Citroen has been trying for 96 years to get a foothold in Australia, but the new C5 Aircross could be the car that finally gets some traction – by targeting the biggest segment of the market with an unconventional but clever design pitched at a mainstream price.
The Citroen C5 Aircross is a five-seat SUV designed to compete with the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester. Yet, it looks like none of the above, has one of the biggest cargo holds in the class, and has a seating arrangement so clever its rivals will be copying it in no time.
To keep the line-up simple, there are just two models, both of which are well equipped. The Citroen C5 Aircross Feel starts from $39,990 plus on-road costs, and the C5 Aircross Shine starts from $43,990 plus on-road costs. The drive-away prices equate to about $43,000 and $47,000 respectively.
These prices put the C5 Aircross in the middle of the mid-size SUV market. Some rivals start from less than $30,000, while others eclipse $55,000.
There are no factory options other than metallic ($690) or pearl paint ($1050). And there are only seven choices of colour, rather than more than 30 combinations in Europe.
Both models are powered by a turbo 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine matched to a six-speed auto. Despite the off-road appearance, both are front-wheel drive only and all-wheel drive is not available.
As with most European cars, the C5 Aircross insists on 95RON premium unleaded.
Standard safety equipment includes autonomous emergency braking up to 85km/h, speed sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, tyre pressure monitoring, a rear-view camera, along with front and rear parking sensors.
Rear cross-traffic alert and reverse AEB are not available, but the C5 Aircross still earns a five-star safety rating.
The rear camera has a 180-degree view by 'recording' its surroundings as you prepare to park. Best to regard it as rear-view only. A 360-degree camera is not yet available.
Both models come with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio, built-in navigation, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, and a gorgeous 12.3-inch widescreen digital dash display that can be personalised. The infotainment screen has an adjacent volume dial, which is easier to locate without taking your eyes off the road than fumbling for the touchscreen or steering wheel controls.
One cool feature I wish someone showed me earlier: to bring up all the option ‘tiles’ on the infotainment screen, simply do a three-finger swipe down, similar to some smartphones and computer track pads.
Dual zone air-conditioning (with air vents to back seats), dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and a sensor key with push-button start are also standard fare.
The $4000 price premium on the flagship C5 Aircross Shine gains a wireless phone-charging pad, leather upholstery rather than cloth, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, and 19-inch alloy wheels rather than 18s.
The back row has two ISOFIX child seat mounting points and three top tether points. Citroen says there are no plans for a seven-seater.
Unlike other cars in the segment, the back row is split into three individual seats that can independently slide forward 150mm and tilt by between 19 and 26 degrees.
While back seat space can be a bit tight depending on the location of the front seats, the cargo area is one of the largest in the class, with 580L of space when the seats are in the rear-most condition and 720L when they’re slid furthest forward.
Under the boot floor is a space-saver spare tyre. Not ideal, but better than a can of goop in the form of a tyre inflator kit.
Warranty coverage is five years/unlimited kilometres plus five years' roadside assistance. Service intervals are 12 months/20,000km, whichever comes first.
Capped-price servicing is comparatively expensive: $458 for the first service, $812 for the second service, and $458 for the third service. The cost climbs back up to $812 for the fourth routine maintenance visit, and the last capped-price visit at the five years/100,000km visit is $470.
Citroen says its service costs cover items for which other brands charge extra. Even so, these figures are on the high side.
On the road
First impressions when you open the door: it looks like a luxury car inside. Even the cloth seats in the base model have an upmarket feel and appearance, and the digital instrument display is normally reserved for dearer vehicles.
Visibility all around is generally good, with the exception of the over-shoulder view when parking, which is blocked by the large roof pillars at the rear.
The door pockets front and rear are massive, and the centre console is quite possibly the biggest and deepest in the class. The glovebox, though, is narrow and comparatively small.
The back seats are genius: split into three individual seats that can be slid forward or back, tilted, or folded flat. Few cars in this class have this flexibility other than the Skoda Karoq, which has second-row seats that fold up individually behind the front seats – or can be removed altogether – to create a massive cargo area.
The C5 Aircross cargo hold is among the biggest in the class, but back seat roominess is not quite as generous as a result.
As with its Peugeot 3008 twin, the Citroen C5 Aircross is powered by a 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine (121kW/240Nm) matched to a conventional six-speed automatic. It’s not meant to be a race car, of course, but its acceleration is average for the class rather than a standout. It’s fine for suburban and freeway driving, but you can notice the power deficit when loaded up a hill.
The claimed fuel consumption average is 7.9L/100km. On the launch it was closer to 10–11L/100km when not driving for economy. It requires premium 95 RON premium unleaded. Towing capacity is a modest 1200kg.
The C5 Aircross in Australia gets new-generation 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushions' suspension as standard (replacing the retired Hydropneumatic system), which Citroen claims delivers a magic-carpet ride.
I would say it’s comfortable, but it would be worth managing your expectations. The pick of the two for me is the 18-inch wheel-and-tyre combination. It has a little more side profile to help absorb bumps.
One more point of difference on the tyres: the 18s are slightly wider (235mm) than the 19s (205mm). Citroen did this to try to make the 19s more forgiving over bumps, while still delivering the upmarket appearance of large 19-inch alloys. The 19s were a touch noisier and a touch busier than the 18s, even though the tyres on both were Michelin.
The different widths also mean the 18s have a slightly bigger footprint on the road. That said, few owners are going to be attempting a slalom in one of these. Just know that it will get the job done and be more than able to help you in a swerve-and-avoid emergency.
The electric power steering feels a bit light and direct at first, but after a while you start to appreciate how easy it is to drive and how comfortable it feels overall.
The big unknown is resale value. French cars tend to be hit a bit harder than Japanese vehicles on the used market, but you could argue that this is the price of being fashionable. Be sure to haggle on the way into the deal, so you're losing less on the way out in a few years.
I can’t remember the last time I recommended a French car. I generally love their unique designs, but baulk at some of their eccentricities, reputation for high running costs, and question marks over reliability.
However, I came away so impressed with the Citroen C5 Aircross, I would genuinely consider one if I were in the market for a mid-size SUV. The only caveat: the base model on 18-inch wheels and tyres is all the car you need, and more comfortable to boot.