Where do we begin – considering in Europe the subcompact crossover segment has become a massive playground for virtually every global automaker? The C3 Aircross dives head first into the fight, armed with the credentials of every mini-SUV out there and also some MPV secrets inherited from its predecessor, the C3 Picasso.
By the way, the C3 Aircross moniker isn’t actually new in some parts of the world – in Latin America the Aircross is a derivation of the predecessor, the C3 Picasso, locally produced in Brazil since 2010 and reworked to gain enhanced crossover features. Meanwhile, the C3 Aircross for Europe has nothing in common with the predecessor – the styling, penned by Pierre Authier (the man in charge of the 208 and 2008 line at Peugeot, but also the stylist for the 307, 308, 508 and EX1 Concept), marking a stark departure. That’s simply because the Citroen range has a new design line, but also because just like other automakers, the French automaker has abandoned the subcompact MPV C3 Picasso in favor of a crossover model. With incredible sales gains, virtually every automaker around the world – even in America, known for its prioritization of size – has an entry in the subcompact crossover genre, making it quite hard for us to select a sensible roster of competitors for the C3 Aircross. Never mind that, we’ll get there soon enough – let’s talk generics for a bit. And the most important aspect for clients, when discussing the PSA group as a whole, is the versatility of its offerings in the segment – Citroen has the all-new C3 Aircross, Peugeot has the critically and commercially acclaimed 2008 and Opel follows suite with the Crossland X brother. In a world of internal copycats – where models within the same range superimpose due to a lack of design vision and clarity, seeing three models from three brands – related, but still competing – so vastly different is certainly refreshing.
It’s also of note that Citroen keeps being… quirky. That’s a test of courage, since more and more automakers lack the desire to become different, and instead choose the standard, the norm. There’s nothing wrong with customers who seek a traditional model – but let’s agree that when it comes to crossovers, which from the start are designed to break the mold, it’s seriously odd to come up with an overly conventional design. That’s not to say it’s not going to be successful – while the Juke led the sales in the early days when Nissan invented this exploding niche, it’s the Renault Captur that grabbed a hold of the first place in recent memory. But it was seconded by the Peugeot 2008, a model that’s not as quirky as the Citroen offerings but it’s certainly standing out in terms of styling next to the sensible Captur. The other two offerings from PSA are actually designed to offer the extreme alternatives – the Crossland X is stylish and conventional, the C3 Aircross is an ace in terms of customization and a stand-out from any angle. As you’ll see during our review, I discovered that an unconventional style was not the only thing Citroen used to ramp up attention for the C3 Aircross, with the French also using a few tips and tricks learnt in the past with the C3 Picasso.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
The C3 Aircross, just like its bigger sibling, the C5 Aircross is a completely new entry in the Citroen range – coming to replace the C3 Picasso, as MPVs have apparently fallen out of favor virtually everywhere. As such, the C3 Aircross comes with a completely new design, one that embraces the quirkiness of the Citroen brand and arrives with a ton of customization options. Let’s talk figures – five interior design themes and no less than 90 exterior combinations – it’s certainly a subcompact crossover for the new generation, as the automaker states. The trick with so many “personalities” is the C3 Aircross can also be configured in a very bland, standard form, meaning that except for the body design, even traditionalists have something to choose from. Oddly enough – given the sheer number of choices – Citroen doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind about the proprietary “Airbump” panels, a noticeable feature that was first seen on the crazy C4 Cactus. The regular C3 has them, but not the C3 Aircross – even though the larger C5 Aircross still uses them, albeit in a lower position than expected, acting as extensions of the side sills. This is a bit disorientating, since the C4 Cactus still features them even after it has been transformed into a regular hatchback with the facelift, the C3 sports them front and center (actually side and center on the lateral doors) and even the C5 Aircross has them. Perhaps they outlived their purpose, but since the Aircross range has a linked design, it seemed rather logical the Airbumps – a distinguishable feature of the brand – would follow suite.
Never mind this philosophical digression, the C3 Aircross is a typical crossover – slightly elevated and featuring a raft of plastic body protections that will make it more adaptable to the urban jungle. At 4,15 meters long, the C3 Aircross is certainly an urban crossover – and plays in the same dimensional league as many of its competitors. We selected for this review some: the Fiat 500X, Ford EcoSport, Kia Stonic, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 208, Renault Captur and the SsangYong Tivoli. By the way, if you feel the overall approach to the body design is familiar, better revert back to the C3 Picasso – both feature a very high hood with ample front overhangs, a rather upright windscreen and large doors with ample windows – Citroen’s “Advanced Comfort” program seems to have taken some traits from the past for the Aircross, making sure even those upgrading from the MPV will still feel at home in the new model. It’s also a great way to boost interior space – which is sizeable and concealed with some clever design choices. For example, the rear lateral windows, behind the rear doors, have been cleverly hidden behind a set of optional decals. Interestingly enough, the integrated metallic trim that hints at the presence of a skid plate front and rear has a certain reference to the “torpedo launch tube” styling employed by the Juke at the front… It’s probably unintentional, but I noticed it because it seemed rather out of place with the otherwise fluid and fluent styling used by Citroen as of late.
Naturally, the new front fascia styling – something that’s now being used across the range – is what makes the C3 Aircross so unique in the segment – Citroen being one of the main exponents of the split headlight design current as of late. It’s not something new actually, but it usually delivered horrendous results (anyone remember the Fiat Multipla?!) – and even now it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of cake. Interestingly though, it’s extremely fashionable, according to the feminine part of the market. This is an indication the C3 Aircross is going to appeal directly to that part of the customer base, even more so given the clear MPV traits found inside. Citroen also clearly developed the C3 Aircross as an urban dweller, which boils down to the technical characteristics but also to the way the design has instilled a sense of self-awareness. It’s quirky and French chic on the outside, and among the segment leaders when discussing the cabin. Certainly a worthy combination for urban dwellers – some of them with family and probably using the C3 Aircross as the sole mobile companion. So, let’s dive inside now – where Citroen contends it has the best ceiling height, along with generous leg room. Before moving to the driver’s position for the usual comments, let’s get this straight – the C3 Aircross is a worthy successor of the C3 Picasso, with its comfortable and ample front seats and also a highly modular rear bench and trunk. The Aircross sports a sliding 60/40 bench (150 mm) with two independent parts, a reclining back, a flat-folding front passenger seat for a load length of no less than 2.40 meters and a luggage volume of 410 to 520 liters in its standard configuration. The total load volume is of 1,289 liters and there’s also a modular mobile boot floor – the Aircross beats the 500X (350/100 l), the EcoSport (310/375/1238 l), Stonic (332/1135 l), Juke (354/1189 l), 2008 (338/1194 l) and is on par with the Tivoli (423/1115 l), the Captur (377/455/1235 l) and the Crossland X (410/1255 l).
Now on to the driving position – which is suitably high for a crossover, and fortunately doesn’t have the forced quirks of an MPV. More so, the front seats are ample and comfortable – though they naturally lack good lateral support for those moments when Citroen’s inherited comfort is being ditched for a quick journey. We all know the brand is PSA’s “affordable” mainstream player – and if you don’t select the high-profile trims and stroll along the optional list you’ll clearly see how that translates in reality. Fortunately, Citroen doesn’t go cheap on materials – it only does so when it comes to the infotainment system/instrument cluster assembly. The former is a tablet-style interface that has all controls (save for a few, direct links) in touch form – on and around the display. It’s a technologically advanced choice – the problem is the interface looks old and cheap, while responsiveness is clearly subpar when compared to our mobile gadgets – smartphones and personal tablets. On the other hand, Citroen does offer most of the systems a young techie would need – from a heads-up display, wireless charging with the Qi standard, Mirror Screen function, with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink to the Citroen Connect Nav, connected 3D navigation with voice recognition and the Citroen Connect Box, an emergency and assistance system.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
With PSA Peugeot Citroen being the only carmaker to offer official real-world consumption tests of its models, it’s only natural customers would feel inclined to select a diesel engine for the C3 Aircross. And because the C3 Aircross is a model suitable for urban environments due to its dimensions, I feel the BlueHDi 100 is enough – Citroen also offers the same engine with 120 hp – even though you’ll have to contend to the use of a five-speed manual transmission instead of a six-speed version. The one thing I indeed found lacking was the start/stop feature – it’s dreaded by many but I really feel we should all start caring for mother nature, or at least our pockets, especially if we do a lot of urban travel. With 100 hp, the C3 Aircross isn’t going to be a champion on the track – 11,5 seconds to 100 km/h and 175 km/h as terminal velocity is hardly worthy of praise. But you’ll feel inclined to give up the sporty preferences when checking up the average fuel economy – 4 liters per 100 km, even without the help of the start/stop system. That’s because Citroen favors efficiency and comfort above anything else with the C3 Aircross – everything has been fine tuned for these two parameters. For example, the Aircross has an astonishing turn circle that will make it a peach to use in the strict confines of our crammed cities. And even when joining the highway band for a longer journey it will remain a good travel companion – the engine noise is mostly absent, while the gearbox setup still favors economy even at highway speeds (this is a trait absent even from some of the six-speed gearbox competitors!). Now let’s compare specs. The Fiat 500X with the 1.3 Multijet 95 hp engine will jump to 100 km/h in 12,9 seconds and go on until 172 km/h, all in exchange for 4,1 liters per 100 km on average. The EcoSport with the 1.5 TDCI 95 hp is at 14 seconds / 160 km/h / 4,4 liters. The Kia Stonic 1.6 CRDi 110 hp is at 11,3 / 175 and 4,2. The Nissan Juke is a worthy opponent – 11,2 / 175 / 4 liters. Opel’s Crossland X 1.6 Diesel with 99 hp fares a little bit better in two categories – 11,6 / 180 and 3,9 liters. The 2008 meanwhile bests both: 11,3 / 180 / 3,7 liters.
Handling the C3 Aircross – even though it’s a crossover – feels like every other Citroen. You can only have it with front wheel drive, and the only “off-road” features you can select are the Grip Control system, the Hill Assist Descent feature and 16 / 17 inch alloys with mud-and-snow tyres. But these aren’t the only technologies available for the little SUV – there’s also keyless entry and start, a reversing camera or head-up display, Lane Departure Warning / Blind Spot Monitoring, and also high-tech offerings that were usually the panache of larger, more expensive models. For example, you can have the C3 Aircross with Park Assist, with Active Safety Brake and even with Driver Assistance Alert/ Coffee Break Alert, systems that monitor the driver to make sure they remain vigilant and combat fatigue. The aforementioned Connect Nav system features connected features – TomTom Traffic, with real-time traffic info, service-station and car-park search and prices, along with weather information, and a local point-of-interest search function. The driver and passengers usually get the Citroen “Advanced Comfort” treatment, with the brand aiming to “cocoon” the interior dwellers from the outside world – in terms of noise, harshness, vibrations and road imperfection filtering. That’s great for the passengers, which usually have a very comfy ride, but not so much for the driver if there’s a need to exit this “blissful” mode – the body has ample roll, the gearbox gears are long and relaxed and the steering filters everything out. The Aircross is safe – every modern crossover is just as easy to maneuver and stable as a regular passenger car – but it lacks the driving engagement some may look for. No worries, because we all know from the get go Citroens are not to be hastened, a segment direction compromise the brand is willfully willing to make.
Pro: Just as quirky as always in terms of exterior design. The interior is spacious and comfortable, with the Aircross inheriting the MPV traits of the Picasso predecessor in terms of modularity. The diesel engine is still the best offering for this kind of vehicle, offering both efficiency and performance.
Against: The cost cutting measures reflect in the rather vintage-looking infotainment system layout (we’re calling out fonts and general appearance). No start/stop for the 100 hp BlueHDi.
Starting Price – Citroen C3 Aircross 1.6 BlueHDi Feel – 13,613 EUR
Engine: 1.6L four cylinder, diesel, turbo, intercooler (1560 cc)
Power: 100 HP (73 kW) / 43750 rpm
Torque: 254 Nm / 1750
Transmission: 5-speed, manual
Dimensions: length – 4,154 mm, width – 1,976 mm, height – 1,597 mm, wheelbase – 2,604 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45L
Trunk Capacity: 410/520/ 1289 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 11,5 seconds
Top Speed: 175 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 4,5L/100 km, highway – 3,7L/100 km, average –4L/100 km
Rating: 3.4 / 5