Tall order: Citroen C3 Aircross reviewed

1 November 2017

Citroen C3 Aircross

Citroen C3 Aircross
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: Compliant ride, clever Grip Control
Bad: Questionable seat comfort, touchscreen heating controls
Price: from £13,995 to £19,720 before options

Citroen’s entry into the supermini-sized crossover market is not the prettiest option on the market, if I’m brutally honest. In general I admire Citroen’s current vibe, with its simple shapes and wet-pebble surfaces, but the C3 Aircross has ended up looking a bit too tall and ungainly, to my eye.

When it was revealed in concept-car form at the Geneva motor show in March (see below), the car featured a big slab of plastic cladding at the bottom of the doors, a chunk of visual trickery that helped to take the height out of the sides.

Citroen C3 Aircross concept

When I asked Citroen’s head of concept cars, Fred Duvernier, where the cladding went he said the production car didn’t need it.

“We tried it and we weren’t convinced it was necessary,” he said. “When you have that panel at the bottom of the car it makes the car look longer, makes it look stretched.”

Citroen C3 Aircross in profile

The stretch looked good to me, but it seems cost-cutting may also have had an influence over the plain painted sides. Happily another feature of the concept – the comb-like graphical decoration Duvernier dreamt up for the rear side window – has made it into production. Acting like a venetian blind, the eye-catching design lets you see out but not in at the back.

The coloured stripes are bonded onto the rear glazing and covered with a layer of polycarbonate, so they won’t peel away or get scratched to pieces by a vigorous car wash. If you don’t like the slats they aren’t compulsory – they only appear if you choose a colour pack (which also adds a matching shade to the roof bars, headlamp surrounds and door mirrors).

Citroen C3 Aircross window stripes

With eight body colours to choose from, three optional roof colours and four colour packs, there are 85 possible combinations – mathematicians may notice that 11 potentially eye-watering selections have been ruled out.

There are some colourful options to contemplate inside, too, including a toffee-coloured leather upholstery called Hype Colorado that looks great and costs £750. There’s also a more reserved black leather option and a couple of upgraded fabrics on offer as well. Some of the interior options add red painted rings to the dashboard air vents, which seem like a questionable throwback to the 1980s.

Citroen C3 Aircross Hype Colorado interior

Basically an inflated version of Citroen’s C3 supermini, the C3 Aircross is about 16cm longer, 16cm taller, 1.6cm wider and 110kg heavier than the hatchback. The distance between the axles has also grown by 6cm, liberating a little extra space for knees in the back. The price hike between C3 and C3 Aircross is about £1,300, with the bigger car costing from £13,995 to £19,720 before options.

C3 Aircross replaces the old C3 Picasso people-carrier and retains a whiff of MPV versatility in the cabin. Choose the optional Family Pack (£350 to £490 depending on trim level) and the rear seat sections, split 60:40, will slide back and forth independently by up to 15cm to trade luggage space for legroom. This pack also includes a front passenger seat that can fold forward to accommodate long loads. The Family Pack also provides an automatic Active Safety Brake function to help prevent shunts, which should bring some valuable peace of mind.

Citroen C3 Aircross rear seating

Citroen says it aims to set the benchmark for comfort (rather than sporting stiffness), and it achieves this aim with the C3 Aircross’s pillowy ride. The ride is firm eneough to confer confidence on a twisty road, but road bumps have to try extra hard to make it through to the cabin.

Sadly I can’t be quite as complimentary about the seats. The cars I tried offered a great combination of squish and support under the bum, but seemed to be entirely the wrong shape for the human spine around the shoulders. I emerged after a couple of hours bent into the semblance of a chimpanzee.

Other people didn’t seem to find the car uncomfortable, however, so the issue may be unique to me and my spine.

Citroen C3 Aircross front interior

Other aspects of the driving experience felt a lot better. The five-speed manual gearbox is no bother at all, while the six-speed automatic transmission performed with alacrity when asked to get a move on. The auto box does sap economy, however. I saw 46mpg driving the PureTech 110 stop-and-start petrol engine when paired with the manual box, and 39mpg with the same engine in automatic guise. In short, you’ll probably save a few quid and a little piece of the planet by stirring the gears yourself.

Official CO2 ratings are 115g/km for the 110 petrol engine with manual gears and 126g/km with the auto. The turbo engine has just three cylinders and 1.2 litres of capacity but produces a lively 109bhp and 205Nm of torque. With manual gears it will haul the C3 Aircross to 62mph in 11.3 seconds, though happily from behind the wheel it seems a little more speedy than the stopwatch might suggest.

Citroen C3 Aircross driver's view

The 110 petrol engine is probably the pick of the bunch – there are weedier and beefier petrol options and a couple of diesel options too, with the latter including a 104g/km version.

Seats aside the cabin is a reasonable place to spend time. Money has been spent to make the dashboard look and feel pleasant, and the seven-inch central touchscreen is bright to look at and quick to react. The screen is compatible with iPhone and Android mirroring systems. Sadly adjusting cabin temperature means wrestling with the digital menus.

Impressively for a car of this size, the C3 Aircross offers the option of a colour head-up display. Key information is projected onto a little screen that rises above the instrument binnacle when you switch the car on. Available only with the top Flair trim level, the HUD is part of a £650 technology pack that includes an improved stereo, 3.5-inch colour info panel between the instruments, and a Qi-compatible wireless phone charger.

Citroen C3 Aircross front quarter view

Another interesting option is Grip Control. Available for £400 from the middle of the range, it adds chunky four-season tyres and a box of electronic cleverness to make the most of available traction.

Accessed via a dial jutting out below the touchscreen, Grip Control operates in five different traction modes and uses the car’s stability control systems to detect and correct for wheel slip. A separate button activates a hill-descent mode for inching down steep slopes.

Citroen C3 Aircross Grip Control

Standard mode is suitable for tarmac roads and clement weather. Sand mode activates an electronic differential lock, keeping both wheels turning to ensure the C3 Aircross can cope with loose surfaces at up to 75mph. Mud mode is similar, allowing only a limited amount of slip between the driven wheels on boggy surfaces. In extremes, it can send 100% of the engine’s power to just one wheel.

Snow mode will limit torque to try to help tyres grip without spinning on ice or slush. It switches off above 30mph. And finally there’s an ESP Off setting for drivers who think they can do better without any computerised help.

Citroen C3 Aircross rear view

Grip Control won’t magically turn the C3 Aircross into a mud-plugging 4x4 – the car is only available with front wheel drive – but it might take the worry out of venturing into an overflow car park on a rainy Sunday.

Overall, the C3 Aircross is a reasonably charming new option among the increasing number of compact crossovers. It’s not the best car in its class, but it has a few tricks up its sleeve to tempt buyers with an eye for something different.

Citroen C3 Aircross front and back

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