The first thing to say about the C3 Aircross is that it is not a direct replacement for the C3 Picasso. Picasso is the name Citroen has used for its MPVs, many of which have been riotously successful – remember how popular the Xsara Picasso was back in the 1990s?
Nowadays, however, MPVs are on their way out, and car buyers have realised that the only thing they would rather have than a world with lots of SUVs is a world with even more SUVs. Creating a new C3 Picasso would be an act of folly.
Instead, here’s the C3 Aircross. It’s based on a platform called PF1 which Citroen and partner company Peugeot have been using for a very long time, though there’s nothing wrong with that. The same platform also underpins the Vauxhall Crossland X, and in fact GM Europe (now part of Groupe PSA along with Citroen, Peugeot and DS) builds both that car and the C3 Aircross at its factory in Zaragoza, Spain.
This doesn’t really matter, and if you were unaware of the inner workings of the motor industry you might scarcely believe it. The Citroen and the Vauxhall look completely different, the former having very much the quirky, modern appearance of the C3 hatchback.
It rides 5cm higher than the hatch, and while it’s not SUVy enough to have four-wheel drive it does come with the option of Grip Control and four-season tyres, a reasonable and inexpensive compromise for modest off-roading.
As with the regular C3, there are plenty of colour combinations available both inside and out. These include the option of two-tone paintwork which is probably going to be very popular, given that 95% of UK buyers have so far chosen it when buying the hatch.
There’s less headroom than the height of the car might lead you to expect (fortunately driver’s seat height adjustment is standard in all versions), but legroom in the front and rear isn’t bad. Luggage capacity below the parcel shelf is between 410 and 520 litres depending on how much of the rear seats’ fore-and-aft adjustment you use. For comparison, the load volume of the C3 Picasso was 500 litres, while in the hatchback it’s 300 litres. The front passenger seat can be folded flat so you can carry objects up to 2.4 metres long.
All the body pillars are thick, so visibility in most directions is pretty grim, especially if you opt for the graphics which reduce the amount of usable glass area in the rear side windows by about half.
Reading from the bottom up, there are three trim levels called Touch, Feel and Flair. All them include as standard cloth upholstery, DAB digital radio, a Bluetooth connection, automatic headlights, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, cruise control, front electric windows, roof bars, automatic headlights and air-conditioning of one sort or another.
Move up to Feel and you get all-round electric windows, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a 7″ touchscreen, Mirror Screen and attendant apps, alloy rather than steel wheels and a space-saver spare (the Touch makes do with a tyre repair kit, and you know how silly they are). For 17″ wheels, rear parking sensors, automatic wipers, keyless entry and start, satellite navigation and the full range of colour cominations you’ll have to delve into the options list or buy a Flair.
The Touch is offered only with a 1.2-litre PureTech three-cylinder petrol engine producing 82PS. The Feel and Flair are available with 110 (good enough) or 130 (really quite perky) versions of the same engine or 100 or 120 variants of the BlueHdi turbo diesel.
Automatic transmission is available, but only with the PureTech 110 engine. This set-up produces the worst fuel economy and CO2 emissions, though of course it’s ideal if you either can’t or don’t want to use a clutch.
Apart from the fact that the PureTech 82 (which hasn’t yet been made available to the UK motoring media) will probably struggle to give the C3 Aircross much performance, all the engines have their plus points. They do, however, influence the car in a way that has nothing to do with speed, fuel economy or any of that stuff.
Citroen says that it wants its cars to be “the automotive benchmark for comfort” by 2020, and in the case of the C3 Aircross it’s as well that the company has given itself a couple of years to achieve this. The steering and braking actions are industry-leading, but Citroen needs to give the ride some urgent attention.
Whether on 16″ wheels (Touch and Feel) or Flair, most versions react to bumps in the road rather than absorbing them. Whatever else you might call it, their progress over uneven surfaces isn’t a benchmark for anything.
Why “most versions”, and what does this have to do with engines? Well, it’s the petrol-fuelled PureTech cars that have the biggest problem. The diesels, which must have different suspension settings to account for their greater nose weight, make a slightly better job of dealing with bumps, but they’re still not as good as they could be. Let’s hope Citroen will be working on this soon, if it isn’t already.
Prices (not including what you’ll have to pay for optional extras including any paint colour that isn’t Passion Red) range from £13,995 for the Touch PureTech 82 to £19,720 for the Flair BlueHdi 120. BlueHDi 100 models, which have the best for fuel economy and CO2 emissions, cost from £17,220, while the automatics start at £17,400.
If you like the idea of the C3 Aircross but want something larger, a C5 version already available in China will be coming to Europe in 2018. It’s a replacement for the C4 Aircross, a close relative of the Mitsubishi ASX which was never sold in the UK.