Medium SUVs. It’s Australia’s most voluminous segment, and the most common take on the average family car these days. This neck of the woods, like so many others in our country, is utterly dominated by an offering from Toyota. The RAV4 accounts for one-quarter of over 100,000 mainstream medium-sized SUVs sold up to September in 2020.
Coming dead last, the Eric the Eel of medium SUVs in Australia is Citroen’s C5 Aircross. And just like that brave swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, this French offering is thoroughly likeable.
We have the 2020 Citroen C5 Aircross Shine on review, the most expensive choice of a two-tier range. While the Feel spec starts at $42,990, our tester is sitting at $46,990 plus on-road costs.
|2020 Citroen C5 Aircross Shine|
|Engine||1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power and torque||121kW @ 6000rpm, 240Nm @ 1400rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.9L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.5L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||580L/1630L|
|ANCAP safety rating||4 (tested July 2019)|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$46,990|
Expensive? Yes. Is it egregious? Not really, when you look at others in the segment. Toyota’s dominant RAV4 maxxes out at $48,915, while Mazda’s diesel-powered CX-5 Akera asks for $51,330. Hyundai’s Tucson Highlander, also diesel, is a $49,150 job.
One big difference here is that those high-spec competitors include all-wheel drive, something the Citroen misses. It also doesn’t offer an option of diesel power like Nissan, Hyundai or Mitsubishi, or hybrid assistance like Toyota and Subaru. Instead, it gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
Running through a smooth six-speed torque converter gearbox, and shared with many other Citroen/Peugeot vehicles, the 1.6-litre engine makes 121kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm at 1400rpm.
Going to the front wheels, and pushing 1402kg of tare mass, the C5 Aircross does a good enough job of hurtling around town. 0–100km/h is a claimed 9.9-second affair, so don’t expect to be pushed back into your seat at all. It’s a quiet operator, feeling a little torquey and flexible across the rev range. For punting around town and the occasional highway jaunt, it’s sufficient for the application.
Citroen's claimed 7.9 litres per 100km isn't too unrealistic, with our test netting 8.5L/100km. That did include a few big highway stints, however, so your own usage will climb up if you're bustling through town non-stop. And don't forget, it needs more expensive 95RON fuel to run happily.
Unlike other specifications in different regions (including New Zealand) that get an eight-speed automatic gearbox (and some extra power to boot), the Australian market is stuck with a more rudimentary six-speed automatic gearbox. Made by Aisin, it’s a good companion to the engine. It’s smooth and decisive with its shifts. Although, the extra couple of ratios wouldn’t go astray either.
The main difference between Feel and Shine specifications is the leather seat trimming with electric adjustment, although it’s worth saying the cloth seats of the Feel are certainly not duds. There’s also a wireless smartphone charger, as well as acoustic windscreen glass and a different wheel and tyre package.
The Shine has narrower 205/55 tyres on a 19-inch alloy wheel compared to 235/55 and 18-inch alloys for the Feel. While the diameter is only slightly different, this tyre has a bit less width and sidewall.
Another big claim to fame for this C5 Aircross is in the suspension. With a history of unique and innovative suspension designs in its history, Citroen’s latest claimant is ‘Progressive Hydraulic Cushions’. There is still a coil spring and shock absorber used, so visually the Citroen’s suspension is no different. However, there is a party trick.
Within the shock absorber, up and down movement forces oil to travel through special galleries, and additional springs within the shock absorber give additional resistance. So while the coil spring itself might initially be quite soft for comfort, extra control gets dialled in progressively by the shock absorbers for control to maintain comfort.
It might not be the complex hydropneumatic suspension revolution of yesteryear, but the ride does benefit from great suppleness around town. Bigger hits, speed bumps and smaller undulations are all handled well, and better than most of the competition at this pricepoint.
Steering is impressively light at low speeds, but offers nice weight and feeling once moving along. It handles well, too. Body roll is well managed despite the supple suspension, and understeer isn’t apparent, unless perhaps you’re driving a bit silly.
The 8.0-inch infotainment is a strong point. It’s slick, sharp and looks premium with its size and design. Within here lies Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the Shine specification also gets native navigation. On top of that is an equally quality 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which has a variety of display modes to scroll through, and adds even more of a premium sense to the cabin.
Along with feeling well made, the combination of materials and designs lends a unique and characterful ambience. It’s comfortable, too. The seats use memory foam in parts to mould to your body, and there are good ergonomics on offer for driver and passengers alike.
Piano-black strips of additional buttons for general controls and air-conditioning work well enough, and look pretty snazzy at the same time. I thought these looked familiar, and now remember a lot of these are related to the even more impressive interior of the Peugeot 508.
Also similar is the lever-shaped gear selector and stop-start button. Although, in this case they haven’t made the effort of moving it closer to the driver for a right-hand-drive application.
And while you get a variety of off-road-focussed driving modes through a twisty knob, don’t forget we’ve only got two driven wheels across the range.
The centre console is decently deep, and there are a couple of storage spots for your gear. Also, there are the requisite twin cupholders, along with a USB and 12-volt outlet.
The second row, in particular, is quite good. Each seat folds and slides individually, so I guess you could call it a 33/33/33 split. That’s quite unique and adds to the versatility of the C5 Aircross. For example, if you’ve got a big baby seat that needs stacks of room, slide that seat all the way back. Forward-facing seats don’t need so much space, so that seat can move forward to liberate additional boot space.
During my test, I found the back seat to be both comfortable and spacious, with enough leg room and head room on offer for most situations. With no transmission tunnel, the middle seat in particular is one of the most spacious I’ve come across. Instead of feeling like a shag on a rock, you’re actually comfortable. And being able to fit comfortably in the middle between two bulky child seats, which I can attest to, is another testament to the spacious second row.
The boot measures 580L, which grows to 720L when the second row is slid forward. Fold it down and you've got 1630L.
Costing $3010 for the first five years, the Citroen stacks up as relatively expensive to service, which takes a bit of sheen off the potential competitiveness of this French marque. Intervals sit at 12 months or 20,000km.
Don't walk away on that point, though. Citroen currently offers five years of free scheduled servicing. So, consider that three-grand expunged off the bill. It’s part of a special offer, however, so we aren’t sure how long it will last.
Citroen’s new-car warranty covers five years and unlimited kilometres, and includes roadside assistance.
Autonomous emergency braking up to 85km/h is great, as is the blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and tyre pressure monitoring. There are also front and rear parking sensors and speed sign recognition. And while the reversing camera might look like a 360-degree set-up, it's not. Instead, it records the image as you reverse back, building out an image that isn't live – i.e, something or someone could walk in close from the side and it wouldn't be displayed.
Four stars' worth of ANCAP safety is on offer from 2019. Citroen's lack of pedestrian and cyclist detection prevents it from being eligible for a five-star score.
Although Citroen is one of the most storied and historically innovative car manufacturers out there, the brand is often viewed from an arm’s length in Australia and doesn’t go onto the consideration list of serious buyers. Sure, there is a small band of brand enthusiasts who help sales numbers trickle through, but just because it’s a Citroen, many will steer clear.
And it’s a damned shame, because the C5 Aircross is a very good car. It doesn’t take a lot to look and feel different to the increasingly monotonous mainstream herd these days, and there’s enough unique feel and design to this C5 Aircross inside and out to set it apart. But more importantly, it’s comfortable, spacious, practical and safe, making it a likeable companion in the daily grind of life.
I’m often loath to give my own advice to car companies who undoubtedly know a lot better than me, but I feel like Citroen’s non-mainstream and contender brand perception in Australia means there needs to be better value built into the purchase. If it were a bit cheaper, and undercut its better-known competitors...
If there were all-wheel drive and diesel power on the cards, something Australians seem to love, maybe it would be a different story. But regardless, this Citroen is significantly better than the sales numbers suggest.
Whether you’re buying one because you really like it, or buying one to be different, it doesn’t matter. Because although it’s got a little bit of extra drain on the wallet, the C5 Aircross is well designed and well executed.