Tushar burmanApril 7, 2021 4:34:17 PM IST
I’ll admit that I wasn’t up to speed on Citroen’s legendary history until the time I visited their museum in Paris in early 2020, when such things were possible. He had heard stories about the French analog of the German beetle, the 2CV, and how it was designed to be able to carry a basket full of eggs across a field without breaking any. The mental picture doesn’t do justice to the 2CV’s completely gelatinous suspension. He literally rolled over like he was floating on water. Citroen has made comfortable suspension a habit throughout its long history. The C5 Aircross promises a lot in this regard, and the term “magic carpet” has been used generously.
What is it?
The Citroen C5 Aircross is entering a hot market with competitors like the Jeep Compass, VW Tiguan, and Hyundai Tucson already established, and cheaper rivals like the MG Hector Plus, Tata Safari, and the upcoming Mahindra XUV500, which begs a question. if the ‘premium’ label is worth the money. Originally planned for the end of last year, the COVID-19 pandemic ensured that things were postponed until February 2021. Citroen has invested heavily in India and the C5 Aircross is being made here with substantial levels of localization. We hope this bodes well for prices and service costs in the future.
In terms of size and specs, the C5 Aircross is in the ballpark of the competition, with the wide track that sets it apart physically, as well as the unique and quirky design. It’s bigger and taller than the competition in many dimensions, and the interior volume is generous. We will get two variants: FEEL (tested) and SHINE, both with a 177hp / 400Nm diesel engine mated to an 8-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
A word about technology
We should get this out of the way early on – the Citroen C5 Aircross won’t win accolades for its tech stack. There are no connected car features to speak of, and the infotainment system feels a bit state-of-the-art. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, but only when connected by cable. The lack of a wireless charger has been a glaring loophole, pointed out by most journalists, to which Citroen had an unusually defensive response. It claims that wireless chargers do not work through phone cases (false), they heat up the phone (true), and charge slowly (true).
Having arrived at the press conference in the newly revamped Jeep Compass that provides a generous wireless charging pad, as well as wireless Apple CarPlay, it was hard not to be rude to point this out. A well-executed wireless smartphone link is, I think, an excellent app and encourages the safe use of technology inside the car.
What is available is a reasonably sized infotainment screen with large touch lenses and fonts, all legible. The subject is darker and bolder, or the negative colors may have been more readable in sunlight. The same goes for the driver’s log, which is a full screen matter. However, Citroen has put its own spin on how engine RPM and other statistics should be displayed. There are no visible dials; RPM is indicated by a horizontal slide rule type display. This is just weird. The color theme carries over here, and I would have preferred something more eye-catching.
Interior: a wide range of benefits
The wide track of the Citroen is evident in the internal volume of the car. The second row is particularly impressive, with three individual seats that slide back and forth on rails, recline and fold forward. Three a day should feel more comfortable in this vehicle than the competition. The floor tray is also flat and the kneeling room is adequate. However, there is no room to put your feet under the front seats, which is a strange omission.
The seats themselves feel wide, with bolsters arranged to accommodate larger people. They are fine for comfort, but I would have preferred a softer faux fur; the boxy padding on these seats felt a bit rough for this class.
The rest of the interior follows a rounded rectangle theme, from the address to the air conditioning vents to the infotainment screen. The dash has leather upholstery, with some plastic peeking out. The materials feel decent, but not particularly luxurious. In comparison, the new Compass feels way ahead. A panoramic sunroof is available on the top variant, as is a hands-free tailgate and LED headlights. However, even the lowest FEEL variant we drive is well equipped, with a power driver’s seat (no memory feature, unfortunately) and terrain modes (not 4×4, unfortunately).
The cargo space is quite practical. A flat, deep 580-liter boot should carry enough room for five occupants. We didn’t have time to fully test it, but I’m sure the C5 Aircross will easily pass my test of two Golden Retrievers for the starter, and comfortably too.
Design: premium, quirky
The photos should tell you what you need to know about the C5 Aircross. It’s a different design than we’ve seen in SUVs in this class, for sure. It may not be for everyone. I can tell it looks solid, well-built, and quite attractive in the unique emerald-colored car we drive. It is unusual, futuristic, but not strange. I’m not going to stretch it by giving it a nebulous French flair. It is what it is. The proportions are well executed and the volume of the vehicle is not immediately apparent. The 18-inch wheels give the vehicle an athletic stance.
On the move: a landmark transmission
The highlight of the Citroen C5 Aircross for me was its transmission. The 177hp / 400Nm diesel engine mated to the Aisin 8-speed automatic was sublime to drive, especially compared to the competition. The engine responds and the gearbox keeps running, not feeling like it should be in any gear other than. The lively nature of the car hides its weight and smooth suspension. I’d rather drive the Aircross to, say, the Compass or the Hector. Shift paddles are available on the steering column, in case you want to take control yourself. I was happy to let Aisin do the work for me. It’s the most fun to drive in Sport mode, but not beyond the point where comfort would be compromised. This is well judged.
Terrain modes are available, despite a front-wheel drive setup. We had a chance to take the C5 Aircross down a twisted off-road single track, with deep ruts, soft dust and rocks, and we didn’t feel the vehicle losing traction even once. He cleverly made it through our little detour and kept passengers comfortable. This is a smooth road vehicle for sure, but it will do more than you think when the tarmac is gone.
Engine noise is well controlled as well, as are vibrations and harshness. It’s a quiet cab unless you’re driving on concrete surfaces or joints in the road, which is when the ‘magic carpet’ suspension isn’t very magical and allows road noise to filter through.
Suspension: on that magic carpet …
Perhaps this is me taking a contrary view due to the hype surrounding Citroën’s ‘magic carpet’ suspension, but I wouldn’t go that far. It’s an excellent suspension and it absorbs most of what we throw at it, even off-road. However, it is not infallible. Concrete surfaces and road joints will shake the occupants, as it also happens with other European brands. Citroen uses hydraulic buffers for the suspension, allowing for a gentler impact at the ends of the suspension travel. It feels smoother but does not remove the cruelty from our road surfaces. You may hear that this setup rivals that of luxury cars; They’re not here. A good adaptive damping system will outperform this Aircross. In short, the suspension of the C5 is good. As good as the one in the new Compass, I think. Not better.
Maybe it was the width of the vehicle that made me feel this, but the C5 Aircross handled pretty flat in my handling. There was some pitch under heavy braking, but laterally, he felt calm. The authority of the engine and control of the suspension make this a very capable and comfortable triple-digit cruiser.
Should you buy the C5 Aircross?
Citroen is new to most car buyers in India, and its sales and service network is only now online. The Citroen C5 Aircross is priced at Rs 29.90-31.90 lakh (introductory, ex-showroom, Delhi). For that money, I’m not sure if the value is conclusively proven. Yes, there are premium touches, a unique design, and a benchmark transmission, but Citroen’s brand values have yet to be effectively communicated and tested to the Indian audience. We would have loved to be surprised with an aggressive introductory price, but at this price, I think buyers will be inclined to compare prices.