Few car companies can boast more than 100 years of history, but in order to continue that legacy, car companies need to stay in touch with the times.
Citroen’s place in the motoring lexicon is well established but years of pitching products that, while interesting and able in their own right, have not hit a chord with the buying public means it’s under pressure to find some middle ground.
Following on from the C3 Aircross comes the larger five-seat C5 Aircross, a relatively conventional SUV that still manages to convey a sense of individuality that the company is renowned for.
Based on the bones of parent company Peugeot’s 3008, the C5 Aircross is instantly striking, thanks to its flowing lines, bold lighting cues and short overhangs.
The 19-inch rims on our tester match well with the C5, while splashes of black around the bottom of the car - including those lower side panels, or rocker panels, that pay homage to the Citroen air bumps of the Cactus range – draw it lower to the ground.
Brightwork is kept to a modernistic minimum, while colour highlights give the C5 some visual pop.
It’s still a strong, bold design that flies in the face of convention, but it’s not so outlandish as to scare punters away.
The Citroen C5 Aircross will come in two variants that are separated only by a smattering of spec items, simplifying things for a company that only has a small footprint in the Australian market.
The entry-level Feel costs $39,990 and comes standard with a 121kW/240Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.
The Shine variant we have here sits at the top of the range and is priced at $43,990, adding 18-inch rims instead of 17s, acoustic windscreen and side glass, an inductive phone charger and half-leather quilted seat trim over the base C5 Aircross Feel's standard specification, though it keeps the same basic mechanical package.
And while you might see a white car in the pics, it's actually some sort of fancy multi-layered pearl white that costs $1050 extra, but does come with the red highlights as shown. A bog stock white one will cost no more, and offer black highlights instead of the red. Metallic paints including red, blue and black will add $690.
Yet despite the high volume of standard kit aboard the C5, including upmarket items like a digital dashboard, the fiercely fought medium SUV sector means it needs to be on its game money wise – and unfortunately the C5 is on the high side of the ledger, especially considering its FWD petrol-powered drivetrain.
For example, the front-drive Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport comes in at $35,590, Volkswagen’s Tiguan Comfortline sits at $38,650, while the highly specced Toyota RAV4 Cruiser petrol-powered front driver comes in at $39,140.
Citroen offers a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on the C5, and it wants to see your car back in for a service every 12 months or 20,000km. It’ll cost $3010 over five years, and Citroen insists that it includes items like brake fluid, cabin filters and the like, where others may not.
The plan can also be purchased to cover the car for up to 12 years or 180,000km!
Against a combined fuel economy claim of 7.9 litres per 100km, we recorded a real-world figure of 9.3L/100km over 500km, using 46 litres of the 53 litres total available in the tank.
Expect to see 650km or so of range from a single tank, and filling the C5 with minimum 95 octane petrol will cost about $85.
A 12.3-inch digital dashboard and 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and digital radio is standard, along with automatic lights and wipers, AEB that works between 5km/h and 85km/h, active lane keep assist with blind spot warning, multiple drive modes, a foot-activated electric tailgate and sliding second-row seats.
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There’s a gear-by-wire shifter, paddles behind the steering wheel and alloy pedals, too.
The Shine as tested here scores 18-inch rims instead of 17s, acoustic windscreen and side glass, an inductive phone charger and half-leather quilted seat trim.
More and more SUVs are coming with sliding second-row seats as standard, and the C5 joins that group. The seat backs can also be adjusted, which means you can grow rear cargo space to 720 litres by sliding them forward and setting the seat backs vertically.
A false floor also frees up space, with 580 litres available with the seats slid back. Drop all the seats to yield a capacious 1630 litres of space that can swallow a large mountain bike without fuss.
The CX-5, by way of comparison, offers up a relatively meagre 442L and 1342L with the seats down.
Space in the back seats is more than acceptable, though the curvature of the roof over the sides can make taller rear seat passengers feel hemmed in. The front seats are good, though the seat base could be a few millimetres longer.
The C5 comes well equipped with plenty of active and passive safety gear, including video-based AEB that works between 5km/h and 85km/h, lane departure warning and assistance, six airbags, surround-view reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors and traffic sign recognition.
It’s rated at a maximum of five Euro NCAP stars in the same specs that it arrives in Australia in, but it hasn’t been ratified by ANCAP yet.
While the exterior stands out for all the right reasons, it’s a similar story for the C5 Aircross' interior, where convention and coolness co-exist in harmony. A simple, airy cabin is dominated by unique seat trimming and some unique touches throughout.
A conventionally sized steering wheel sits in front of a digital dashboard that’s complemented by a moderately sized multimedia screen and a handful of capacitive buttons to control primary functions.
Like the exterior, the inside of the C5 is cheerful and practical, and unusual enough to pique interest without falling over into silliness for the sake of it.
Citroen has always done the comfort thing very well, and the C5 is no exception. For example, the top-spec Shine comes with upholstery that offer a soft quilted top layer over a firmer foam base, and after nearly 1000km of testing (including a non-stop 280km stint), we can attest to their comfort.
The digital dash is crystal clear, and offers a variety of configs to suit the driver. Slight markdown – it took me three days to find out how to dim the dash display, and yes, I even looked in the manual.
Key to its comfort, though, is its clever suspension set, which I’ll talk about in a second. Suffice to say, the C5 rides and handles like something twice its price.
On the road
That suspension is based not on a complex cross-linked arrangement of shocks, nor does it use internally adjustable adaptive dampers. Instead, Citroen tapped the expertise of its motorsport teams to build a shock for the C5 that works properly at all speeds.
And it really is as simple as that. Thanks to a clever – and patented – hydraulic upper bump stop system, the C5’s low-speed ride around town is plush and pillowy, while at highway speeds, its body roll is well controlled and its bump absorption is excellent. It tracks and corners well, too, though the steering feel is a little bit light and numb.
Its braking feel is a little weird, though, with a bit too much of a dead zone between initial application and actual slowing that needs careful modulation around town so as not to upset your passengers.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine does a fine job of hustling the 1400kg C5 around once up to speed, but it takes some prodding from a standstill to get cracking. This can be overcome by using the Sport mode, which simply sharpens the throttle’s response.
Equally, its 121kW and 240Nm will need to work hard if the C5 is laden and driving through hilly terrain.
I thought Citroen had missed a trick not using LED headlights, but the old-school halogens worked brilliantly well on country roads, and the C5’s traffic sign recognition system is one of the best in the game, especially at this price point.
The Shine’s 19-inch wheels are narrower than most others, using a 205mm wide Michelin tyre where others would offer 225mm or even 235mm wide rubber.
Citroen says that the narrower rubber improves comfort and lowers rolling resistance, and while the tyre won’t be as easy to find in more remote locations at short notice should you damage one, it works on the C5 as advertised. A space-saver spare lurks under the boot floor in any case.
In a crowded, price-sensitive market like Australia, the prevailing winds blow right against companies like Citroen, which lacks both a strong dealer base and a deep user pool.
However, the C5 Aircross is a valid and competent competitor in the medium SUV class, combining good looks, smart spec, comfort and relative frugality in equal measure.
Stacked up against it, though, is its pricing position against a formidable and well established field, which will no doubt see it excluded from many people’s shopping lists.
Honestly, though, if you’re in the market for a mid-sized SUV, you could do worse than just try out the C5 for yourself. It’s good looking, it drives well, it carries five in comfort, it has loads of cargo room, and it won’t cost the earth to own and run.
Model: Citroen C5 Aircross Shine
Engine: 1598cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 121kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 240Nm @ 1400rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1400kg
Fuel economy: 7.9L/100km
On sale: Now