Home / Reviews / First Drive / Citroën C3 Aircross First Drive Review – French Flexibility

 

The C3 Aircross may be Citroen’s smartest move yet. We check it out in Mahabalipuram.

Story: Joshua Varghese

Photography: Apurva Ambep

Citroën’s plan for India has been slow but steady and the pace has picked up because the C3 Aircross is their fourth car for the country and the second one in 2023. After accepting the invitation to drive the pre-production car, we arrived in Mahabalipuram, curious to see just how different the C3 Aircross is to the C3 and if it has what it takes to fight for a place in the highly competitive mid-size SUV segment.

The styling of the C3 Aircross is distinctly French. Subtle with soft lines and an elegance that commands an admiring turn of the head. I like the way it looks, primarily because of its proportions. Any comparison drawn to the C3 would not be fair because this is a larger car and it certainly looks more premium. It is longer, wider and taller. With a length of 4.32 metres, it fits perfectly into the mid-size SUV segment. In spite of the flowing lines, the designers have managed to retain a muscular stance and the tasteful four-spoke alloy wheels fill up the wheel arches quite well, complementing the impressive 200-mm ground clearance. This makes the C3 Aircross a serious contender in its segment, for road presence alone. Born in France but made for India, seems like an appropriate way to describe this car.

The C-Cubed platform that we were first introduced to in the C3 does duty here too. However, it is modular and Citroen have modified it to increase the length and wheelbase of the Aircross. Consequently, there is more room in the cabin than the C3. The interior of the car is similar to the exterior which is to say that its styling cues are soft and subtle. Quality of plastic is good all-round. They feel robust and long-lasting but there is nothing to write home about. Like a French cafe, the cabin is nice and airy with lots of glass area and great visibility. Beige leatherette seats only add to the opulent ambience. A 10.2-inch touchscreen takes care of the infotainment. It is equipped with the essential smartphone connectivity options and also gets a dedicated app. The layout and user interface is simple when compared to competition and not as stocked with features but, personally, I feel it has everything to enjoy a drive. Citroën’s ethic to provide just the useful features is refreshing but while doing so, they have missed out on some items of convenience.

All the windows get an auto roll-down option but none of them get an auto roll-up. Like the C3, switches for the rear windows are located in the rear of the centre console which is within reach for the driver and front passenger but quite a stretch for the rear passengers. Finally, there is no central lock button and one has to quickly get used to the little lever atop the door handle. None of them are really a deal-breaker but the sum of their effects dents the convenience factor, which is a big part of ownership.

The seats are comfortable and instantly feel reassuring even for long drives. To cater to a mixed clientele, Citroën have smartly offered two variants. One is a car that seats five while the other is a five-plus-two configuration. That means that the third row of seats can not only be folded down but can be removed entirely and that can be done well within ten seconds per seat. There is ample room for adults in the first two rows. The third one is a squeeze even for children and the miniscule windows means that it is going to be nobody’s favourite. It is just about okay for short drives. The key difference between the five- and seven-seater models is that only the latter gets air-conditioning vents in the roof, four of them, to be precise, along with a fan speed regulator. To not offer this in the five-seater seems reasonable but in a tropical town like Mahabalipuram, I would choose the seven-seater over the five-seater any day, simply for its extra air-conditioning. Furthermore, by folding down the second row and removing the third row seats, Citroen are claiming as much as 839 litres of boot space.

Under the bonnet is a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine that dishes out 110 hp and a peak torque of 190 Nm. It is a tractable and flexible unit which works rather well with the six-speed manual transmission. From 50 km/h in fifth gear and 60 km/h in sixth gear, the car pulled away smoothly. At 2,000 rpm in sixth gear, which is clearly an overdrive ratio, the C3 Aircross sits comfortably at 100 km/h at 2,000 rpm. When driven aggressively, it responds well, revving cleanly to the redline with linear power delivery supported by good levels of low-end and mid-range torque. When revved to the limit, it runs through the gears quickly and we were doing a little more than 160 km/h (indicated) in fourth gear itself. Despite such a spirited engine-transmission combo, the C3 Aircross is best used to cruise because it appears to come naturally to the car. The steering feel is direct and positive. It makes the car easy to park and also confident to steer at high speeds. A light-action clutch further adds to its ease of use. Overall, it provides an easy driving experience. By the way, there is an automatic transmission in the works but there will be no diesel option.

Most of such poise is due to the French roots of its suspension. Citroen’s ‘flying carpet’ effect lives up to the hype. At low speeds, the C3 Aircross dismisses potholes and ruts without a care in the world, with almost nothing penetrating the cabin. When driving fast on ECR, I was able to appreciate the suspension best over the expansion joints on bridges. The compression and rebound were so well damped that the car held the road admirably and felt at ease even at triple-digit speeds. It is set up on the firm side but the ride quality has not been compromised. It somehow irons out rough patches and only the most notorious of undulations filter into the cabin. Entering a corner fast is not just possible but fully supported by the car’s suspension. The damping is just right to transmit enough weight to the front without unsettling the car or asking too much of the tyres’ adhesion to the road. The C3 Aircross enters a corner confidently at pace, limits understeer and exits with composure. In simple terms, it can take a corner fast with minimal body roll without any claim on the driver’s reserve of confidence. Braking is managed by discs at the front and drum units at the rear; ably supported by ABS, EBD and ESP.

Offered only as a front-wheel-drive model, the C3 Aircross’ off-road ability is limited but its punchy engine, ground clearance and capable suspension did get us around an obstacle course quite effortlessly. The car gets automatic hill-hold which is a step in the right direction but with only two airbags, there is a lot to be desired in the safety department, especially when competing in the mid-size SUV segment. 

At the time of this drive, the pricing was not disclosed, so a comment on the value is not possible. What we can tell you is that the Citroen C3 Aircross is a car that has a potent powertrain and excellent suspension. Together, they make the act of driving enjoyable and that is, personally, singularly important to me. However, a customer will look at other things including interior, features and safety. Citroen have lived up to expectations in all those departments but have not gone out of their way to make their car competitive on paper. The mid-size SUV segment’s pricing ranges from Rs 10-19 lakh (ex-showroom) and, most of the popular ones offer ADAS, feature-rich interiors, disc brakes all around and six airbags. I see the Citroen C3 Aircross being the first SUV for a small family but to undercut the current players in the market, they will have to be extremely aggressive with the pricing. 

Watch the full video review here:

Edit (15-09-2023)

Pricing:

Also Read: Honda Elevate First Drive Review

 

 

About the author: Joshua Varghese

 

Would gape at fast cars. Still does but now has a chance to drive some of them. Hates driving in traffic but makes up for with a spot of off-roading or the occasional track outing. Insta: @motoknight

 

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