These might just be two of the most forgettable French cars ever made, but that’s because they aren’t really French. Say
bonjour konichiwa to the Citroen C4 Aircross and Peugeot 4008.
PSA needed to tap into the growing SUV market in Europe but evidently didn’t want to develop something from scratch. That led to a tie-up with Mitsubishi, which lent its second-generation Outlander to PSA in 2007. It wasn’t the two automakers’ sole badge-engineering exercise, as just a few years later the Mitsubishi i-MiEV was rebadged as the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn.
The Outlander was given a nose job and became the Peugeot 4007 and the Citroen C-Crosser, with the Peugeot even making its way to Australia. The front-end restyling was ghastly, as this was truly the nadir of Peugeot design with a raft of poorly-proportioned vehicles with gaping grilles. It was a particular shame in the case of the 4007 as the donor Mitsubishi was easily one of the better-looking models in its segment.
The 4007 (and C-Crosser) did receive something interesting: a 2.2 turbo-diesel four-cylinder from PSA, producing 154 hp and 280 lb-ft. It was available with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions. This turbo-diesel was the only option in Australia.
That makes the Australian-market C4 Aircross and 4008 all the more galling. Arriving in 2012 to replace the 4007 despite being a whole size smaller, the 4008 was based on the Mitsubishi ASX/RVR/Outlander Sport, as was the C4 Aircross.
While a turbo-diesel was available in other markets, ours came exclusively with a naturally-aspirated 2.0 four-cylinder gasoline engine (147 hp/145 lb-ft) with a continuously-variable transmission. Yep, the exact same powertrain as the Mitsubishi, available with either front- or all-wheel drive.
There was a PSA-sourced 1.6 turbo-diesel available in some markets but despite Peugeot’s fairly consistent habit of offering oil-burners here, we weren’t so lucky. If you wanted a diesel, you had to look at a Mitsubishi ASX. Ditto if you wanted a manual, as we didn’t get that option here.
PSA put a little more effort in distinguishing the 4008 (and Citroen C4 Aircross) from the Mitsubishi donor vehicle, with unique front- and rear-end styling. It was a fairly attractive makeover, with the Mitsubishi featuring some clumsy front-end styling the company has only recently rectified (yes, they still sell it!)
Inside, the changes were less noticeable. The interior design and infotainment was carried over from the Mitsubishi, though the PSA twins did get some more soft-touch plastics on the dash.
Unsurprisingly, the PSA twins drove like the Mitsubishi. Critics were consistent in faulting the C4 Aircross and 4008 for being none too quick, rather raucous under heavy acceleration (no thanks to the CVT) and lacking the pliant ride one might expect from something with a Citroen or Peugeot badge.
The C4 Aircross was a flop here – did you know Ferrari sold more cars here in 2020 than Citroen? – and was discontinued after around two years, but the 4008 did decently. In its best year, Peugeot sold 1240 examples, or around 1/8th the Mitsubishi’s numbers. That meant it outsold the Skoda Yeti and even Peugeot’s own, in-house 2008, which wasn’t quite as sharply priced and therefore was typically passed over in favour of the more-metal-for-your-money 4008.
Mind you, Australia is a pretty small and insignificant market with around one million annual sales. Where the 4008 needed to do well was in Europe and, well, it didn’t. In its best year, Peugeot sold 3972 examples. The Citroen did better with a zenith of 12,142 sales. The Mitsubishi, in contrast, sold between 30-50,000 units annually in Europe.
At the very least, the C-Crosser, C4 Aircross, 4007 and 4008 got buyers used to the idea of Citroen and Peugeot SUVs.
Peugeot introduced its in-house 2008 in 2013, though it still thought the MPV market had legs on the continent and introduced the 3008 and 5008 MPVs. Seeing the way the winds were changing (or had already changed), these were replaced in 2017 with the two-row 3008 and boxier, three-row 5008 crossovers, recently facelifted and introduced alongside a second-generation 2008.
Citroen dabbled in crossovers with its Cactus, which was sadly given a conservative makeover and eventually dropped; the Cactus and C4 have subsequently been replaced with the high-riding C4 liftback. The French brand introduced C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross models in 2017, which it’s committed to.
Today, Peugeot’s crossover range boasts fairly upscale exterior styling and dramatically-styled interiors, and the 2008 and 3008 are two of the best-selling crossovers in Europe. In the first quarter of this year, the 2008 was actually the fourth best-selling vehicle overall in Europe and the best-selling SUV. Citroen’s SUVs don’t sell quite as well, but they’re distinctively styled and offer a fairly unique focus on comfort, including cushy ‘Advanced Comfort’ front seats that include a layer of thick foam.
Needless to say, Citroen and Peugeot’s SUVs today are a far cry from a pair of rebadged Mitsubishis.
4008 photographed in Hawthorn in Melbourne, Victoria in May 2021. C4 Aircross photographed in North Lakes, Queensland in May 2021. Funnily enough, I found the Citroen mere hours after I’d started writing the article and they’re not exactly a common sight!