We’ve all seen, and probably tried, a compact SUV, and there are many, many to choose from, though not all of them vary as much you might expect. What is the French take on this format, possibly a format that doesn’t seem very French? After all, style and fashion have rarely taken precedence over practicality and individuality in French automotive design and choice. See a long list from 2CV to Avantime for further details.
The European template for the family SUV has been set, and the market has declared that this is the successor to the mid-size saloon and the mid-size MPV/minivan/monospace. Aside from the typically Renault (that’s a compliment) Scenic and the automotive Tupperware (I’ll let you decide if that’s a compliment) that is the VW Touran, there are no real contenders from European manufacturers and precious few on the market, and none that are not alongside a more fashion conscious SUV in the showroom.
Citroen, and Peugeot, are not an exception. The long running C4 Picasso has now gone from the price lists, except for the seven seat version, as has the more compact C3 Picasso and larger (Euro full size) C7. Also gone are the C5 mid-size (Passat size) saloon and the C4 compact (Golf size) hatchback. Citroen is now a builder of city cars (the C1), supermini hatchbacks (C3) and larger SUVs, the C3 Aircross and the larger C5 Aircross, alongside the DS branded range of semi-premium models. The C5 Aircross is aimed directly at the Nissan Qashqai, the Skoda Karoq, the SEAT Ateca (derivatives of the VW Tiguan), various Hyundai and Kia products such as the Sportage and Tucson, and the Ford Kuga/Escape.
Some of us remember Citroen for something other than competing with Hyundais, of course. For 30 years, from the end of the 1960s, mid market Citroens were some of the best cars ever offered in that part of the market. The GS and GSA were fully comparable with the Alfasud, Fiat 124 and VW Golf. The BX and then the Xantia were class leaders too. Further up market, the DS was an absolute, the CX was one of the best in its class, let down only by an elderly four cylinder engine, and the later XM and C6 made up in distinction and style what they have may missed out on absolute capability. Some cars from the last 20 years have been less memorable – C4, C5 hatchback, and the DS upmarket experiment is proving a slow burner. But it is still a brand name that has a great Curbivore history.
The C5 Aircross is therefore most easily described as being a direct French competitor to the Nissan Qashqai, a car that set the template for this type of car in Europe 10 years ago, and remains one of the best sellers. Five seats, five doors, sit up high, big wheels, the compact Range Rover feeling, you know the drill.
Being part of Peugeot SA, the C5 is inevitably very closely related to a Peugeot, in this case the second generation 3008, sharing the EMP2 platform. You can take your choice – essentially it comes down to styling and interior design. The Citroen is all, well, a sort of soft, friendly, organic blob with a big flat bonnet, the Peugeot more avant garde and edgy, with a very striking interior.
Somewhere in the middle, and perhaps in contrast looking a bit bland if well executed, sits the Vauxhall/Opel Grandland X from PSA’s Anglo-German (ex GM) brands. Citroen, sorry DS, also offer the DS7 compact luxury SUV based on the same platform. Apparently, it’s France’s best selling compact luxury SUV, even if many markets are not being set alight by it. Manufacturing, perhaps surprisingly, follows brands’ histories – the Peugeot from Sochaux near Mulhouse, the Citroen from Rennes in Brittany and the Opel from Eisenach. Only the Peugeot is available as a 7 seater, sold as the 5008.
In terms of engineering and general specification, all these vehicles are similar and conventional. There is a transverse front mounted engine, either petrol or diesel, a six speed manual, or six or eight speed automatic gearboxes. Front suspension is by MacPherson struts; the rear uses a torsion bar. There is also a plug-in hybrid version, just coming on the market. This has the 1.6 litre engine and a motor driving the front wheels, and claims 34 miles on electric power.
Uniquely amongst the cars on this platform, the C5 Aircross uses Citroen’s Progressive Hydraulic Cushions suspension. In simple terms, this replaces the conventional upper and lower bump stops with hydraulic units, which are claimed to fully absorb and not return any energy to the spring and damper. I have to admit that this innovation passed me by, and if you judge success as not noticing any intrusion into regular use then these succeed. The ride is pretty good, though not true hydropneumatic good, but the body does roll noticeably.
But what’s the C5 Aircross like to live with? I spent two days with one just before lockdown, courtesy of work and Avis.
First impressions were pretty good, helped by the fact the car was spot on brand new, with just 100 miles on the clock and freshly inducted into the fleet. The visuals, while a bit over wrought, are not unattractive and are well executed, and the contact points feel solid enough. They do this without feeling sturdy in a truck way, but in a semi-premium manner. In terms of quality impression, this interior, with one exception, was fully comparable with the Mini Countryman I tried a couple of years ago, and ahead of the Jeep Renegade before that. The exception is quite important – light use (like, no bags on the seats) still left a small tear on the outer leather facing on the rear seat (Avis haven’t said anything, yet), which made we wonder how this light coloured interior would stand up to lively family service.
The driving environment is clearly intended to be cosseting and nudge you towards thinking this is a semi-premium product. There is a high centre console, level with the seat squab at its lowest, and rising to form a central armrest – never a good thing as far as I’m concerned. At least this one covers a large storage bin that would take an iPad for example, and has a nifty split and side hinged lid. The seats are typically French and soft, and proved comfortable for a three hour motorway run, though side support was lacking.
The style of the interior is not unattractive and is also fairly distinctive. It is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else, such as a Peugeot or a Vauxhall, and is a step up from many Japanese and Korean interiors in terms of style, to my eyes at least, and with more character than a VW Group interior if not the VW solid feel and laser like focus on ergonomics. More later on those.
Space inside was actually a little disappointing. Given the bulk of the exterior, and this does feel like a big vehicle, both long and tall, the rear seat space was not special and the boot not remarkable either, at least with the seats up. (I didn’t check with the seats down, but if you want to know “how big is the boot with the seats down?” I guess I’d refer you to What Car? or Motor Trend and not CC.) Sitting behind myself was not great, not helped by the high shoulder line and dark door and roof trims. Brochures talk about seats that slide, though how escaped me, and would only have served to make the boot bigger and the seat more cramped, though still usable for kids and booster seats.
It has to be said the combination of low set seats, relative to the console and high window line, big flat bonnet and high dash top, with the Citroen logos was not an easy one to settle with. This was no DS Safari inside. Or, indeed, a C4 Picasso.
The actual dashboard was a story of two halves. Every feature you could realistically expect was present – auto wipers and lights, cruise, Bluetooth, large electrically adjustable and heated mirrors, navigation system, a TFT screen of instruments, cornering lights and rear view camera with 360 degree plan view. Everything worked, and in most cases in a more rigorously logical way than you might have associated with a successor to the GS or XM.
The TFT instruments were as impressive as these things normally are, with options to place the navigation centre stage in front of the driver for example, and to configure the instruments in various ways. All nicely entertaining, but you suspect the novelty would wear off and a preferred configuration ultimately retained. The actual layouts were not that exciting, with the rev counter for example never being more a sliding bar graph. It is almost as if it was expected to serve as a stop-start system active warning rather than anything else, and thereby sums up the driver engagement expected.
The centre screen controlled many things. Obviously, the navigation system and audio were controlled here, as well as the options to configure the various features of cornering lights, cameras and so on. And the heating and ventilation.
The Flair level trim has dual zone climate control, so in theory you can set and forget. In reality, I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who does, as the car’s determination of when you want more heat, fresh air, a screen demist or whatever is not going to be the same as yours. Therefore, having to use a touch screen for such things is, in my book, a major fail. You have to reach the screen, unintuitively compared to a nice round control knob, minimise the navigation or audio display, select the climate control, make your changes, minimise the climate control and select the map again. All without the real world feedback you get from knobs and twist rings.
Citroen have thought of this, though. You can adjust the temperature by voice control. Select voice control by pressing button, and say “increase temperature”. How much it goes up seems to be a bit of a pot luck number, but you can always go back and say “decrease temperature”, and repeat the cycle until you’re happy. Give me set of easy to use twist knobs any day.
Also lacking on feedback, more importantly, was the steering. Yes, the wheel was nice hold and the buttons on it for the cruise control and TFT screen personalisation were good to use (as good as any I’ve tried in fact) the steering itself was as descriptive as a video game controller. There is little or no information on what the front wheels are doing, and while you add weight with the configuration options, you only seem to add artificial weight, and not any feedback. This becomes a car you handle with gentle inputs, partly because you can’t sense how big the car will decide the input is, partly because it’s going to lean and lurch if challenged, and partly because it soon becomes clear that is how the Aircross expects to be driven. The first reaction of the steering is seemingly to do little or nothing, then it catches up with you as if it realises you weren’t actually nodding off. And it doesn’t like “slow in, fast out” cornering. Particularly, not the “fast out” bit.
This example had a 1200cc three cylinder turbocharged engine, and if your reaction is around the size of the engine and the size of the car, then I guess you’re not alone. Power is quoted as 130 bhp (hence the naming convention, which is becoming common and replacing the 1200 or 1.2 we were so used to) and 0-60 at 10.5 seconds. 117 mph is possible, apparently. Obviously, I was unable on British roads to try for those figures, but it was a capable cruiser at 80 mph (in the upper quartile of British motorway traffic, in reality), albeit one up. I sense that a car full of kids and their clutter would show a difference. After 300 miles of mostly motorway and dual carriageway, with a bit of town use on top, I got around 40mpg (Imperial, not US gallons). Not spectacular, to be frank, and I suspect the penalty for the bulky profile. My Alfa would have given me 25% more, easily.
In other areas, the car has some weaknesses too. The dash may be up to the minute modern, but it has the same stalks PSA have used for many years. Arming the auto wipers requires the same action as the single flick (mist) wipe, so you end up doing it twice, the cruise control is managed by the same controller PSA have used for cruise and radio controls for twenty years and style does overtake substance and practicality on a few details. The rear wiper is as small as can be, the rear loading sill inevitably high.
Refinement is fully class competitive, such that I did not notice the three cylinder thrum at any point and had in fact assumed it was the four cylinder engine, and equipment on this mid range Flair variant was good. Digital radio (but no CD player), auto climate, reversing camera with a roof top parking aid, lane departure and blind spot monitoring (a life saver, IMHO), electric parking brake, the TFT instruments and navigation are all part of the package. Apart from the panoramic glass roof, there seems little to lacking for the private buyer.
The car I had was valued in the showroom at £27,970, including £545 for the optional grey metallic. The only non-premium paint is refrigerator white (not Citroen’s name for it but….). The Peugeot take costs about £30,000, the Vauxhall £29000. An equivalent Renault Kadjar would be under £25,000. The Skoda, SEAT, Nissan, Hyundai et al are all there or thereabouts, and the usual monthly based lease plans are available.
No doubt Avis paid less, but you have to ask. A 2019 BMW 320d xdrive Touring with 8000 miles, great visuals through a strong colour, same registration plate year code, BMW warranty (and quality) and a pretty full spec could be yours for less than £23000 from Autotrader, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be expected to be worth just 44% of its value in three years. In practice, I’d contend that it would do everything the Citroen will, probably use less fuel (except when the driver’s alone, maybe) and have the neighbours twitching their curtains, not shaking their heads.
I know where my money would go. Not on the car that fails to be as spacious and commodious as the C4 Picasso or as comfortable as the C5 saloon. Or in as appealing, technically interesting or class leading as my friend Tony’s 1981 GSA.
(A note on the photos – unlike Jim Klein, I don’t have Colorado’s space and scenery as a backdrop for photos, instead having dreary motorway service station in February, before it got dark. Hence, some photos in this review, notably the orange car and the interior shots with auto box, are from Autocar.)
My first impression of that side view is that it looks like a smaller GMC Acadia. How mind-blowing is it that a Citroen looks like a GM product? (Especially since that’s Opel’s purview within PSA/Stellantis…)
My thinking on the silhouette was that it looked like the Fiat 500X as designed by GMC.
It would fit right in over here I think. The front looks a bit like a Rhino’s the way the Citroen logo is positioned and the side view would make more than one person comment that it looks like the lower trim surround thingy has already fallen off under the rear door, but other than that, slap any one of half a dozen badges on it and it’d work. Which I suppose is what makes it a bad Citroen, at least when working from the back catalog as a reference.
Great overview, Roger, I knew nothing about this car’s existence prior to reading this, so an excellent treat. And the pictures at least put this car into its actual natural habitat!
A great report! Citroen’s heavy use of trapezoid shapes in the design reminds me of Ford’s affection for ovals in the late 90s.
Many thanks, I didn’t know this model existed. I often see recent model Peugeots but not Citroens so I guess there are no longer local dealers.
I quite like the ‘C’ pillar, but not much else. It looks like the exhaust should exit from that “hole” below the drivers’ door !
Your remark that the Kadjar is significantly cheaper reminds me that the Kadjar is also seriously good-looking.
I thought that “hole” was a step to help you reach the screen to clean it!
In case anyone hasn’t figured it out, the Nissan Qashqai is known in the US as the Nissan Rogue Sport. Meanwhile, “The C5 Aircross is aimed directly at the Nissan Qashqai, the Skoda Karoq, the SEAT Ateca (derivatives of the VW Tiguan), various Hyundai and Kia products such as the Sportage and Tucson, and the Ford Kuga/Escape.”
But the Rogue in the US is a direct competitor of models like the Escape and Tiguan (which seems to have grown in this generation), and the Qashqai/Sport is 8″ shorter and 5″ lower than a regular Rogue.
Anyway, besides squishy suspension and the Citroen logo worked into the grille as has been done on other Citroens in recent years, this thing is really disappointing in terms of lack of artiness and innovation in design both inside and out. It’s kind of sad that European car buyers are following the US in buying into middle of the road SUV’s. I get the higher stance and not worrying as much about steep driveways etc, but less art, innovation, individuality and room in order to drive an SUV Lite isn’t great. All those discontinued Citroens like the Picasso were really cool.
In Europe the North American Rogue is sold as the X-Trail, the third row seat that Nissan used to offer here is standard, and it competes with the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Skoda Kodiaq, etc. as a large family crossover. I don’t believe the Murano or Pathfinder are part of Nissan’s Western European product offering, though the two are built and sold in Russia.
The VW Tiguan we get in North America is the extended wheelbase model that can accomodate a third row and competes in Europe with the above mentioned models. The short wheelbase Tiguan is a direct competitor to the Qashqai/Rogue Sport and its ilk.
I struggle with this. Overstyled big wheeled cramped rear, small boot, stupidly sized centre console and fussy dashboard, and what are the giant’s footholds under the doors and bumpers about? I don’t get why anyone would buy one ahead of, say, a Golf estate
And £28k? No wonder nobody ever pays full price for a Citroen even in normal times.
Struggling? STOP STRUGGLING! Or I’ll stop the car, and you can both bloody well WALK, got it?
(Seriously, these kids, over a f*king Citroen, spare me).
Interesting review on a car that we’ll never see here in the US … though in some not so distant future we may have an offspring in the form of a global platform PSA/FCA, err Stellantis, Jeep crossover. A couple thoughts came to mind, beyond shedding a figurative tear for the end of Citroen innovation. The first was that in a sense, maybe the French actually did actually invent the crossover. As multipurpose vehicles, though not fashion statements, the 2CV and R4 were surprisingly close in concept to the modern CUV: FWD, roomier than a sedan, suitable for some utilitarian use. Even the Traction Avant predicted this form factor with its rear hatch variant.
The second thought was wondering how much longer we’ll see a manual transmission shifter in a modern car like this. Thanks god for the UK’s lasting desire and willingness to buy these, and the Europeans’ continuing to manufacture them. Are the Qashqai or Korean equivalents even available in Europe and the UK with manual transmission? When will the US and China market automaticization prevail worldwide?
Oh, how the mighty.
I mean, it’s a car, as good as the others in the set, but really, would you? And if so, why?
The Citroen identity – Odd-But-Better-For-It – has had so long a holiday that I’m confident it isn’t ever returning. Some mildly different dash bits, a few what-the-hells in the styling upon someone else’s chassis, that’s not the real deal. It’s marketing. And to answer my own (quite brilliant) questions above, I wouldn’t, because there’s no point.
That all said, thankyou for the effort put into this detailed review, Mr Paw’s Brother. I can’t help but wonder if the cause of your brief Citroen affliction came from a breakdown in the Alfa, but I’m sure we shall see.
Citroen survives as a brand, but not as a car-maker….
Opel will now follow the same path.
I mean, for decades Opel’s identity was made of a varying mix of European-ness and GM-ness, now that they’re one European make among many decoupled from The Incredible Shrinking GM what does that leave?
Don’t, whatever you do, suggest to him that an Alfa might occasionally not work perfectly – he gets quite upset at such insinuations, and you get a lecture about sporting pedigree, style, history of innovation etc. It can last for hours.
The answer to the last question is “No – it’s company policy to hire a car”.
So about those side steps… is the rear ones not being surrounded in trim like the front ones supposed to be a “quirky” detail? Because it looks like the trim just pre-fell off. Also, did anyone else initially notice those thinking “why does it have side exhaust???”
I wonder what the plans are for Stellantis. Will the Citroen and Peugeot come back to the US as brands? Will the platforms be the basis of future Chrysler and Jeep products? I heard that the Jeep Grand Cherokee is finally moving to a Fiat platform.
The only remnant from the Mercedes days is the Charger/Challenger. The 300 is being cancelled. The platform is already 20 years old. Will they eventually replace it?
Is the ONLY Chrysler really going to be the Minivan? A brand with only one model does not seem to make much sense. Will the van move to another brand and the Chrysler name will go the way of the Plymouth?
I have to wonder if PSA is planning to dump Citroen. They’ve slowly but surely killed off all the technical quirks and qualities we fondly remember from Citroens past, and turned the brand into – what?
When you can speak of the Peugeot as being more avant garde and edgy, and quote its equivalent model’s price as a few thousand more, it seems to me as though the natural order of things has been inverted here. Citroen always used to be avant garde, maybe even beyond avant garde and way out the other side sometimes! Peugeot was premium, sure, but conservative. And now?
At a time when there is more competition than ever, the world needs more from PSA than the automotive equivalent of a Gallic shrug. Especially when it carries the two chevrons.
They’ve slowly but surely killed off all the technical quirks and qualities we fondly remember from Citroens past, and turned the brand into – what?
A very profitable brand, which was hardly ever the case before when it was quirky. PSA has been shockingly profitable these past some years since Tavares took over. Hence the merger with FCA.
Car companies are (unfortunately for some) in the business of making money, not quirky cars that lose money.
“reversing camera with a roof top parking aid, lane departure and blind spot monitoring”
Another in a long list of companies selling cars to morons who can’t drive.
Yeah too funny I drive around all day towing a 47 foot semi trailer with a self steering 4th axle to go backwards I have two mirrors on each door of the tractor unit the main and the blindspot mirror I havent backed over anyone yet or into anything, how can people not reverse something as simple as a car.
Had a look around one while waiting a filter at my old local dealership didnt really like it I’m not a fan of SUVs or CUVs or whatever you call these things, I’ll stay with the older models I reckon.
The way I see about the convoluted relationship between Peugeot and its “bastard” child, Citroën, is very similar in vein with GM and Cadillac. Or more of parallel.
Cadillac was known for the “Standard of the World” and “living room on the wheels” for many decades until 1985 or thereabout. Citroën was known for its automotive interpretation of exalted French avant-garde traditions until its absorption into Groupe PSA in 1974.
Both had incorporated lot of innovative and first-ever automotive technologies, giving them lot of edges against the competitors. That edge drove the customers into two camps: ones with bragging rights to be first on the block with new technologies, forcing others to “keep up with Johnsons”; and others to terminate their long-term loyalties due to disastrous implementation of new technologies (think of V8-6-4, aluminium HT4100/HT4500 V8, etc.).
Both had lost their edges as the competitors changed and customer preference evolved over the time. Mostly, they misread the customer preference and the Magic 8-Ball. Both struggled to redefine their purpose and their position in the ever-expanding automotive universe seemed to fail in that regard to this day. The technologies have evolved into affordable and more “democratic” (available in wider range of vehicles rather than be exclusive to the luxury or halo vehicles). Sometimes being first with new technology can be disaster as many manufacturers find themselves in a terrible bind when that does happen.
Today, the customers could more or less choose the vehicles based on their brand loyalty, styling, price points, and like regardless of how much safety and creature comfort technologies have been incorporated in the vehicles. They tend to be bit more conservative since the resale value is more important than their individuality. Thus, more popular exterior colour choices being black, white, silver, and fifty shades of grey (no pun intended). The manufacturers have to justify taking risks or going with the conservative route because the current situation isn’t forgiving anymore. One mistake or misstep, the whole company goes downhill financially fast.
Cadillac has lately been trying to reimage itself as “European-inspired” American luxury brand, which failed to garner more or new customers while bringing the traditional and former Cadillac customers back into the fold. Ironically, Escalade is the modern interpretation of “Standard of the World” today—the formula that Cadillac should have stuck to. Pity about the stillborn Cadillac Sixteen and about letting the public down with beautiful concept cars that weren’t built or transferred to the production cars. Changing the nomenclature to the confusing alphanumeric didn’t help at all.
Citroën, under the tutelage of Groupe PSA, has lost its avant-garde characteristics over the time by being the Peugeot models with different attire and taking the risk-averse routes. No longer did Citroën stand out as it did with low-slung Traction Avant, outlandish DS, adventuresome Ami, and trendsetting CX. Shame about C6—the beautiful design with lacklustre technology didn’t seem to ignite any excitement (typical of large French executive saloons). Like Cadillac, Citroën had come up with beautiful concept cars such as DS9 Metropolis and DS9 as well as GT by Citroën. None of them were destined for production.
It’s as if GM and Groupe PSA don’t know what to do with Cadillac and Citroën respectively. They have tried to redefine, repurpose, re-evaluate, ad infinitum both brands ever since. More often they try to change the concept, more confused the customers are about their brands. Mercedes-Benz and other manufacturers seem to have better luck in moving with the time than Cadillac and Citroën. Not so for Lincoln and Volkswagen (think Phaeton).
What will the future for Cadillac and Citroën be? Will Citroën go the way of Talbot, Panhard, and other dearly departed French brands—or thrive as luxury or adventuresome sub-brand of Peugeot? Will Cadillac reclaim its original mojo or be consigned as “we-still-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it” thinking?
My late father’s best friend used to be very loyal to Citroën brand for a few decades. I had a chance to ride DS, CX, and XM. He loved to show off their hydropneumatic suspension system, swirling inner headlamps, futuristic dashboards, etc. After Citroën ended XM production and delayed C6 introduction, the closest replacement was frumpy Xanita. He felt insulted about “demotion” and switched to Audi A6. Forty-plus years of loyalty ended in a minute…
A good comparison of Cadillac and Citroen as two brands struggling to find their identity in a changing world. Paul says Citroen is very profitable nowadays; I wonder about Cadillac, and specifically how they would be doing if you excluded the Escalade.
My late father had a friend who lived on a bumpy gravel track in the thick bush, and owned a Traction Avant. Year after year he drove that thing (I hadn’t realised until just now how strong they must be) but replaced it in the sixties with the first Holden Premier. I never did find out what prompted his about-face.
Fun to read about vehicles that we don’t get here, even if they are tame little volume-chasing crossovers. Thanks for reviewing this.
For every quirk and fault described, every wince and scowl made at the shortcomings of this vehicle, I kept scrolling up to the picture of the shifter. Body roll and no lateral support on seats? Yeah, but it has a manual. Zero steering feel and ergonomic problems everywhere? Yeah, but it has a manual! This tells me a really should buy a car with a manual, apparently I’m missing my last one.
BTW, I noticed no description of how well the manual transmission works in this car. We Americans are badly clutch starved, so throw us a bone. Is this a good one to operate?
The shift was OK, if a bit heavier than you’d expect from PSA, and unlike their smaller cars was well placed. But you sense that the auto would better suit the car to be honest.
Is that the sort of thing people really want to drive around in these days? Dear god, what a mess. £30k and will be in a scrapyard in five years. Oh well, at least it’s got CX-style seats.
You’ve told us it has a turbocharged three-cylinder engine. Gasoline or diesel? Or did I miss that?
All petrol engines fitted to the aforementioned trios have three cylinders while diesel engines have four cylinders.
Yes, it was a petrol/gasoline engine. Apologies for not making that clear.