There’s a dangerous sameness across much of the SUV landscape. In a sea of drab, carbon-copied, raised adventure wagons, Citroen has tried to position itself as something a little different.
The new C5 Aircross is rather conventional under the skin, but as is typical for the brand's more recent offerings, bright pops of colour and atypical styling touches give it shades of individuality lacking from so many other medium SUVs.
This model is Citroen’s best shot yet at building itself up from being a slow-selling niche brand and gathering momentum as a mainstream marque. Should you consider one for your family? In short, yes, but…
There’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there? Let’s dive in and see what’s what with the new 2019 Citroen C5 Aircross Shine then.
The Shine is the upper of two variants offered in Australia, with the C5 Aircross Feel available from a recommended $39,990 plus on-road costs or the better equipped Shine seen here from $43,990 plus ORCs.
Both share features such as keyless entry and push-button start, a powered tailgate that can be opened with a wave of your foot, auto lights, wipers and self-dimming mirror, LED running lights with halogen headlights, dual-zone climate control, a 12.3-inch digital instrument display and 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment as key inclusions.
Stepping up to the C5 Aircross Shine adds features like a wireless charge pad for your mobile phone, partial leather trim, powered driver’s seat, larger 19-inch alloy wheels, and something the brand calls ‘Citroen Advanced Comfort’ features like memory foam seats, acoustic window glass, and “tall + narrow” wheels and tyres to go with Citroen’s new comfort-biased progressive hydraulic cushion suspension across the range.
Powering the C5 Aircross is a familiar Peugeot-Citroen 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine tuned to deliver 121kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm from 1400rpm in this application. It drives through a conventional six-speed torque converter automatic sending power to the front wheels.
There's sad news for Aussie buyers. Our neighbours in New Zealand get a slightly more powerful and efficient engine, plus an eight-speed auto that we miss out on.
Engine performance is adequate for a mid-size family car. The 1.6 is quiet, smooth and unobtrusive. Acceleration is best described as cheery rather than championship pace. While it may not be the friskiest medium SUV available, the C5 Aircross feels like a comfortable fit for the flow of urban Australia.
Around town, the six-speed transmission is gentle and unobtrusive. Unlike some European automatics, it doesn’t immediately place itself in the highest possible gear, which gives some in-gear flexibility for speeding up and slowing with heaving traffic.
It is a little slower to react than, say, a dual-clutch auto-equipped Volkswagen Tiguan, but is also more positive to drive than CVT automatic-equipped cars. There’s a more positive and predictable feed in of power from a standstill, too, making parking and three-point turns much easier to accomplish.
Citroen has opted to make the C5 Aircross the most comfortable in its class, with softened suspension that allows easy articulation over road imperfections and damped bumpstops to lessen the impact of full compression or extension of the suspension. This linked with more softly padded seats is designed to create a more relaxing ride.
The effect is noticeable – there’s a certain suppleness to the ride without resorting to outright gelatinous wallowing, but even average suburban streets could still thump their way into the cabin. The set-up is forgiving, though not entirely impervious to intrusion.
Citroen describes the system as offering a “magic carpet ride”, but while it aims to deliver the legendary comfort of hydropneumatic suspension systems used by Citroen in the past, it can still crash through on some surfaces like sharp-edged potholes, spoon drains and speed humps.
Super-light steering requiring next to no effort and a similar amount of feedback works well with the pillowy ride, but twitch the steering at speed and the two combine to make the car feel like it’s bobbing on the ocean. Corner carving is not this car’s forte – there’s plenty of body roll as you’d expect, though still some semblance of composure.
The seats may well have the item that attracted far and away the most compliments during CarAdvice’s time with the C5 Aircross. Everyone who climbed aboard was impressed with the broad front seats and their squidgy memory foam padding.
The rears bear the same plush padding, but even with hints of superior spaciousness thanks to an elongated rear door, rear seat space isn’t as generous as it might seem.
Behind tall front passengers, rear seat occupants soon discovered that leg room was limited, and the sculpting of three individually adjustable rear seats made some travellers feel somewhat hemmed in depending on the pitch and position of surrounding seats.
With raised stadium-style seating, outward visibility is good from the rear – something not all SUVs can lay claim to. Individual slide and tilt adjustment make tailoring comfort simple, and air vents in the back of the centre console, plus a pair of USB charge points, should keep back-seaters happy on longer runs.
The rear seat arrangement also allows the seat base to lower as the seats are folded, maintaining a flat floor as the cargo area is expanded.
There’s also a dual-level boot floor for when the seats are in place, and 580L of cargo area with the seats in their rearmost position or 720L with them slid forward, expanding to 1630L once folded. Boot utility takes a hit, however, with no innovative storage spaces or bag hooks in the boot walls (I can’t live without ’em now), but there are four tie-down points in the floor.
Interior design is, perhaps, where Citroen most proudly stamps its individuality. Unlike Peugeot and its confronting small steering wheel and high instrument panel ‘iCockpit’ interior layout, Citroen sticks with a much more familiar interior orientation.
The execution, finished with tone-on-tone colours, repeated AirBump motifs that bring the outside in, quilted seat cushions and stand-alone elements like the air vents set the C5 Aircross apart.
Dashboard controls and buttons are minimised, with key functions all operated from the 8.0-inch touchscreen. It’s a solution that’s not without its drawbacks. Simple acts like making the cabin cooler or changing a radio station can take multiple presses and swipes, whereas physical controls would allow one-press adjustment.
Functions like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are housed within, as is DAB+/FM/AM radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, satellite navigation, and voice recognition. Unfortunately, the system can take a moment to load between screens, dulling its shine somewhat.
Other interior elements maintain their original left-hand-drive orientation, like the engine start button and gear selector. The gear selector sits on the far side of the console for the driver, positioned in such a way as to require a reach under or around the hockey-stick lever to turn the engine on and off.
Perhaps it’s a good way to get your passengers involved? It’s easier for the front seat occupant to toggle the starter button than the driver. It’s a simple ergonomic flaw that simply shouldn’t exist.
Anyone familiar with Citroen’s past efforts will know that glovebox space is a low priority, and that’s the case here, too. At least the centre console makes up for it. While it may look small from above, open it up and you’ll find it extends forward under the console and happily accepted two 1.25-litre soft drink bottles, plus a 600ml water bottle with more room to spare than most cars have empty. Impressive.
Materials are a mixed bag, too. The seat trims in leather and fabric look and feel lovely, with a kind of retro-future style.
The door and dash plastics are a mix of quality padded and low-rent hard surfaces. They do look grand in photos without being as classy in person. Ideal for the hard graft of family life.
Safety spec looks good on paper. The C5 Aircross range features six airbags, traction and multi-mode stability control with settings for mud, snow and on-road use, camera-based speed sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and tyre pressure monitoring.
Two rear ISOFIX and three top-tether seat mounts are provided, plus child locks can be enabled from the driver’s door. ANCAP has only awarded a four-star safety score thanks in part to autonomous emergency braking that lacks pedestrian and cyclist detection (which is available overseas).
Other features that ought to be included given the price are adaptive cruise control (though regular cruise with speed limiter is provided) and LED headlights. Both seem a bit stingy to be excluded when plenty of rivals include the same.
As well as a more advanced AEB system, other markets also get self-parking functionality, driver-attention monitoring (against the timer system for Aus’), plus non-safety spec like contrasting roof paint or optional panoramic roof.
Owners are provided with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years’ roadside assist. Service intervals are scheduled every 12 months or 20,000km, with capped-price servicing inclusive of all fluids and filters set at $458, $812, $458, $812 and $470 respectively ($3010 in total).
Fuel consumption on test settled at 8.4 litres per 100km, which is not too far off the official claim of 7.9L/100km, with 95RON premium unleaded recommended.
In the Citroen C5 Aircross, you’ll find an SUV that’s a little bit fun to look at, never a chore to drive or ride along in, but otherwise slots into the mainstream medium-SUV class without ruffling feathers or requiring owners to adapt to its eccentricities.
Price could be a thorn in Citroen’s side. While it plays at the loaded end, better-value offerings with more plush fittings and higher equipment lists (CX-5 in column A, RAV4 in column B) will make life for the C5 Aircross hard, not to mention the eye-catching Euro style of the Peugeot 3008 it’ll sit next to in showrooms.
There’s little doubt the C5 Aircross will become Citroen’s most popular model. Its form and functionality in Australia’s top-selling segment ensure it a degree of success. It won’t ever top the sales charts, though.
As compelling and endearing as it might be, the balance isn’t quite there yet. That said, niche-busting comfort tuning and a jaunty disposition endow the C5 Aircross with a warm charm that’s missing from rival brands.
If the mass-produced mundaneness of fleet-special SUVs doesn’t appeal to the non-conformist in you, but you don’t want to miss out on the familiar family car requisites you’re likely to need, the C5 Aircross strikes an enjoyable balance.