A quirky compact SUV to tempt the youth market

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  • What is it?

The C3 Aircross is a pumped up version of the C3. However, unlike its hatchback sibling, the Aircross is sold as a crossover SUV – up against the likes of Kia’s Stonic and the Hyundai Kona.

And according to Citroën project manager Etienne Menant, it is a ‘compact SUV with personality’.

  • What’s new?

The C3 Aircross is an entirely new model for the French automaker, but is based on the same platform as the C3 hatchback, Vauxhall Crossland X and Peugeot 208. However, those who are familiar with the current C3 hatchback will see design traits carried over, including the infotainment system and funky fabric seats, which are available in five colour combinations.

One update that is worth mentioning is the new six-speed gearbox, which feels like a massive improvement over the five-speed box currently in the C3 hatch.

  • What’s under the bonnet?

There are two engines to choose from, with varying power outputs. The one in our test car was a 1.6-litre diesel with 120 bhp. A lesser-powered 100 bhp model is also available. Both come with a five- and six-speed manual gearbox respectively.

Our car was fitted with the six-speed manual, which felt very precise through the gears and is a real improvement on the gearbox in the C3 hatchback, which feels very notchy.

A 1.2-litre petrol unit is also available with either 82 bhp, 110 bhp or 130 bhp. We tried the 110-bhp version with the six-speed automatic gearbox, and although mostly very good, it did seem to get confused about what gear to be in at times, especially when climbing any steep gradients, of which there were a lot during our test in Corsica. Our recommendation would be to stick with the five-speed manual when opting for the petrol, as the buzzy little three-cylinder likes to be revved a lot and so changing gears yourself will get the best of those 110 horses.

  • What’s it like to drive?

Out on the open roads of Corsica, the C3 Aircross felt very impressive. Not only did it drive like a confident crossover, it has the capabilities to match. This is thanks mainly to a large amount of ground clearance and hill descent control, which were both especially helpful when tackling some exceptionally steep dirt tracks down the mountains.

This feeling of confidence is retained on the tarmac too, where the Aircross really feels stable through the bends, unlike with other crossovers. Throw it into a sharp bend and the grip is fantastic, as is the acceleration, even in the 120 diesel. It might not be immensely fast, but the peppy oil burner certainly has enough power for city streets, motorway cruising or just pottering down country roads.

One negative trait that slightly lets the car down is the rather vague steering. It feels far too light to inspire any knowledge of what the front wheels are actually doing, nor does it feel connected to the road. On the upside, the light power steering makes parking a doddle.

  • How does it look?

The exterior of the C3 Aircross carries over Citroen’s signature look, and from the front is identical to its sister, the C3 hatchback, apart from its two-tier lighting. Look beyond that, though, and you notice it has no airbumps on the side but does have chunky ‘rough and tough’ plastic trim along the wheel arches. There’s also a lot of stylish colour combinations – eight colours and three exterior roof colour packs.

Towards the rear there is a third window on each side, both containing a venetian-blind pattern. Although this adds some design flair to the exterior, from the inside it restricts rear three-quarter visibility and would certainly prove an issue when trying to change lanes on a motorway at night.

  • What’s it like inside?

The interior is very different to that of its rivals. Throughout there are lots of soft-touch materials, including a rather bizarre and yet wonderful rubber textile used on the dashboard that makes it feel unique. The entire cabin has five colour combinations to choose from. Our car had a space-age-like tweed-effect material on the seats and really stood out.

In terms of practicality there is ample leg room in both the front and the back, but headroom is restricted in the rear and although I’m only 5 ft 9 in I struggled to sit up fully in the rear without slouching slightly, although our car was fitted with the panoramic roof, which does eat into head space slightly.

In the boot you find a reasonable amount of space, with between 410 and 520 litres of cargo space depending on whether or not you leave the removable floor in place or not, revealing a secret cubby. Fold the rear seats down and this increase to 1,289 litres – enough for that trip to Ikea.

  • What’s the spec like?

The Aircross comes with a choice of three trim levels – Touch, Feel and Flair. Prices for the car start at £13,995 for the base Touch model and rise to £19,720 for the range-topping Flair model. Each has different amounts of equipment choices, with the top-spec Flair coming with pretty much everything. This was certainly the case with our car, which had Citroen’s connect touch screen satnav and infotainment system, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, keyless start, and Citroen’s emergency and assistance system.

Other features available include a panoramic glass roof at £950. The £650 Techno HiFi pack adds wireless phone charging, a head-up display and HiFi radio with a subwoofer. Another option worth having is the Park Assist Pack. For £600 you get front parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, self-park assist and a 360-degree parking camera.

  • Verdict

The C3 Aircross is a very competent car that will give its crossover rivals a real run for their money. Not only does its styling make it stand out, it’s actually very good to drive, has a durable and comfortable interior and is excellent value. It’s also a massive improvement over the car it replaces, the rather dated C3 Picasso. OK, so it’s no driver’s car and you won’t win when pulling away from a set of traffic lights, but it is a stand-out family car for under £20,000, and for that reason alone it scores highly.

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