Did you know the first car to circumnavigate Australia was a Citroen. Yep, all the way back in 1925.
Nearly 100 years on and the French brand is struggling to stay on the road here, its presence diminished through the generations by impractical, inappropriate and unreliable – but admittedly sometimes interesting – cars.
Now it’s trying to rebuild its presence and it’s going about it the most logical way, by introducing a family-sized SUV.
What is it?
It’s called the C5 Aircross and despite the different looking front, it’s a thoroughly orthodox five-seat mid-size light-duty SUV.
‘Light duty’ means the Aircross is very much a raised station wagon rather than an off-road rock-hopper. That’s borne out by its drivetrain, as the combination of 121kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine and six-speed auto only drives the front wheels. There is an off-road mode called ‘grip control’, but it’s really got dirt roads in mind not goat tracks.
If you’re thinking this all sounds vaguely like a Peugeot 3008, you’re right. The two French car companies are part of the same conglomerate and under the body and interior differentiators they share a lot of technology.
Why is it important?
Citroen has struggled in Australia in recent decades because its cars have lacked relevance, were too expensive – and just weren’t that good.
The C5 Aircross plonks the brand right in the heart of one of the biggest and most important of the booming SUV segments. The pricing is competitive and the equipment level pretty high.
That doesn’t guarantee Citroen sales but it does mean it will get on a few more shopping lists. It’s a start.
How much does the Citroen C5 Aircross cost?
There are two Aircross models, the $39,990 Feel and the $43,990 Shine (add on-road costs in both cases). That means Citroen’s abandoned the cut-throat entry-level part of the segment and is lining its two models up against the likes of the Mazda CX-5 Touring and GT and Toyota RAV4 Cruiser and Edge.
It’s a hard ask, but Citroen’s not looking for mass sales. It’s a crawl-walk-run kinda deal.
But do it in comfort is the message, because Citroen is hyping the Aircross’ suspension design that uses hydraulic bump stops to smooth the effects of rough roads. In the Shine model there are also front seats that use memory foam to better absorb impacts.
What does the Citroen C5 Aircross get?
Both models come with six airbags, a reversing camera and parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking and a supporting suite of driver assistants such as active blind spot and lane departure warning. There are three child anchorage points across the rear seat and ISOFIX attachments for the outboard seats.
But it’s worth noting the Aircross is that modern rarity which comes without a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
It’s been demoted to four stars because its AEB system doesn’t have cyclist detection, while pedestrian detection is “marginal”.
Standard comfort and convenience equipment includes a power tailgate, three individual sliding and tilting seats in row two, sat-nav, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, dual-zone climate control, a 12.3-inch configurable instrument panel and alloy wheels. The spare tyre is a space saver.
The Shine upgrades from the Feel’s cloth seat trim to partial leather and from manual adjust to power for the driver. It also picks up wireless smartphone charging and acoustic glass for a quieter cabin.
Neither model gets adaptive cruise control, which regulates the speed to the car in-front.
The C5 Aircross is covered by a five-year/unlimited km warranty, five-years roadside assistance and a guaranteed price service plan that for five years or 100,000km charges $3010. In terms of kilometres that’s not a bad price, but in terms of years that’s more expensive than average.
Braked towing capacity is 1200kg.
What do we like?
There’s a certain relief the C5 Aircross drives with such thorough orthodoxy. It’s not been lumped with a clattery diesel engine or a lumpy manual gearbox – two things Citroen seemed obsessed with inflicting on Aussies in the past.
It’s a smooth, quiet and – yes – comfortable ride. OK, Citroen does rather over-state the importance of the hydraulic cushions, but there’s no doubt this car does deal with bumps and potholes quite well.
Hey, it’s not a limousine, as you can still plainly detect road corrugations and the like.
The interior of the Aircross is pretty well thought out. The driver’s ability to adjust the look of the instrument panel is a feature usually associated with much more expensive cars.
The sliding function means tall adults can get comfortable in row two. Luggage capacity in the boot can be as low as 580 litres and as high as 720 litres depending on the position of the rear seats. Fold them down and capacity expands to a sizeable 1630 litres.
What we don’t like
That ANCAP result is an obvious concern, although the issue does not relate to the structural ability of the Aircross to protect its passengers.
With a 9.9 sec 0-100km/h claim you can tell straight away this is a vehicle with adequate performance. If you’re thinking of carrying lots of loads all the time then a test drive with passengers is recommended.
The flip side number is a decent 7.9L/100km fuel consumption rate, but how well that holds up with a load onboard is worth testing out too.
The spaciousness of the rear seat is compromised for tall passengers sitting outboard who risk hitting their heads on the body as they are rocked about on rough roads. There is also no centre fold-down armrest,
Outside the vehicle itself, there’s the reality of the small presence of the Citroen brand in Australia. Servicing and spares aren’t always going to be close at hand and there’s also the vexed question of resale values. Citroen is well behind the class leaders here.
Buy it or not?
If you were thinking about a drive around Australia, then the C5 Aircross wouldn’t be a bad choice. It’s comfy, spacious and pretty economical.
But then you could say that about much of its opposition.
And that’s the problem. The Aircross lobs into the mainstream convincingly because it is so orthodox. There’s nothing here to break it free from the crowd and several things that will discourage some people from taking more than a cursory look.
But at least they’ll look. And for Citroen that is a step in the right direction.