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2019 Citroen C3 Aircross review

By Andy Enright, 18 Oct 2018 Reviews

2019 Citroen C3 Aircross review

We drive Citroen’s new compact SUV in France ahead of its Aussie debut

Citroen is being selective with the C3 Aircross compact SUV. Only one model’s being imported and it’ll go head to head with the likes of Mazda’s CX-3 and Toyota’s C-HR. The version Citroen has selected for us is certainly well equipped, but is that enough in this cut-throat corner of the market?

WHAT IS IT

Aircross is Citroen-speak for SUV and the C3 is its dinkiest offering, slotting in beneath the C5 Aircross flagship in a range that’s being cut back to avoid the confusing proliferation of models. It rides on the fairly ancient PF1 chassis, which was first seen on the 2002 Citroen C3, but geriatric chassis aside, there’s a lot to like here.

Read next: Citroen C3 Aircross review

WHY WE'RE TESTING IT

Citroen hasn’t had a particularly distinguished history with SUVs (anyone remember the C-Crosser?) so the C3 Aircross represents a new dawn for the marque. With only one model being imported it’s still a bit of a toe in the water, but when Citroen invited us o try a car at the Paris Motor Show, we jumped at the chance.

MAIN RIVALS

Fiat 500X; Hyundai Kona; Mazda CX-3; Toyota C-HR

THE WHEELS VERDICT

Clearly much will depend on final pricing, but the C3 Aircross is a likeable and well-equipped entrant into this corner of the market. It’s never going to win any prizes for chassis dynamics, but it represents a left-field alternative to Japanese market leaders that are sold with three-year warranties. The key challenge for its importers will be publicising the fact that it even exists. If Citroen can get bums on seats, it’ll make sales.

PLUS: Equipment; pert styling; boot space; cabin utility
MINUS: Chassis feels (and is) old; so-so refinement; some typically French ergonomic quirks

THE WHEELS REVIEW

MOTORING journalists dread one sort of car in particular. It’s that car that shines during a brief liaison and which, with a bit more seat time, grates on its keeper. These cars perform well during road tests, only for buyers to then tell us we were wrong. The Citroen C3 Aircross is not such a car. In fact, it’s the opposite. Upon first acquaintance, its minor controls seem putzy, the ride and handling are nothing to write home about and it lacks the sort of quality sheen and finish you’d get from something like a Mazda CX-3. Then you hear that Citroen is planning to price it somewhere in the $30K to $35K bracket and you figure it’s dead in the water right from the get go.

Read next: The weird and the wonderful of Citroen’s hidden treasure trove

That sort of money buys you a top spec Toyota C-HR Koba or a pinnacle-trim Mazda CX-3, the Akari, both rivals, like the Citroen, driving the front wheels only. That’s quite some company to be rubbing up against. Citroen is nothing if not realistic about the C3 Aircross’ sales prospects, accepting that it’ll be a minority player here in Australia, but the longer you spend with the car, the more you appreciate some of its less obvious qualities.

Riding on the same 2640mm wheelbase as the Opel Crossland X, the Pierre Authier-styled Aircross is powered by an 81kW/230Nm 1.2-litre turbo three-pot engine, mated to a six-speed Aisin torque-converter automatic gearbox. Rest easy those of you who are still having waking nightmares about those old Citroen robotised manual boxes. In fact, the engine and gearbox combination are very well matched, offering decent flexibility and reasonable shift logic. The shift action follows a weirdly convoluted gate and it’s all too easy to end up with the car in ‘manual’ mode instead of Drive. A straight back and forth shifter would be far preferable.

Start flinging the dinky C3 Aircross at a few corners and it’s certainly game, clinging on fairly well at the front, albeit with a fairly keen ESC calibration. Unfortunately, there’s a fairly firm primary ride which can manifest in an unsettled, agitated feel on poor surfaces. Citroen claims to have increased the roll stiffness on this car versus the C3, but it’s still fairly lax. If you were expecting a French car that floated along on springs softer than a feather bed, you’ll be disappointed and that’s a little odd for a company that’s trying to reassert its credentials in ride comfort. Still, it’s no worse than a Fiat 500X - better in fact - but in accepting this sort of implacability of spring rates, you’d expect something that can scuttle through bends like a C-HR or a CX-3. Not so.

Read next: Australia to miss out on Citroen’s DS French luxury brand

The C3 Aircross wins back credit with its clever interior. Unlike European models, the Australian car will miss out on the sliding rear bench, the seat instead being fixed at its further forward position, so both variants get an identical 410 litres of boot space. That’s a clear 60 litres more than a CX-3 and 33 more than a C-HR and what’s more the Citroen offers more rear legroom than either of these rivals. It also features a flat folding front seat which means that you can slot items up to 2.40m long inside. Couple that with the most headroom in its class and up to 1289 litres of luggage space with the rear seats folded flat and you have a small SUV that punches above its weight on utility.

It’s also packed with equipment. Citroen saw no benefit in trying to sell a stripper-spec version of the Aircross, so have thrown virtually every bit of kit possible at it. Wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a seven-inch touchscreen, a head-up display, sat nav, speed limit recognition, a top-vision 180-degree camera, keyless entry and start, 17-inch diamond cut alloy wheels, a contrast roof, LED daytime running lights and cruise control with speed limiter all come as standard. That’s on top of safety kit like AEB, stability control, forward collision alert, automatic high-beam assist, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors and city park assist. The resolution of the cameras is pretty average but that aside, grumbling seems churlish.

Read next: Peugeot and Citroen work to reduce customer confusion 

The materials inside feel tough, but there is a fair amount of hard plastics used. In other cars that might feel a little downmarket, but this is a Citroen utility vehicle. You expect it to feel a bit ruggedised. The dash architecture is fairly conventional albeit with some appealing splashes of colours and funky shapes to the vents and clocks. The off-road exterior affectations such as the elevated ride height, wing extenders and front and rear bash plates are more cosmetic than functional as you’d never take this front-driver off road, but if they’ll let you accidentally bump over a kerb or a parking bay marker without crunching more expensive body panels then why not?

The Spanish-built C3 Aircross emerges as something unexpectedly charming. It’s easy to live with, is more practical than any of its rivals, comes with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and your neighbour probably won’t have one. Citroen is still working out exactly what colour and upholstery it will select for the Aussie market, but if that price tag can come in closer to $30K than $35K the C3 Aircross will definitely be worth a place on your shortlist. There may be other compact SUVs that can carve a cleaner corner than the cute Citroen, but if you prefer stacks of equipment and a certain cheeky charm, the Aircross is worth a look. Just make sure you strong arm your dealer into a longer test drive. A weekend ought to do.

SPECS

Model: Citroen C3 Aircross
Engine: 1199cc inline 3cyl, 12v, dohc, turbo
Max power: 81kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 230Nm @ 1500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 1159kg
0-100km/h: 10.9 sec
Economy: 4.8L/100km (combined)
Price: $30-35K (to be announced)
On sale: Q1 2019

SPECS

Model: Citroen C3 Aircross

Engine: 1199cc inline 3cyl, 12v, dohc, turbo

Max power: 81kW @ 5500rpm

Max torque: 230Nm @ 1500rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 1159kg

0-100km/h: 10.9 sec

Economy: 4.8L/100km (combined)

Price: $30-35K (to be announced)

On sale: Q1 2019