Saying the 2021 Citroen C3 Aircross is a larger, taller and more utilitarian take on the Citroen C3 hatch on which it’s based is stating the obvious.
And even a cursory glance confirms that, yes, the larger of the twins is so achingly French that, like its smaller sibling, it seems tailor made for combating Parisian cobblestones or bouncing between Mediterranean wineries.
I wasn’t a big fan of the C3 Shine I reviewed back in late 2020. So, understandably, I expected to be roughly equally underwhelmed with the C3 Aircross Shine – the sole variant offered – put through similar paces in the same Aussie urban environment. Same experience in a roomier box, right?
Not so. Initial impressions of the Aircross interpretation is that, well, it’s a C3 fixed, or at least more convincing in its ‘charms’ and generally better executed. The SUV iteration’s powertrain seems more resolved than I remember, it drives and rides nicer and its design funkiness suits the larger and more spacious format.
All of these fixes… sorry, improvements, instantly make the Aircross more likeable than the hatch version. And the pint-sized SUV format makes its design quirks more palatable.
But, in fine Citroen style, the longer-burn experience really does test the sense of pragmatism. Especially for a segment that’s becoming increasingly smarter and more competitive particularly when it comes to increasingly user-friendly design, rising quality and sharpening value.
To deserve a place on your short list and for it to be worthy of critical recommendation, it’d want to deliver much more than mere charm and likability, especially in the current form that due for a update in line with the recently face-lifted C3 hatch.
The sole Shine variant offered in C3 Aircross form clocks in at $34,990 before on-road costs. Yikes. That’s six grand up on the C3 Shine hatchback that, for it’s own part, is pricey amongst its own competition.
That works out to $38,639 drive-away using my home address on the public configurator, or $39,329 drive-away in any of four colour combinations outside of Natural White that command a $690 premium.
Despite the website’s assertion that you can “customise your Citroen as you want it to be” paint choice is the only option available, though it does affect accent colour depending on which two-tone scheme you choose.
That $35k outlay offers a dizzying array of alternatives in light and upsized ‘small’ SUV and crossover territory. That said, the flagship heights of alternatives such as Ford Puma, Mazda CX-3 and Toyota Yaris Cross sail north of the Citroen’s mid-thirties threshold so the French machine’s ask isn’t technically excessive provided it can back it ask up in spec, equipment and goodies.
It’s debatable how much style weighs into outlay but the C3 Aircross undoubtedly trades to some degree on its appearance festoon with stylisation in both overall form and in the flourish of details. What dividend on investment this degree of funkiness brings to the equation is really down to owner opinion.
In terms of actual equipment, it fits 17-inch wheels, power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, auto wiper and headlight functionality – though the headlight array is halogen, which is a bit economical for its vehicle type for the sort of coin it asks for. The daytime running lights, though, are LEDs.
The cabin fits keyless go, cloth trim, mechanical-adjust front seating, a leather steering wheel, analogue instrumentation, single-zone climate control, USB and 12V ports, one-touch electric windows all round and a space saver spare, unsurprisingly mirroring the more affordable C3 Shine hatchback.
The Aircross, though, adds to its features suite inductive phone charging and a head-up display, while the front passenger seat can be folded flat for a clever bit of extra luggage space. Cruise control is passive, rather than the adaptive systems offered by most rivals.
Infotainment comes courtesy of a 7.0-inch touchscreen format with proprietary sat-nav, Apple and Android smartphone mirroring, DAB+ radio and six-speaker audio, so modest in size if fulsome enough in its features set.
The climate controls are accessed via the touchscreen rather than through dedicated controls on the centre stack and, strangely, the Grip Control dial allowing five modes of traction control promoted on the public website is conspicuously absent in our test car’s cabin.
It does, however, feature City Park self-parking technology atop the reversing camera and parking sensor assistance.
No leather, no digital instrumentation, no LED headlights – a compact SUV at its price point ought to really throw everything and kitchen sink at its equipment list and on this the C3 Aircross comes up a few rungs too short.
Unlike the C3 hatchback that carries a four-star ANCAP rating, the Aircross package has not yet been assessed by the program.
That said, it was awarded five stars by Euro NCAP back in 2017, where it scored 85 per cent for adult occupant and 82 per cent for child occupant safety, with scores of 64 and 60 per cent respectively for pedestrian and safety assist categories.
Much like the C3 hatchback, the Aircross fits camera-type autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and driver attention alert, but lacks active lane keeping and rear cross-traffic alert/assist. A speed sign recognition system that displays recommended speed information in the head-up display and hill start assist are both included, however.
The cabin fits six airbags including the common front, side and curtain array. ISOFIX mounting points are located on the outboard rear seating positions.
Basics covered then, but the C3 Aircross lacks the comprehensive fit-out offered in compact family haulers asking for around similar money.
For its relatively petite exterior dimensions, the C3 Aircross feels quite roomy and airy inside, undoubtedly aided by the huge glass area, the deep dash top, the high ceiling and tall roofline.
The cabin feels slightly adventurous if not entirely so. Citroen’s ‘squircle’ motif – a sort of square shape with circular corners – is everywhere, including minted in the interesting little air vents, and styling gets downright weird with what must be motoring’s largest mechanical handbrake I initially mistook for an armrest. Sorry, no centre armrest for you…
Right here, stowage gets a bit weird. There’s clearance enough under the handbrake for my wallet (just) but seemingly nowhere for the ignition key. It slides around on the passenger side phone tray’s plastic base or atop my iPhone sat in its logically-located induction charging pad. I tried the door bin, but the key rattles around, and even the glovebox is so slim I doubt a pair of gloves would actually fit.
Then I notice a cavity at the tail of the centre console, technically in row two and awkward to access, that’s ideally key sized – lest the kids might feel like playing with it.
Just ahead of it, under your elbow, is a single cup-like-holder, but in the first row the only place to secure coffee cups are in the door bins and they only fit small cups. Attempt loading a large coffee cup the design is such that it pries the lid off creating an instant pool of hot brown liquid in the door bin (perhaps all over the car key).
These are challenges normal motoring design doesn’t spring on the unsuspecting.
While fabric, there’s enough texture variation to make the front seats look and, to a point, feel interesting, while actual comfort and support is decent if unremarkable. That said, the driving position is good and the ergonomics are sound enough.
The lost trick is the lack of colour that mints the otherwise inspired surface design, much of which is finished in plastic shiny enough to feel a bit too low rent for an SUV asking for sort of money it does – see the recurring theme here?
The infotainment has seen fresher days, be it in size, graphical design or usability, but it ticks the boxes on features and performed without issue. The reversing camera is tiny and distorted, mainly because it shares modest 7.0-inch screen space with a sort of faux-360-degree display favoured by French marques that doesn’t really bring much benefit to the practice of parking.
Annoyingly, the C3 Aircross persists with Citroen’s practice of embedding climate control into the touchscreen, which demands more driver distraction than conventional practice of dedicated button and dial control. That this SUV lacks rear ventilation and rear USB facility – it gets one port up front – is a bit of a skimpy cop out.
While seemingly smartly packaged, the SUV suffers from only adequate rear accommodation not merely because space is at a premium for adults, but because the rear bench design is rudimentary to the point of discomfort. Both the base and seatback are flat and stiff causing an upright posture that’ll fatigue over long trips unless you’re of an age that’s yet to hit puberty.
Bootspace is, at 410 litres, actually quite decent, making good use of depth. The floor offers two height positions, too, so you can set it for the most convenient load height.
The 40:60 split rear seat backs stow reasonably flat but the real party trick is you can also drop the front passenger seat as well, liberating a total of 1289 litres of capacity for objects up to 2.4 metres long if you butt them up against the dash fascia.
Is the cabin a success? Depends. As a family hauler row two lets the team down, though if you’re into the C3 Aircross experience as an urban runabout with supreme load flexibility is makes for a much more convincing case. Full of quirks, too, though none of them are realistically deal-breakers for a good many buyer tastes.
Like its C3 hatchback twin, the Aircross is powered by a 1.2-litre direct-injected turbo petrol three-cylinder that produces just 81kW at 5000rpm and a decent 205Nm from 1500rpm. The engine is backed by a conventional six-speed automatic driving the front wheels.
It’s claimed to return a combined consumption of 6.6L/100kms, its frugal nature no doubted aided by its impressively lithe 1120-kilogram tare mass.
On test, real-world consumption tended to hover around the eight-litre mark during mixed driving and it responds favourably to long motorway stints, though the urban grind will push the Citroen up into double figures.
Acceleration? Citroen is quiet about the topic in its public presence though some online sources put its 0-100km capability at leisurely 11.8 seconds, even if it doesn’t feel nearly that tardy by the seat of the pants.
The last time I sampled this particular powertrain, in C3 hatch, I was left unimpressed its tardy response and the inconsistency of its light switch-like all or nothing delivery. But, while on paper the Aircross mechanical package is lifted from the same rack, in practice this particular combination is wholly more together, resolved and better behaved.
I’m not as smitten by the rasp of a three cylinder as much as some and I’m undecided whether this particular little 1.2-litre unit is brimming with character or borderline annoying. It has a pronounced thrum that’s vaguely diesel like but warm and welcoming when you sink the right foot if a little tiresome when you don’t. Either way, it’s got spunk.
It grabs torque early and driven with moderate enthusiasm it doesn’t strain or sweat, linear in ramping up its output and harnessing genuine muscle. The auto, too, is intuitive and cooperative, avoiding some of that lethargy that plagues small-capacity turbo engines tasked with a sizeable mission.
Its eagerness to dart about really brings a sense of brisk lightness to the C3 Aircross’ on-road manner. The steering is light and little vague though it strangely fits the brief and the pleasant, chuck-it-down-any-street manner that benefits impressively with the SUV’s uncanny ability to smother lumps, humps and speed bumps without transmitting much impact through the body structure at all.
In fact, the C3 Aircross has such a cushioning compression stroke to its suspension that you’d half suspect it’d be a lopey, wallowy mess trying to gather up its dignity, but not so. It settles over bumps quite quickly, maintains decent composure on the move or holding its line through a sweeping curve, and general response to the driver’s whims is with dignity and little fuss.
It’s not without shortcomings. Occasionally, the auto can shunt slightly swapping ratios, though not excessively so. And when you are at cruising speeds, the engine lacks a bit of on-tap shove so overtaking or plugging gaps on a motorway does demand some patience, though this is typical of the small three-pot format in general.
The speed sign recognition system? It’s fairly unreliable because it lacks accuracy, the litmus test being it constantly jumps down to 60km/h and back up to the posted speed limit along 90-110km/h motorways for no logical reason.
There’s so much glass area and outward visibility is so good that placing it on the road and parking is a doddle, though the dainty reversing camera display isn’t nearly as helpful as it ought to be. And there’s no issue from ill-calibrated lane keeping or lane centring because, well, none of that stuff is fitted.
All up, though, it’s a reasonably brisk and decently comfy and cooperative runabout for more fit for Aussie urban and open road conditions than I found the C3 hatch to be.
At the time of writing, Citroen was offering its Comfort Therapy 5+5+5 promotion bundling in
Five years of unlimited-kilometre warranty, five years of roadside assistance and five years of free basic scheduled servicing. For the C3 Aircross, the offer only applies to MY20 models as per the fine print in Citroen’s public website.
Service intervals are 12 months and 15,000 kilometres, the first five visits capped at the time of writing at $393, $671, $469, $684 and $406, a total of $2623 over 60 months and 75,000kms or a yearly average of $524.60.
That’s awfully steep when you consider a hybrid Yaris Cross wants for just $205 per year for scheduled maintenance. It also runs on a minimum fuel grade of 95RON premium unleaded.
Pragmatically speaking, the C3 Aircross Shine is tough to recommend in the company of alternatives that are either already certifiably good or making strikes of improvement in the right direction.
That funky, style-driven Frenchness, as likeable to some tastes as it may be, only brings with it so much seduction and compensation.
It’s expensive. Not ridiculously so, but value appears more than questionable against its dividends in spec and equipment. Style and vibe offsets the premium ask to a degree that, looking at Citroen sales figures in Oz, has some appeal to a small group of buyers.
If style is the big selling point, the C3 Aircross should wear it confidently and ostentatiously. And for no other reason than that rivals like Toyota, to name one, are becoming quite flamboyant in style in their own rights. And the Citroen’s strange cabin quirks, while not for everyone, are arguably more palatable and charming here in the C3 Aircross package than they are in C3 hatch.
While it struggles to stack up as a ‘proper’ SUV, the C3 Aircross starts to make a bit more sense viewed as a trendy urban runabout, especially with its capacity to transform into a handy mini van.
Further, it’s quite pleasing to drive, its soft and cushy nature in a segment increasingly numbered by firm-riding, athletic-themed crossovers is in itself an appealing point of difference.
All in all, a mixed bag best recommended to those already sold on it virtues enough to willingly ignore its shortcomings.
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