Another week, another sports utility vehicle. This time it’s the C3 Aircross from Citroen, a pumped up version of January’s C3 hatch – the car that pioneered the factory-fit traffic camera. It is classed as a compact SUV – an acronym that is now added liberally to anything that has a bit of attitude. Its alter ego is the Vauxhall Crossland X, a joint project with Citroen and built in the same Spanish Opel factory in Zaragoza, Aragon. This is definitely dusty SUV terrain. All use Peugeot-Citroen (PSA) mechanicals but get bespoke exteriors and interiors and tuning of the suspension and steering.
The C3 Aircross should do well. It almost makes dumpy look cool, with a high bonnet line, slim lights, a curious set of under-bumpers pods at the front and back and edge protectors on the sills and arches. It endorses the long-time reputation at Citroen for comfort. Both the ride refinement and the handling are first rate.
Citroen is changing. That’s its latest rallying slogan. It has pioneered a customer ratings website. The changes were at the behest of its chief executive since 2014 – a woman bringing another perspective to the brand. She is Linda Jackson from Coventry who visits rival showrooms to see how women buyers are treated. Her career started stapling invoices at Rover in school holidays. She was recently voted the most influential Briton in the industry.
PSA is on the way back, after a Chinese company invested to keep it buoyant. Sales were 1.2 million last year, of which 762,000 sold in Europe, including 91,000 in the UK. Linda Jackson wants 1.6 million by 2020, and for the brand to set the benchmark for comfort.
The Aircross replaces the popular C3 Picasso carry-all (63,000 UK sales) and, explains Citroen, has an SUV exterior over an MPV interior. In this ambition they are covering the booming market sector. Taking the SUV bit: there’s the tough-kid body, 6.8 inch ground clearance (two inches higher than the C3) to cope with ruts and so on. Peugeot’s Grip Control system is available on all versions bar the 82ps model. It brakes a spinning front wheel to maintain traction, in conjunction with all-seasons winter tyres. It is a £400 option, including the special tyres and hill descent control. If you encounter snow or slithery tracks in your motoring then it is worth having.
Inside, the multi-purpose vehicle details include a sliding rear seat and a fold-flat front passenger seat, giving a maximum load length of 98 inches. These useful features are only standard on the most expensive Flair version.
There are two main trim levels, the Feel, from £15,100 with the 82ps three cylinder 1.2 litre unblown petrol engine, and Flair, same engine from £16,900. If you want the full range of options – like a contrasting roof colour, then you’ll have to have the Flair. This is a conscious effort to make customers buy the more expensive and profitable versions. It’s also a bit mean. It is holding the buyer to ransom.
Both trim levels have the full range of petrol and diesel engines. As well as the 82ps engine these are the same 1.2 petrol in turbocharged 110ps and 130ps tune and a four cylinder 1.6 litre turbo diesel in 100ps and 120ps tune. The latter in Flair trim tops the standard price list at £19,720. An electronically automated gearbox is offered only with the 110ps petrol engine at £17,400 in Feel trim and £19,200 with the Flair package. All but the 82ps petrol engine and the 100ps diesel are fitted with stop-start ignition.
Looks at the enticing colour brochure and the company website and you’ll see that the basic prices are soon going to soar if you tick the big car options like head-up display. “We recommend Flair,” says the website’s configurator. Hold on, who’s paying? Someone at Citroen has been buoyed by the way Mini buyers up-spec their cars. The list prices are just the starting point. The website is stuffed with these baubles but well done if you can find the actual capacities of the engines. They clearly don’t think you are bothered.
If you want to buck the Citroen system there is one cheaper model you can have, the 82ps Touch, at £13,995. You may get a few sniffs at resale time and you can’t have Grip Control or most of the decor options but you get air conditioning, 16 inch alloy-look wheels, DAB audio, auto lights, lane departure and speed recognition and warning – and fixed rear seats.
Actually, you’d be better moving to the Feel, from £15,100 which adds Bluetooth, media streaming, a USB socket, mirror screen with your smart phone, a seven inch touchscreen, cornering fog lamps and faux aluminium bumpers.
If you want Grip Control that means at least £16,200 for the 110ps engine, plus £400 for the kit.
Verdict: Dazzling. Good luck in the showroom.