The C3 Aircross enters a tough segment; has Citroën done enough to sway potential T-Cross and EcoSport buyers?

According to Citroën’s own research into potentially rejoining the South African market, some motorists were unaware the brand exited the country at the end of 2016. After a brief hiatus, the carmaker has now returned and, with a range of cars sporting a generous level of standard specification, impressive service plan and a splash of colour, the manufacturer wants the public to notice it’s back.

The first variant to make its way into the CAR test garage is the C3 Aircross which neatly slots between the equally funky C3 hatchback and C5 Aircross. With this small crossover, Citroën aims to snatch a substantial percentage of market share from established rivals such as the Volkswagen T-Cross, Ford EcoSport and newcomer Hyundai Venue.

The C3 Aircross press unit was met with great intrigue by CAR team members eager to acquaint themselves with the first Citroën on test in three years. Judging by appearance alone, first impressions were positive. It’s refreshing to see a vehicle on the road that so closely resembles the original concept car.

Three exterior colours are on offer: Platinum Grey, Soft Sand and Natural White featured here. Some team members did have reservations about the muted hues. Citroën South Africa might want to consider adding brighter shades to the palette in the future. One tester commented that the Citroën may be overlooked when parked next to a T-Cross similarly personalised to the orange example we tested late in 2019.

If you were wondering whether the firm has toned down its sense of quirkiness elsewhere with the small crossover, the answer is a resounding “no”. The eye-catching Spicy Orange trim highlights extend to the bulbous headlamp clusters, mirror caps, roof rails and those Venetian blind-style rear-quarter side windows. Divisive as they may be – considering the dyed-in-the-wool South African buyer’s market – the vivid motif won favour with the majority of the CAR team.

A pair of chrome strips extending from the Chevron moniker spans the grille and surrounds the slim daytime-running lights to add sophistication. The taillamps’ 3D graphics look great but the absence of Airbumps did have testers scratching their heads. The decision to offer these items only to the smaller C3 hatchback and not to the car which bears the Aircross badge is puzzling. One tester mentioned that, as the C3 Aircross is tall in structure, the addition of the rubber items would visually break up the expanse of bodywork.

This model is the top-of-the-range Shine derivative (the entry-level Feel is available for R20 000 less) and doesn’t want for much. It ships standard with automatic headlamps (halogen where the T-Cross Highline features LEDs), foglamps, rain-sensing wipers and electrically folding mirrors. Keyless start and entry is also included.

The orange accents continue on the inside. In comparison with the small crossover’s sculpted bodywork, the facia is more angular in design. Orange is used sparingly on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and rectangular air vents, while the squared-off pews gain orange inserts and contrast stitching. Perceived interior build quality is impressive, with a swathe of soft-touch material covering the dash and perforated mesh-like fabric on the door handles. Although there are myriad hard plastics throughout the cabin, they feel robust.

The cockpit features a seven-inch infotainment system with smartphone-mirroring functionality, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port. The climate control can be set to a pleasingly low temperature of 14°C for when summer strikes, although the touchscreen display used to tweak the system can be slightly laggy. The multifunction tiller offers rake and reach adjustment and the driver’s seat can be manually finetuned for height.

Measuring 4 154 mm long and 1 756 mm wide, the Citroën is more compact than the T-Cross. However, thanks to its clever design, it boasts additional headroom all-round (921 mm up front and 861 mm aft), while rear kneeroom is a slight improvement on the German crossover’s: the sliding rear bench offers knee clearance of between 583 and 716 mm. That forward setting liberates an additional 104 litres of boot space, too.

The C3 Aircross impressed the CAR team with its levels of practicality and comfort, and this extends to its driving manners. The suspension is softly sprung and, even riding on optional 17-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard fitment), the ride is fuss-free. Body roll is present when cornering but that’s expected for a car of its profile. Road and wind noise are well suppressed and the 1,2-litre triple is vocal only when flooring the accelerator.

The PureTech turbopetrol engine produces 81 kW and 205 N.m torque, the latter from as low as 1 500 r/min, and it propels the Aircross to 100 km/h in 11,74 seconds. Overtaking acceleration from 120 to 140 km/h is rated at 8,46 seconds.

The crossover excelled in our rigorous 10-stop braking test, too, with a best time of 2,84 seconds and an average of 2,90 seconds earning it an “excellent” rating. On our standardised 100 km mixed-use fuel route, the C3 Aircross sipped 7,2 litres (Citroën claims a fuel-consumption figure of 6,5 L/100 km).



TEST SUMMARY

One. That’s how many points separate the C3 Aircross 1,2 PureTech Shine AT from the segment-leading Volkswagen T-Cross 1,0 TSI 85 kW Highline DSG, which scored 80/100.

The Citroën packs dollops of visual punch and that quirkiness the brand is known for. Although it’s not as “out there” as some CAR members had hoped for, in our conservative market that should count in the C3 Aircross’ favour.

Considering its compact dimensions, it’s deceptively spacious, with ample head- and kneeroom front and back; tall occupants should fit comfortably on the rear bench. In the top-spec Shine, the C3 Aircross offers generous standard features with an impressive five-year/100 000 km service plan (and warranty of the same duration). It’s relaxing to drive, with absorbent suspension and a punchy 1,2-litre turbopetrol engine.

Will this be enough to sway local consumers who regard brand cachet, dealer network and resale value as some of the most important aspects when shopping for a new car? Will they be compelled to take the C3 Aircross for a test drive? Time will tell. Citroën has certainly blown some fresh air into the market with this first-generation C3 Aircross. It’s a quirky car in a segment largely comprising conservative options ... but backs up that flair with real substance.  

ROAD TEST SCORE

C3 Aircross Citroen C3 Aircross 1.2T Shine
79 / 100
  • Price: R394,900
  • 0-100 km/h: 10.7
  • Power ([email protected]/min): 81 KW @ 5500
  • Torque ([email protected]/min): 205 N.m @ 1500
  • Top speed: 184
  • Claimed cons. (l/100 km): 6.5 l/100 KM's
  • C02 emissions (g/km): 146 g/KM