Daring to be different: Citroen C5 Aircross road test
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2019 Citroen C5 Aircross Shine
• Remarkable comfort
• Fascinating design
• Relaxing drive
• Top spec pricing
• No AWD option
• Fussy infotainment system
In an industry that rewards predictability and mimicry, pledging to be different from everyone else is becoming increasingly challenging. Considering this, it's hard to envy the likes of Citroen and Peugeot — two marques built on reputations founded on being a bit odd, a bit left of centre.
There are signs of a 'weirdness slippage' at Citroen in recent times. The new Cactus is less of an oddity than the last. And their Kiwi lineup is now a dedicated SUV affair; no oddball large sedans, no perky little hatchbacks.
The C5 Aircross, Citroen's largest SUV, appears on the surface to embrace this new-found love for convention. But, the deeper you dig, the more curiosity you find.
It's built (and priced) to be a rival for the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4, and is based on the same platform as the Peugeot 3008. Yet, it looks nothing like any of them.
The rugged butch off-roader chiseled edges and flared guards are largely benched here — replaced by sophistication, quirk, and decidedly wagon-esque proportions.
Thin, intricate LED headlights are split with daytime running lights on top and normal lights underneath, embedded on the edges of the grille. Citroen's much loved ‘AirBumps’ return, framing the base of the doors with contrast. And each of the three dimensional–effect taillights house a quad of rectangular ‘bubble’ LEDs that’s repeated everywhere — from the exhaust tips to the air conditioning vents.
But despite the prioritisation of style, the C5 also a practicality king.
Its sliding rear seats make for a minimum boot space of 580L and a maximum of 780L with the seats up. That obliterates most in the segment; like the 497L Honda CR-V and the 442L CX-5.
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The boot is buoyed by a lack of intrusive wheel arches and a wide, square opening. A false floor and power socket simply add to its storage capabilities.
How much does it all cost? Well, things start with the $39,990 'Feel' before topping out with the $49,990 'Shine' (a la, our test car).
The Feel comes with blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, and the stunning 12.3in digital cluster as standard fixtures in its arsenal.
The Shine meanwhile adds things like 19in wheels, Park Assist, a more comprehensive AEB with radar cruise, and laminated windows. It also gets a dash more power and a different gearbox.
The contrast red decoration on our presser’s exterior is also a no-cost option, so those seeking customization need not feel guilty in the wallet.
Although the Shine's features are impressive, the price gap between the two trim levels is still seems oddly large. The same two models in Australia, by comparison, are separated by less than half of that 10-grand margin. Although, admittedly, Australia’s Shine skips over the more potent engine and transmission that we get in New Zealand.
All flavours of Aircross come fitted with a 1.6-litre PureTech turbocharged four-cylinder, but the devil is in the detail. Entry level models make a touch less power and torque — 121kW/240Nm to the 131kW/250Nm of the Shine. Transmissions differ between the pairing, too, with the Shine swapping the lower-grade six-speed for an eight-cog unit.
It's an engine and transmission combination that we've grown quite familiar with, given our recent exposure to the Peugeot 508 and revised 308 GT. But don't think at all that it means that all three cars drive identical to one another.
Indeed, Peugeot and Citroen have done a bang up job in tuning the 1.6 to feel individual in different applications, and here in the C5 things are no different. The engine that feels energetic and rorty in the 308 instead takes on a much more muted and restrained persona in the Aircross.
Power feels sufficient for most tasks and the odd motorway stab (towing is rated at 1200kg), but it's a powertrain that feels happiest simply percolating silently in the background.
Handling is equally workmanlike. The Aircross turns reasonably well on its Michelins, but has to deal with a platform that isn’t particularly light and a considerable amount of body roll. But there’s a very good reason for this.
While the oddball Citroen has style and practicality among its core traits, where engineers have clearly spent the most time tinkering away is in the comfort stakes. French cars have always been renowned for comfort of course, all the way back to Citroen’s invention of the hydropneumatic suspension system in the 1950s. And, it’s clearly an element that remains important to the manufacturer today.
The C5’s Progressive Hydraulic Cushion ‘magic carpet’ damper system does a stellar job of ironing out most bumps. It’s lost somewhat on larger divots and pot holes (the 19in wheels probably don’t help), but stretches of motorway and circuits of urban are handled with soft, smooth ease.
It’s the interior though where the Shine … err … shines. As we mentioned earlier the back seats slide forwards and backwards. They also recline generously, allowing rear passengers to nod off on longer trips. Head room and leg room is competent, and each seat is capable of folding individually or being removed altogether.
The front seats, meanwhile, may be the single best thing about the Aircross. Never have I thrown my body into a bucket with more thigh support. The wide and long seat base soothes each pressure point, and is complimented by an additional layer of dense memory foam.
A somewhat fussy and sluggish infotainment system, mucky gloss black dashboard buttons, some harsh plastics, and a left-hand drive orientated gearstick are details that grate.
But, none of that can deny the C5’s cabin from being one of the nicest I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in this year.
Comfort is something most modern consumers take for granted, with its definition muddied by tech-led novelty. Thankfully, Citroen haven’t forgotten its unorthodox and weird roots, making the Aircross something truly unique in a sea of predictable.