Citroen appear to be trying to confuse us.
Not long ago, we had the C3 hatchback, the C4 Cactus crossover and the C5 large hatchback/estate. Now, everything’s been rearranged – the C3 has been joined by the C3 Aircross crossover, the C4 has become a regular hatchback and the C5 has been complete redesigned, renamed C5 Aircross and relaunched as an SUV rival to the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Skoda Karoq et al.
Whatever it’s called and wherever it’s positioned, the C5 is very clearly part of the new Citroen family. It follows the chunky, squared-off trend that has become the brand’s trademark, with broad horizontal lines, stacked headlights, airbump strips and splashes of high-contrast colour on the beveled rectangle features and roof bars.
The look is slightly spoiled on the C5 Aircross simply because of the car’s height, which gives it a bluff, stretched front end but it’s still a cheekier, friendlier looking thing than the sharp-edged models that make up most of the segment.
Citroen C5 Aircross
Price: £28,325 (Flair trim)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 136mph
0-62mph: 8.2 seconds
CO2 emissions: 129g/km
The interior, too, takes a very different approach to the likes of the Skoda Karoq, Seat Ateca and Ford Kuga. It carries on the rounded rectangle motif from the airbumps and headlights and applies it to everything from the door handles to the steering wheel, instrument graphics and even the texture on the seat cushions.
While that all looks good, the main focus for the C5 Aircross’s interior is what the brand calls “modularity”. Before launching its first C-segment SUV it looked into what people didn’t like about them. Not surprisingly, their big complaints were a lack of space and flexibility.
So the C5 Aircross is the first car in its segment to offer three equal-sized, fully independent rear seats. The trio of pews slide, recline and fold individually to allow owners to manipulate the layout to suit their lifestyle. As someone whose family regularly complain about the lack of width in the rear of C-SUVs it’s a welcome decision and it has a definite width advantage over its rivals. Sadly, the same can’t be said for legroom, with it lagging noticeably behind the Qashqai and even the less spacious Karoq. The pay-off there is class-leading boot space.
The seats are also part of Citroen’s focus on comfort. The “advanced comfort” seats use a combination of different density foams to be soft on your derriere while giving decent support. I certainly felt none the worse for several hours in them, with a nice balance of support and comfort. My only puzzle is that the focus on comfort doesn’t extend to lumbar support for the front seat passenger.
The second major element in the C5 Aircross’s bid to lead the way on comfort is its standard-fit progressive hydraulic suspension. The active setup uses advanced damping technology in an effort to offer a “magic carpet” smooth ride.
Deep in the Atlas mountains on some of the worst surfaces I’ve ever driven it certainly proved its worth. Huge divots and breaks in the surface, as well as patches where landslides had swept the Tarmac away completely, were soaked up with a composure I can’t imagine any of its rivals managing. On smoother major roads the ride was supremely composed. Just don’t expect to hurl the C5 into corners with the same vigour you can with some of its firmer-sprung rivals.
Entry-level C5s come with a choice of 129bhp petrol engine with a six-speed manual or 129bhp diesel with the manual or eight-speed auto. Higher spec models get the additional option of a 178bhp petrol or diesel with the automatic gearbox.
Thanks to the high level of sound insulation (another strand of the comfort-first approach) both engines are muted unless you really wring their necks. The petrol is down on torque compared with the diesel (184lb/ft v 295lb/ft) but still packed enough grunt to pull the car up some pretty steep mountain gradients and handle overtaking manoeuvres. Citroen quote official figures of 48.7mpg for the petrol and 57.6mpg for the diesel.
Along with its design and comfort, Citroen have made a big noise about the technology in the C5 Aircross. It comes with 20 safety and driver assistance technologies, including advanced active safety brake, active lane departure warning and active blind spot monitoring. However, if you want the highway assist with lane keeping and stop/start traffic function or the 180-degree reversing camera you’ll need to step further up the range. Grip control (torque vectoring in place of four-wheel-drive) and hill descent assist are also options.
Standard features also include a 12.3-inch configurable instrument display that wisely copies the Peugeot i-Cockpit and an eight-inch touchscreen that carries the PSA group’s mediocre media and navigation system. The screen is also slightly hampered by haptic controls for the menus directly beneath it which are easy to accidentally activate. Thankfully Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard alongside the Citroën Connect Box emergency and assistance system.
A basic C5 Aircross with the manual 129bhp petrol in Feel trim will cost £23,225 when it reaches showrooms early next year, rising to £32,725 for a 178bhp diesel Flair Plus. In comparison a Qashqai will costs £19,995 to £29,695, a Karoq £23,025 to £31,795 and Kuga £22,910 to £35,285.
The C5 faces a lot of tough competition but like its smaller siblings it offers something different enough that it could easily carve itself out a niche. The Qashqai is cheaper, the Karoq classier and the Kuga better to drive but for the C5 has a lot to offer families who prioritise comfort and flexibility but don’t want an MPV.