A striking exterior, a compelling interior design, appealing equipment and competitive pricing. The Citroen C5 Aircross should’ve hit the Aussie ground running harder than it did at its mid-2019 launch.
Here was a fresh-faced spin for the medium SUV humdrum, fashionably late to the party if armed with handy hindsight with which to one-up top-selling competition in a traditionally conservative segment.
Deservedly or not, the C5 Aircross has barely made much impact, the charming SUV trickling off showroom floors and remaining something of a unicorn on Aussie roads. French cars, eh? Why don’t Australians embrace them with even a fraction of Europeans’ enthusiasm?
Is it stigma, prejudice, skepticism about reliability – warranted or not – or fear of the unfamiliar, perhaps? Have the usual mid-SUV options become – shock horror – somewhat interesting of late? All potential answers to a big question better addressed in another narrative.
Here, though, we’re keen to see how the Citroen C5 Aircross fares on merit. And in sympathy of the lure of its styling (to taste), does it offer enough goodness and substance to be considered worthy of shortlisting on your shopping list?
Of the two variants offered in Oz, our tester is the curiously named Shine, the higher-grade version at $46,990 before on-road costs. Sat below it is the quirkily-labelled Feel that clocks on at $42,990 list.
Given both have risen by $3000 since launch, either version isn’t quite as competitively priced now as it was 12 months ago.
Both feature identical 1.6-litre turbo petrol power and auto-only front-drive drivetrains, the main differentiator being bells and whistles on what are both well-stacked equipment lists.
How does Shine fare against the landscape? For its $47,000 ask, you could have any RAV4 you like – 2WD or AWD, petrol or hybrid – bar the Edge. And it’s a small step up in outlay for an all-paw 2.5-litre Mazda CX-5 in high-spec GT Turbo or Akera trim. You’re also in all-you-can-eat petrol-AWD Tucson, Sportage and CR-V territory for around the same money.
Still, the Aircross Shine is a little cheaper than the related $47,990 list Peugeot 3008 GT-line 1.6 front-driver and $47,000 also lands you midway between Tiguan’s mid-range circa-$44,000 Comfortline and the Highline listing north of $50,000.
As the small-engined front-driver in the company of many larger-engined all-wheel drives, perhaps the Citroen’s counterbalance is in equipment…
Both Feel and Shine grades offer quite similar specification so it’s perhaps highlighting the differences for the latter’s four-grand upcharge. The Shine exclusively fits 19-inch wheels (against 18s), acoustic glass, memory foam seat inserts with partial leather trim (against cloth trim), electric driver’s seat adjustment and wireless phone charging. Otherwise they’re nigh on identical, inside and out.
Regardless of which variant, Citroen C5 Aircross fits auto headlights with static corner lighting, LED tail lights and daytime running lights, front and rear parking sensors, power-folding and heated mirrors, a powered tailgate with foot-operated gesture control, rear privacy glass and, as a matter of protection as style, AirBump body mouldings much more subtly integrated than the smaller C3.
There are no LED headlights or adaptive cruise, both glaring omissions at the Shine’s asking price and available on European models.
The cabin features large 12.3-inch digital instrumentation, dual-zone climate control, column-mounted paddle-shifters, LED lighting, one-touch electric windows all round, auto wipers, a self-dimming mirror, novel triple-split rear seating slide and rake adjustment, a dual-level cargo floor and a space-saver spare wheel.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system loads in the usual proprietary sat-nav, smartphone mirroring and DAB+ goodness, while supplemented by dual USB and 12-volt outlets. The reversing camera offers a birds-eye view perspective, too.
While either variant fits some nice stuff, the compelling cabin styling and funky rear seating only go some way in presenting uniqueness and innovation to justify value for money. Its 230mm ride height, rocker panel and wheel arch protection are spun as ‘feature highlights’ though its fitted powertrain and rolling stock strongly suggest they’re more for style than functional benefit.
The Citroen does, though, hang its comfort-favouring credentials off its Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension smarts as a key point of difference in segment.
The C5 Aircross scored just four stars in ANCAP testing in August 2019. That’s a tough sell in its predominantly five-star segment.
The issue – or perhaps compromise – centres around the AEB system, camera based with a functional 8 to 85km/h window and, according to its importer, activation when detecting stationary objects, if not those that move.
In ANCAP assessment, its Vulnerable Road User score of 58 percent incorporated “weak” AEB performance for pedestrian (2.2 out of 6) and cyclist (0 out of 6) scores. A more comprehensive system is available for C5 Aircross overseas, including in New Zealand.
Otherwise, its safety credentials fare well (87 and 88 per cent for Adult and Child Occupant Protection respectively, 73 percent for Safety Assist despite AEB shortcomings). It fits six airbags, lane keeping functionality, blind spot and lane departure warnings, collision alert and traffic sign recognition, though rear cross-traffic sensory isn’t fitted.
The cabin design is interesting, smartly-styled, and brings a nice sense of occasion. Overall or in detail, it doesn’t follow stylistic convention and it works to a strength – French, without too much functional silliness. A good choice of textures too, specifically the integration of leather and textile on the seat upholstery.
That said, the unusual transmission selector – almost gunstock like – with the ‘Start’ button hidden just ahead if it might lift presentation but it’s a bit silly, functionally. Further, they’re both conspicuously oriented for foreign market left-hand drivers.
Top marks for presentation. It’s reasonably minimalistic and most intuitive to use, though it’s not quite as tactile in touch as you initially expect – the goodness of the satiny controls are undone by some fairly rudimentary door trim and bin plastics.
The digital driver’s screen and infotainment screens are sharp in resolution and pleasing in slick content skins, if with a couple of caveats. Firstly, the driver’s screen has a cleaner execution that’s vastly nicer than, say BMW’s current efforts, but as configurable as its looks it does lack meaningful content.
Meanwhile, the infotainment system – illegible in red script until I found a way to make it blue – offers shortcut tiles below the screen though every function, including climate control adjustment, requires a few too many distracting steps.
The front seats are fantastic. Memory foam: what a revelation. They’re so softly bolstered yet so consistently supportive, particularly on long trips.
Ergonomics are quite sound, too, and outward visibility is great though the high bonnet line will keep those front parking sensors earning their keep. The rear camera, too, has adaptive guidelines is a little clearer and less distorted than some systems fitted rival SUVs.
The first row is roomy and airy in ambience with more than bit of sporty crossover vibe, but all of the good work is lost once you climb into row two. Legroom is very constrictive. And that’s with the novel triple-split seating – where each seating position gets individual slide and tilt – adjusted to its most accommodating extension.
For what’s a quite sizeable SUV, overall cabin space is a bit limited.
That said, the rear seating itself is quite supple and comfy, while small kids will like the fact the seat bases are set high for easy viewing of the outside world. There are a couple of air vents, as any family-hauling device should ideally fit.
Boot space varies between 580 and 720 litres depending on how you adjust the rear seats and, presumably, the boot floor in either of its low or high positions. Realistically, most owners will likely set the floor low and leave it that way – who has a need to stow stuff below the boot floor and above a spare wheel anyway unless, I don’t know, you’re smuggling booze into a drive-in theatre or something…?
Dropping the rear seats completely liberates a fulsome 1630 litres of luggage space.
In short, the C5 Aircross cabin mostly pleases the senses though isn’t nearly as smartly packaged or outright practical as other offerings in this segment.
The C5 Aircross uses the familiar 1.6-turbocharged petrol four found throughout the Peugeot-Citroen family and its 121kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm from 1400rpm are decent if make-do numbers against some ‘big-engined’ rivals wanting for similar money. Mazda CX-5’s turbo 2.5-litre, for instance, makes 170kW and 420Nm.
But it’s a beaut, willing and seemingly under-stressed little unit. The little 1.6 is eager in response and surprisingly lusty in full-throttle acceleration.
It’s mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission that’s faithfully intuitive and neatly sidesteps the rev-clinging foibles of CVT design or the inept hesitation still too prevalent in today’s dual-clutch designs paired with small-capacity petrol engines.
It’s just not the more-powerful engine and eight-speed auto combination offered in C5 Aircross overseas…
The Citroen is no rocketship yet no slouch either, a touch under double figures for the sprint to 100km/h though packing enough real-world flexibility to return safe and stress-free everyday motoring.
You do get fancy ‘mode’ dial on the console that looks as if C5 Aircross might be eager for a bit of all-terrain fun though this is functionally limited to offering different traction control calibration for a variety of surface types.
The form guide states 7.9L/100km for the combined fuel cycle on a 95RON minimum, though its real-world figure is closer to its urban claim of low 10s per 100kms.
Interestingly, opting for Shine’s larger 19s over Feel’s smaller 18s actually downsizes the rubber width significantly from 235mm (18s) to just 205mm (19s). We imagine the difference in outright dry grip between would be marked once you push on.
The quite effortless powertrain character and decent noise suppression – partly thanks to the Shine’s acoustic glass – bring quite an upmarket vibe on the move. There’s a nice sense of solidity and it feels substantial on the road even though it’s quite easy to judge in tight spaces or when parking.
The steering is nice and light, absent of connection but a joy to use around town. The chassis is well planted and despite the narrow rubber there’s a surefooted confidence about its road-going manner. The medium SUV segment has offerings that feel flimsy and underdone and others that seem wieldy and bloated and this French competitor neatly avoids either extreme.
That headlining Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension feature? It’s not adaptive damping, per say, but rather the fitment of two hydraulic stops separate from the springs and dampers – one stop for compression and the other rebound. Its maker claims the application eliminates rebound entirely for what is marketed as a “flying carpet” or “magic carpet ride” sensation that “filters out bumps and dips”.
Comfy and Quiet
The C5 Aircross may not glide like a magic carpet, but it's a refined if middle-band drive.
That flying carpet effect is frankly very subtle. In fact, hand on heart, I couldn’t detect much ‘effect’ at all.
It sat flat across bumps, which is presumably net dividend. But this SUV still exhibits some urgent vertical movement I’d have assumed the suspension wizardry might’ve otherwise suppressed or eradicated.
If the cushioning control functions with big hits or large suspension articulation strokes so be it, but the actual ride of the dampers themselves (not the ‘stops’) is a bit terse, particularly at the front axle. Square-edged imperfections, potholes and abrupt speed humps jar through the chassis at low to moderate speed in the way you’d expect a flying carpet probably wouldn’t.
Does Progressive Hydraulic Cushioning bring newfound ride comfort to the mid-SUV segment? No it most certainly doesn’t.
That said, its road manners are fine and it is comfortable and quiet enough to make a good companion for long road trips.
Some of the inclusions are hardly necessary. There’s a Sport drive mode but there’s enough pep in the C5 Aircross’s step that it’s largely superfluous.
Ditto the paddle shifters, which with an extra degree of pointlessness are mounted to the column rather than steering wheel, where they serve only to stroke your knuckles to the point of annoyance.
Another weird feature is the birds-eye camera view: it only displays some of the vehicle’s surrounding some of the time, presumably because the image is fed from the reversing camera only and stitched together as the vehicle moves. The upshot is half the time the landscape in the overhead view blacked out, kind of defeating its purpose to being with.
Nothing. For a while, at least. At the time of writing, the C5 Aircross, like every Citroen, comes with what’s marketed as a ‘Comfort Therapy 5+5+5’ offer the bundles five years of unlimited-kilometre warranty, five years of roadside assistance and five years of free basic scheduled servicing.
Service intervals are 12 months and 20,000kms, which is handy if you’re planning on clocking up the kays every year.
Outside of the current offer, servicing costs are capped at a total of $3010 for 60 months/100,000kms, averaging out to $602 per year over five years.
The Citroen C5 Aircross would come highly recommended if it wasn’t the victim of some ‘only ifs’.
‘Only if’ it brought class-beating levels of “magic carpet” ride comfort as promised. ‘Only if’ it was nearly as spacious and cleverly packaged as the segment leaders and those fancy rear seats brought properly practical dividends.
‘Only if’ it was all-wheel drive…with class leading outputs…or with segment-smashing level of equipment for the sort of money it commands. And ‘only if’ it elevated its safety credentials to proper five-star levels.
The French newcomer doesn’t miss the mark by a wide berth anywhere but that’s still a hard sell against hugely popular and established competition at the sort of money the C5 Aircross wants for.
And yet it’s still a hugely likeable and charming offering for buyers wanting a genuine alternative from the usual medium-SUV suspects. For some buyers – even just a few – being joyously different from the pack will be enough to seal the deal.