Citroen C5 Aircross Review
Citroen is no stranger to funky, forward-thinking designs, and the C5 Aircross is the latest expression of that admirable attitude. It might look like something from a kids’ TV show, but the Aircross is a seriously competent family bus. Comfort, space and economy are all among its strengths, but it combines that with a refreshing modernity and distinctiveness that’s missing from pretty much anything else in this segment.
Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5
The C5 Aircross is very much geared up to be a comfortable yet quirky family car, and it delivers that in spades. Everything from the looks to the way it drives is clean, modern and soothing, but very different to the family SUV norm. You get a choice of three different versions, but all share a good level of standard equipment, a big boot and a stylish cabin. If you’re looking for a sporty, go-faster one to impress your mates with, though, you’ll be doomed to disappointment. This car’s too cool for all that.
Although the Aircross’ styling looks as though it’s all for show, it’s actually quite functional. Citroen has created these Airbumps on the doors, which effectively work as bubble-wrap for the bodywork, protecting it from bumps and scrapes. It’s a really simple idea, but it’s great for families with kids who aren’t always as careful as their parents.
Another great idea is the sliding rear seat, which moves fore and aft to help you trade legroom for boot space. Each seat operates independently of the other two, making it incredibly versatile. But the best thing about the Aircross is its irreverent attitude to the norms of the automotive world. It doesn’t care what Nissan and Volkswagen are doing – it just does its own thing. And that’s really refreshing.
Were the C5 Aircross capable of holding a conversation, it would probably scoff at the idea of discussing “performance”. This is a car that doesn’t really care about such ridiculous concepts as 0-62mph times or top speeds, and that’s reflected in the engine range. That’s not to say there isn’t sufficient power to haul a family SUV around, but don’t come to the big Citroen expecting a sporty version.
Instead, you get a relatively simple engine range comprising one petrol engine, two diesels and a plug-in hybrid. The petrol engine is a 1.2-litre turbocharged power unit that produces 130hp and offers you a choice of gearboxes. A six-speed manual is standard, but you can have an eight-speed automatic if you so wish. A 1.2-litre engine sounds puny in a car like this, but it works just fine. It’s quiet and refined most of the time, and when you do need to wring its neck, it rewards you with quite a pleasant thrum.
On the other hand, you could have the 1.5-litre diesel engine, which also churns out 130hp. Like the 1.2-litre petrol, it provides customers with a choice of transmissions, and it provides similarly unremarkable performance. The sprint, if you can call it that, from 0-62mph takes a little over 10 seconds.
For more power, then, you’ll need the 180hp 2.0-litre diesel engine. Offered solely with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, this high-end powerplant provides a little more low-end grunt and will offer slightly perkier acceleration. Or you could have the 225hp petrol-electric hybrid, which combines a 180hp petrol engine with a 109hp electric motor to offer up to 31 miles of electrically powered motoring from a single charge. The combination of the two motors might be aimed at economy and refinement, but it also offers extra get-up-and-go when you put your foot down.
Given the C5 Aircross’ blatant desire to eschew all things sporty, it comes as no surprise that this chunky, rounded SUV is centred around comfort. Citroen makes a big thing of the car’s Progressive Hydraulic Cushions, which are designed to iron out both little and large imperfections. It sounds like a gimmick, but it works really well. Few cars in this class ride as well as the Aircross.
The flip side of that is a shortfall on the handling front, with quite a lot of body roll when you try to corner quickly. It doesn’t reward fast driving, so you’ll need to think more of Chopin than Schumacher when you’re behind the wheel. That’s no great hardship, though – particularly if most of your miles are conducted around town or on the motorway.
If you do venture out into the countryside, remember the C5 Aircross is not available with four-wheel drive. You can get Grip Control, though, which is an optional traction control system that tunes the car’s characteristics to suit the conditions. Five modes are available, offering improved traction in snow or mud, while you can also have Hill Descent Control that controls the speed on slippery slopes.
On paper, the plug-in hybrid Aircross is the obvious choice for those seeking the last word in fuel efficiency. Officially, it returns 188mpg, and if you have a very particular lifestyle, you might manage something approaching that figure. But that does assume you mostly do short trips and charge regularly, with only occasional long hauls to trouble the fuel tank. If that sounds like you, then follow the figures, but if not, you’ll probably want one of the diesels.
If you do regular long drives, the 1.5-litre diesel will probably appeal most, with the manual version returning between 48.2 and 55.1mpg on the official test. These tests, which are set independently of the manufacturers, are much more representative than they used to be, so you should be able to get something close to that figure without sacrificing too much.
However, if you are doing long runs, the prospect of an automatic gearbox might appeal. Adding that transmission to the 1.5-litre diesel makes little difference to the economy, but it does spoil the performance. It’s worth considering the more powerful 2.0-litre, which still returns between 42.3 and 47.1mpg but packs more punch.
Drivers who want to look after the environment or keep their company car tax bills down will be instantly drawn to the plug-in hybrid version of the C5 Aircross. With a 31-mile all-electric range, it’ll effectively work as an electric car on short journeys, only switching to petrol power when you want more performance or the batteries run dry. As a result, the car emits just 33g of carbon dioxide per kilometre on the official economy test, putting it in the 12% company car tax bracket.
If you don’t fancy opting for a hybrid, the choice is between the 130hp petrol and diesel engines. The diesel has lower emissions, meaning lower tax brackets, but the difference in price means things aren’t quite that simple. Your choice will largely come down to personal preference, but it’s worth noting that the automatic gearboxes often impact emissions negatively. As a general rule, it’s worth sticking with manual Aircrosses if you want to keep your tax bill down.
Just like the bodywork, the Aircross’ cabin is full of funky, modern design features. The touchscreen and digital instrument cluster dominate, while the greatest concentration of buttons is to be found on the steering wheel. Only a handful of physical switches are embedded in the dashboard, with most functions controlled through the central screen. At times, that can be a little irritating – especially as the Citroen infotainment system is a little clunky – but it means you get a clean, minimalist cabin.
The materials are, by and large, very good, although a few scratchier plastics can be found if you hunt around for them. More importantly, the seats are comfortable, and the whole cabin feels light and airy – particularly with the panoramic sunroof.
With pretty much every button cleared out and moved to some digital corner of the touchscreen, the C5 Aircross’ infotainment system plays a key role in the ownership experience. Not only does the screen offer you a portal to your smartphone through the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems, but it also gives you the chance to modify the temperature or fiddle with the displays.
So it’s a little disappointing that the system isn’t quite as sharp as those you might find in a Skoda or a Kia. The graphics are fine, if not revolutionary, but sometimes the response is a little sluggish and laggy. Not ideal when you’re obliged to take your eyes off the road to look at the screen. That said, using the smartphone integration systems makes life a little easier, as long as you’re the kind of person who can set the air conditioning to a comfy temperature and leave it there for six months.
However, the digital instrument cluster is a much better addition, giving you clear information in a space-age layout that only adds to the car’s feel of modernity and funkiness. Some models also come with a camera in the windscreen, which allows all you to take pictures and share them to social media, if you so wish. If you’re adventurous, you might use that function once, but the real reason for having that equipment is to operate as a dash cam in case you’re involved in a crash or close shave. That could save you a fortune.
In the front, there’s plenty of room for even the tallest drivers, but the space can get a little more cramped in the rear. Headroom isn’t brilliant back there, especially if you go for a Flair Plus with its panoramic sunroof, but there’s a reasonable amount of legroom and even the centre seat is quite wide. Where the C5 Aircross does lag behind some rivals, though, is with the omission of sixth and seventh seats. The X-Trail, Kodiaq and Tarraco can all be fitted with a third row, but the C5 Aircross remains a five-seater in all guises.
On the flip side, the C5 Aircross is blessed with a pretty sizeable 580-litre boot, which grows to 720 litres if you slide the rear seats forward. Fold them down, and you’ll free up an even more capacious 1,630 litres, while a two-stage boot floor allows you to trade a flat load space for even more overall room. The rear seats move and fold independently of each other, too, so you can configure the space to your needs. Go for a top-of-the-range model, and you also get a hands-free tailgate that opens if you wave your foot under the bumper in a sort of kicking motion.
But every model comes with plenty of space for the random odds and ends that come with family life. A big storage bin in the centre console is quite useful, while there’s a cubby hole between the dash and centre console that’s perfect for stowing phones, keys and wallets. You get the usual selection of door pockets and cupholders, too.
The Aircross received a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score, with respectable scores for protection of both adults and children. Trawl the internet, though, and you’ll also find a four-star score. That’s because the car was crash tested with and without the safety pack, which is fitted as standard to UK-bound Aircrosses. As a result, only the five-star rating is relevant to customers over here in Britain.
Because we get the safety pack as standard, the Aircross is armed with quite an impressive suite of safety gizmos. Autonomous emergency braking, which slams on the anchors automatically if it notices an impending collision, is a standard feature, along with lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition. Move up the range and you can have blind-spot monitoring, too, which tells you if there’s a car lurking in the blind spots over your shoulders.
And all that comes alongside more conventional safety equipment, including Isofix child seat anchor points on the outer rear seats and the front passenger seat. Occupants of all ages are also shielded by a fleet of airbags, and there’s an emergency call system that can ring the emergency services in the event of a crash.
The C5 Aircross range is relatively simple, offering you a choice of three trim levels. Feel is the cheap option, but you still get plenty of mod cons. Two-zone climate control is standard, as are 17-inch alloy wheels and rear parking sensors. You get automatic lights and wipers, too, plus an eight-inch touchscreen that houses the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration systems. You even get a 12.3-inch digital instrument display, which replaces conventional dials.
If you need more, you can have the mid-range Flair model, which adds larger 18-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera and front parking sensors. It comes with part-leather seats, too, and you get satellite navigation .
But the range-topper is the Flair Plus, which includes keyless entry and push-button ignition, not to mention 19-inch alloy wheels, a motorised rear tailgate and a panoramic glass sunroof. It comes with adaptive cruise control, too, enabling it to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front.
The colour palette is extensive, with a choice of seven body colours – four of which are available with an optional black contrast roof. You also get a choice of three “colour packs”, which give you coloured inserts on the front bumper, the ‘Airbumps’ down the side and under the roof rails. In total, you get 30 different combinations to choose from. Our favourites, though, include Pearl White with the black contrast roof and the hard-to-pronounce Tijuca Blue. The white car works with any of the three colour packs, but Tijuca Blue clashes with the fiery red option.
The C5 Aircross’ rivals are as numerous as they are varied, with models such as the Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5 and Nissan X-Trail lining up alongside the Skoda Kodiaq, Peugeot 5008 and even the Mercedes-Benz GLB. And that’s before you consider the Kia Sportage, Seat Tarraco or Renault Koleos.
In short, there’s plenty of choice, and pretty much every car mentioned above has plenty going for it. If you want something sportier, the Ford Kuga and Mazda CX-5 are going to be the go-to options, while the X-Trail and 5008 major on comfort. For most drivers, though, the Skoda Kodiaq and Seat Tarraco, which are pretty much identical under the skin, will be high on the list. They are the best all rounders, offering few compromises on any front. And you can have them with seven seats – a feature that will suit those with big families.
While the Kodiaq and Tarraco may be hugely capable, they don’t have the charm or the character of the C5 Aircross. It’s a refreshing piece of design and engineering, stubbornly ignoring the pursuit of performance and speed in favour of a relaxed, comfortable and quirky vibe. Sure, it won’t be for everyone, but that’s kind of the point. If you want a family SUV but don’t want to follow the crowd, then look no further. This is the car for you.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top six leading independent car website reviews of the Citroen C5 Aircross
**Correct as of 20/11/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,057.72 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.