Citroën C3 Aircross Driven, reviewd, and rated.
Quirky Citroën was once a leader. Its innovations saw patents aplenty. Ride and handling were always been at the top of the list of must-haves, but all has not been rosy.
Last year Citroën sold a petite 495 cars. Petite is cute, unless you’re talking about car sales.
This year has been as dire. Only 87 cars have been sold for the first quarter of 2019. Sister brand, Peugeot has done little better. Considering the size of the brands in Europe and China, Citroën deserves to do better. That makes me mad. Why? French cars are well made and fun to drive. Not only that, they are good value.
For some reason, Australians just don’t get it. Well listen up kids, I’ve got news for you.
Sure, there have been mistakes such as the diabolical semi-automatic transmission. This was the devil’s and had passengers lurching forward like drunken rag dolls every time the gears changed. Thankfully the Australian importers, Inchcape, threw it in the bin where it belongs.
Citroën realised that, to be competitive, it needed SUVs for the allegedly-activity-crazed modern market.
You beaut, they thought. Citroën got their hands on C4 Cactus, but it failed to capture buyer’s attention. Its sales have collapsed.
Despite sensational ride and a captivating design, buyers simply didn’t want it. Buyers want a proper automatic transmission, not some awful Frankenstein of a thing. Packaging was all wrong. You could only get a manual with the petrol engine, and the hideous robotized manual automatic with diesel. By then, buyers had started to abandon diesels in smaller cars.
Last year only 2 Cactus cars were sold and is now in runout. Cactus is cactus..
Since Australian buyers have American tastes in transmissions, only a proper automatic will do. They’ll take a CVT automatic at a pinch, but they know what they want.
Citroën finally took the point and tossed the Frankenstein Automatic in the bin where it belonged.
Not to be deterred, PCA (Peugeot Citroën Australia) is sallying forth with the new C3 Aircross. 2nd time lucky? They’re so confident, C3 is soon to be followed by C5 Aircross, but I digress.
C3 Aircross comes in just one trim level chock-full of stuff. It is fun, and funky, but is it too funky? Can Citroën rebuild? Charismatic Ben Farlow, Citroën’s new OZ boss, thinks so.
The front end has a cheeky double-layered effect created by the Citroën chevron insignia flanked by masses of chrome grille. It terminates in a smart set of LED headlights. Except, that is not the grille, and those are not the headlights, oh no.
They are the daytime running lights. The headlights are lower down either side of the blacked out grille.
Design cues such as “squarecles” abound. That’s a term coined by Citroën, and is not one that I think will catch on.
Squares and rectangles have rounded corners and appear around the headlights, in the lower grille, and on the bespoke “4EVER” alloy wheels. Around the back, there are more of the “squarecles” in the lower trim under the hatch and in the 3d-effect tail lights.
The side rear windows are polycarbonate with a coloured decal, with the colour extending to roofracks, which come standard
If you squint hard, it looks like a Mini was rogered by a Fiat 500X.
Detailing has been kept simple with blacked out areas below the doors and over the wheel arches to give the diminutive high-riding SUV a spot of verisimilitude.
The exterior is quirky enough to be a modern Citroën without being so confronting as to scare off skittish punters.
There are masses of glass. C3 Aircross fixed some of the problems Cactus had with visibility. The addition of a clear panel between the rear doors and rear hatch brings air and space into a cabin. it matches the funky metalwork outside. I like it a lot.
There is a surfeit of “squarecles”. They are absolutely everywhere and give the interior a nifty modular look.
I was going to have a bitch about the lack of cupholders in the front, but since they were replaced by a Qi wireless phone charger, I’ll let that one slip. If you reach back, there is a cup holder right are the back end of the console that will hold your coffee at a pinch.
The are large pockets in the doors, and a shelf above the glove box. The bijou glove box is probably left just for gloves, and the user guide.
Seating comfort has always been a Citroën trademark. They are broad and deeply padded, and remind me a little of the famous club-lounge comfort of original the DS. Fabric feels sturdy and a look of a finely tailored suit.
Instruments have a somewhat disappointingly conventional dial setup.
There is a 4.2” LCD srceen in between two dials. It is supported by a fold-up HUD up on the top of the dash. It gives the driver the option of using it or not by leaving it folded out of sight.
The centre stack has been completely stripped of controls. The less-is-more motto makes things look neat and tidy. Have they gone too far?
Functions have been wrangled in to menus on the 7” touch screen. Quick-access controls run down either side, with physical buttons below for volume/on/off, demists, lock, and hazard flashers.
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto can be used by plugging in to the USB in the Qi wireless charging compartment.
You might think that switching between functions might be painful, but after a quick period of adjustment, few functions are more than 2 buttons presses away. Trying to find radio sources can be a trifle tricky until you know where to look.
Menus are not as intuitive as I’d like.
Controls have shared buttons on the steering wheel for even faster access. Cruise controls live on a stalk behind the steering wheel.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the gear selector and parking brake, both of which live on the centre console.
The staggered gait of the automatic lever is maddening until you get used to it, and the parking brake lever doubles as a rest for your hand, but why? I’d rather be rid of it and have an electric button and small bin instead.
The rear seats are as comfy as the front seats, and have a distinctly lounge-type feeling about them. Unlike Cactus, C3 Aircross rear windows roll down. Cactus rear passengers were trapped behind push-out panels like a 1960’s Mini. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.
Finally, the cargo 410L hold has a double-layer floor which expands to 1289L with the 60/40 rear seats folded down. The floor is flat if the upper cover is left in place.
The Cool Bits:
Citroën has chowed down on the parts bin when it comes to shoving as much as they can in to their little SUV.
- Smart keyless entry/start
- Hill start assist
- Boot tie-downs
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auti
- Reversing camera
- Climate control auto air cond
- Power windows with anti pinch on all 4 doors
- Lane departure warning
- Isofix X 2
- Speed sign recommendation and warning
- Remote locking with deadlocks
- Autonomous Emergency Braking (by camera)
- Colour HUD (head up display)
- Semi automated parking
- Auto lights and wipers
- Static cornering lights
The Oily Bits:
There is a 1.2L 3cylinder turbo petrol engine putting power to the front wheels through a 6 speed automatic gearbox.
0-100k is a leisurely 10.3 seconds. It emits 142gms of CO2 per kilometre. There is a 45L tank which you’ll need 95RON petrol to fill. The combined economy of 6.6L/100k sounds good, but not as good as 5.2L/100k on the highway. Around town, Citroën says you’ll get 9L/100k but you’ll be working those 3 cylinders hard. I suspect you’ll use a little more than that.
3 Cylinders have a unique sound which is quite soothing after a while.
What’s it like to drive?
It is fun, like all Citroëns.
C3 Aircross looks quirky inside and out which tends to mask the fact that it is excellent on the road.
Ride harkens back to the halcyon days of the first desperately delicious DS. DS was known as The Goddess. Why? Rather cheekily, the French word for goddess is déesse, which is pronounced D S. Get it?
Our launch drive took us over some very familiar roads. From the bucolic bliss of Picton, we looped back across the highway, and over to the Scarborough Hotel for a spot of lunch.
This is how someone might use an C3 Aircross for a Sunday drive.
Put a picnic lunch in the back and head off into the bits of Australia that are far away from the well-trodden limits of a capital city. There is quite a lot of it out there if you’re brave enough to tackle it.
Citroëns C3 Aircross is an SUV, and a Front Wheel Drive one at that. But, given the choice, most buyers will choose a 2-wheel-drive petrol engine with an automatic transmission.
The move in Europe is to small fuel efficient engines. The level of fuel efficiency denoted by Euro 6, which is the current standard.
All of that matters little if the drive is rubbish. Never fear, Citroën C3 Aircross drives like a Citroën should.
It feels light and easy.
Steering is electric and allows for Semi–automated parallel parking. This is one of those times you need to prepare before the event. You have to open the “driving functions” screen on the centre LCD. It is a bit of a faff. So far, only parallel parking is available. That’s fine by me. If you can’t park your car at Coles, you shouldn’t be driving. This is one function that demands its own button.
Suspension is unbelievably smooth. McPherson Struts at the front, and a torsion bar rear end, take the place of the Hydro-pneumatic setup we know and love. You might think that would take all of the Citroën-ness away from the experience, but not a bit of it.
Somehow, Citroën has managed a similar ethereal ride to the old DS, and mixed it with just a hint of 2CV. In many ways, Citroën C3 Aircross is the modern version of that cutesy-pie 2CV.
2CV had a claim to fame. A farmer could drive across a newly ploughed field with his missus, and a basket of eggs on board. They say no humans or eggs would be harmed during the crossing.
That might be true, but I wouldn’t want to drive an C3 Aircross across a newly ploughed field, with a farmer’s wife and basket of eggs in the back seat, although, I probably could.
C3 Aircross is about the driving experience.
It is as at home in town as it is at the beach, or the farm. A little extra height is just the ticket for a bumpy country lane. Personally, I wouldn’t want to tackle anything more challenging than a muddy road. Since 99.9999% of SUVs never travel out of town, that won’t be a problem.
There is enough zip for a road trip too.
Your phone can charge in the Qi wireless charging tray if you want. Most of the time you’ll want to hook up to CarPlay via USB. That will charge your phone, handle text and calls, and your music will appear just as it does on your phone. Happy days.
While you’re in phone range, you can use Hey Siri too.
Another fab feature not adopted from the Goddess are the bendy lights that steer with the front wheels. Instead, Citroën C3 Aircross has little sideways-pointing lights that come on as you steer around a corner.
Do I like it?
Yes, a lot.
I’ve owned many Citroëns, and while I lament the loss of that cool suspension, I must move with the times.
Owning a Citroën is to be part of an exclusive club. You get nods and waves from other owners. You have an air of rarity, so you won’t park next to an identical car at Bunnings. Most people probably won’t even know what you’re driving, so you’ll be able to tell them, won’t you?
- Model Price From $32,990 MLP*
- Engine 1.2L Three cylinder Turbo petrol
- Drivetrain 6 Sp AT 2WD
- Power 81 kW @ 5500 rpm
- Torque 205 Nm @ 1500 rpm
- Safety TBA ANCAP
- CO2 142 g/km
- Economy 6.6L/100 km ADR
- Servicing Fixed price plan
- Warranty 5 Yrs /Unlimited km 5 Yrs Roadside Assist