You can count of Citroen when it comes to launching distinctive cars, and the funky new C3 Aircross is a perfect example.
Effectively replacing the quirky C3 Picasso mini MPV, the Aircross is marketed as a “compact SUV” and is up against some serious rivals in this hotly-contested sector.
There’s no doubt that it looks unlike any of its competitors, but is it just eye candy or can it cut it with the likes of the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, along with newcomers including the Kia Stonic and Seat Arona?
Based on the well-received Citroen C3 hatchback, launched in January 2017, at first sight it seems much bigger, though it’s actually only slightly higher, longer and wider. And with 17.5cm of ground clearance, it also follows the trend of the other “jacked-up” superminis in this segment.
Available in three trim levels – Touch, Feel and Flair – the Aircross range is priced £13,995 to £16,900 and there’s a good choice of petrol and diesel engines.
Just like its sibling, the Aircross is undeniably stylish and cheeky, featuring a “floating” roof and Citroen’s signature two-tier light signature at the front, though the Airbumps on the doors have mysteriously disappeared.
Personalisation is big with urban crossovers and there are 85 colour combinations available, encompassing different body and roof colours, door mirror caps and headlamp surrounds.
It’s much the same story inside where there are five different interior “ambiences” comprising of special seat upholstery, a range of dashboard textures, door panel designs, and colour flashes on the central console surround, steering wheel, air vents and seat backs.
Overall, the interior is spacious with plenty of legroom front and rear, offering “best-in-class space for maximum passenger comfort”. The cabin is bright and visibility is generally good. However, if you opt for the panoramic sunroof it does eat into the headroom, which is an issue for those over six-foot – especially in the back.
The cabin seems comfortable, well put together and boasts some quirky touches and some nice soft-touch plastics, while the instrumentation is clearly laid out. The colour head-up display deserves a special mention. It works particularly well and allows you to keep your eyes on the road more of the time.
The boot is generous with a 410-litre luggage capacity that can be increased to 520 litres thanks to the split rear sliding seats. Total load volume with the rear seats folded down is an impressive 1,289 litres and it benefits from a low loading sill. Finally, the front passenger seat can also be folded to increase the load length to 2.4 metres for transporting extra long items.
There are two petrol and diesel engines to choose from, with varying power outputs. The basic 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol comes with 81bhp mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
Next up is a turbocharged version of the same engine which gives you 108bhp in five-speed manual and six-speed automatic, or with 128bhp as a six-speed manual.
If you’re after the extra pulling power and efficiency of a diesel, then the 1.6-litre unit delivers 98bhp with a five-speed manual or 118bhp with a six-speed manual.
We tested the 108bhp petrol (manual), which is expected to be the UK’s most popular model, along with the automatic version of the same engine, plus the 118bhp diesel manual.
The eager 1.2-litre petrol turbo is an excellent little engine. Thrummy if pushed, it’s capable of a claimed 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds, 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km.
The1.6 diesel is also a solid performer. Pretty refined, it has excellent low-down performance and can deliver a 0-62mph time of 10.7 seconds, 69mpg and CO2 emissions of just 107g/km.
The manual transmission is perfectly acceptable, but it’s not best in class. The gear lever has a long throw and it’s a little notchy, so I’d suggest trying the automatic which is pretty slick and much easier in town.
Citroen’s firmed up the suspension to keep the new car’s body in check during cornering and it works well, though the ride isn’t quite as supple as the regular C3 hatchback and some harsher bumps in the road make themselves known in the cabin. However, with light steering, it’s perfect for tight manoeuvres in town.
It also comes with optional Grip Control with Hill Descent Assist. While this isn’t four-wheel drive, it will give you a little more traction in adverse weather conditions.
The Aircross is well equipped, but you’ll need to move up the trim levels to find the sweet spot, which is probably mid-range ‘Feel’.
The entry level ‘Touch’ comes with DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning and automatic headlights, cruise control and front electric windows.
Move up to ‘Feel’ and you get 16-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink to mirror the display and apps on your smartphone, plus Citroen Connect Navigation.
‘Flair’ adds 17-inch alloys, Venetian Blind style rear window graphics, climate control, automatic wipers, rear electric windows and keyless entry.
We’d recommend opting for the Family Pack (£350 on Flair or £490 on Feel models) which adds automatic emergency braking (Citroen’s name for autonomous emergency braking, which stops the car before a collision if it detects you’re about to run into something). As with all cars, we’d like to see this essential feature standard throughout a range, but at least it’s available.
Verdict: The Citroen C3 Aircross is a breath of fresh air and will definitely appeal to those buyers that want to stand out from the crowd. It’s also spacious, well equipped, easy to drive and there’s a good choice of engines. A fun choice in a seriously competitive sector.