroen-y than we remember the C3, which immediately makes you more predisposed to the Aircross.

However, that softness does have a slight negative impact on the handling, which isn't anything to write home about in a regular C3 anyway. In truth, every facet of the Aircross' dynamics is well calibrated for easy-going day-to-day driving duties, such as light steering and a silky six-speed autobox and acceptable body control, but there's no one area that would ever make a keener driver go 'wow'.

It's affably pleasant in town. It's affably pleasant on narrow country lanes. It's affably pleasant on wider, faster A-roads. And it's affably pleasant on motorways. Sure, there's nothing drastically wrong with Citroen's approach here, because small crossover buyers are not known for their door-handles-cornering driving style, but the SEAT Arona has shown that civil cruising manners need not come at the expense of a frisson of driving fun when the time is right.

Fuel economy is also an issue on the Aircross. With exactly the same 110hp 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine as the C3 we drove earlier in the year, there's 153kg difference between the two cars - the Aircross is 1,203 kilos, which is not bad at all for a crossover, but the hatchback is a scanty 1,050kg. So whereas we got 48.6mpg at an average 40mph across 512 miles in the C3, we only saw 33.9mpg from the Aircross at 29mph across 239 miles. Admittedly, the hatchback had some motorway runs to boost its economy when the Aircross only pottered about on rural roads, but even so it's clear the heavier, taller C3 is nothing like as good on fuel as the normal car.

It sounds like we weren't that enamoured with the C3 Aircross, and to some extent that's true. Beyond its stylish looks and airy interior, it's not the most memorable thing you'll drive, even in a market segment known for rather turgid chassis dynamics. However, the improved ride quality of the Aircross over and above a C3, means it's well worth checking this crossover out instead of the regular hatch.

It doesn't matter that this pseudo-SUV's handling is a little wobblier than the C3, because that machine in itself isn't that exciting to drive. So, while it can be tough to stand out in a crowded and lucrative marketplace, the Citroen just about manages it by sticking to two fine traditions of this company - zany looks and super-soft dampers. If that sounds appealing to you, then by all means give the amiable Citroen C3 Aircross a whirl.

Alternatives:

Fiat 500X: A lot better than the excruciating 500L, the 500X enlarges the Fiat 500 concept to great success, although its interior isn't as wilfully funky as that of the Aircross.

Hyundai Kona: If anything will draw stares quicker than the C3, then it's the startling visage of Hyundai's Kona. It's one of a new wave of small crossovers that's proficient, but not very exciting to drive.

MINI Countryman: Has the badge cachet, has plenty of space, has a great chassis, but the MINI remains an expensive in more desirable specifications.


Matt Robinson - 24 Nov 2017



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2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.

2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.2017 Citroen C3 Aircross drive. Image by Citroen.








 

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