Alex puts the Citroen C3 Aircross through its paces, but can the fun car make up for a poor manual ‘box?
Cars are getting angrier with their gopping intakes and angular grimaces. But you can take solace in the fact that this Citroen Crossover is most certainly the happiest in its class. Look at the Vauxhall Crossland-X for example, with which it shares its chassis, engines, and almost everything else. Both its interior and exterior are void of colour and imagination. Not a bad car, but did it have to be so dull?
This is, I think, where the C3 Aircross really shines. It’s fun, it’s radiant, and the last thing it does is blend in with the grey car culture that’s currently sweeping through dealers. Take a quick glance at Citroen’s website and you’ll find 90 different colour combinations, none of which are covered by these so-called ‘airbumps’. Thank God.
So while the main body of paint on my example was a dark grey, the roof was a striking white, the bumper silver, and within, red accenting highlighted the curves of one of the most interesting interiors I’ve seen in a modern car. Yes, the majority of surfaces are moulded hard plastics, but there are shapes and contours that make you feel like you’re sat in something designed by the ’80s, for the 2020s. And I like that. I like that a lot.
The exterior is just as funky. Its DRLs are set back into its compressed snout above the headlights, and its chunky appendages remind me of the elephant man. It looks fat, despite its relatively small size. I quickly warmed to this peculiar styling. But at the same time I look the way I do, so maybe don’t trust my judgement. My fiancee, on the other hand, didn’t like it. But then again she’s with me, so her judgement is questionable, too.
The thing is, whether you like it or not, under the fancy styling sits the aforementioned Vauxhall. And this means the drive is somewhat lacking. Not in power, however. The car I tested had the 110hp 1.2-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder. It was plucky and had plenty of torque to shove it through an overtake – 0 to 60 is 10 seconds dead – and by the end of my week with it (and a heavy right foot), I was easily getting around 40 miles to the gallon.
Still, despite this, like the Seat Arona, the Kia Stonic, the Hyundai Kona, and its other dozen competitors, it suffers from a high centre of gravity and understeer. And in spite of its SUV exterior, it’s still only front-wheel drive, although with the optional grip control, the average person won’t be getting into too much trouble. The steering is also light and numb, and the manual gearbox is truly awful. But do I really expect its target market to drive it like a sports car? No, of course not.
When you calm down and drive it like your mother, and maybe invest in the optional auto, it’s a lovely place to be. You sink into the seats like you would in that worn armchair in your grandparent’s bungalow, and the soft suspension soaks up bumps and vibrations nicely. Only, to get a ride this good, the suspension needs to be soft, which in turn results in body roll. Excellent damping keeps this in check, and when you’re bumbling about at 30mph, who cares anyway? And don’t tell me that this Aircross can’t ‘cross’…
On my adventures of finding out what the car could do, I got terribly lost and ended up on a tight road flanked by (very!) steep verges. Before I knew it, I was blocking what turned out to be the Tour de Birmingham, as countless lycra-clad cyclists attempted to tear past me on their souped-up Borris Bikes.
There was only one option for me: take the high ground. I was able to pull the car out the way of paint-knackering handlebars and pedals, and with the car balanced neatly on the verge with a rear-wheel cocked, the menaces could get past. I even got a couple of thumbs up. Try doing that in a Fiesta.
While I sat waiting for the lycra to leave me in peace, I was able to play with the infotainment system. Almost everything is controlled through this 7-inch touchscreen, including the climate control (Flair model) which I’d much rather be physical buttons or knobs. But, regardless of other reviews which say the opposite, I thought it was responsive and easy to use.
There was one slight issue, however. This car is equipped with a 360° bird’s-eye view camera setup. Only it’s not really. Unlike certain German rivals, this car hasn’t got cameras pointing every which way, so when you whack it into reverse you only get a view of what’s behind you. But here’s the clever bit, As you reverse, the computer remembers what it’s seen and fills in the blanks around the car. I thought it was a glitch, and so did all my passengers.
Being a crossover, it has plenty of space and the boot size is the best in the biz. I moved house in it, and I estimated that with my daily saloon it would have taken me twice as many trips to cart my deconstructed office from door to door. Still, that was a job that got monotonous very quickly. But do you know what made it more enjoyable? The happy little car I was driving with its bright colours and face from the pigs of Angry Birds. It’s so much better than boring old grey.
Prices start at £16,655 and can be bought now from your local dealer.