Citroen C3 Aircross review
The funky Citroen C3 Aircross is a practical take on the small crossover concept
If there was a category that was made to promote the quirks of the latest Citroen range, it's the small crossover class. It first dipped its toe in the category with the C4 Cactus, but now the Citroen C3 Aircross takes up the challenge in this hard-fought sector.
The C3 Aircross replaces the C3 Picasso small MPV in the range, while the recently facelifted C4 Cactus moves sideways to become a stopgap in the compact hatchback sector. But thanks to the C3 Aircross's dimensions, it has as much space inside as the C3 Picasso, so owners of the old car can move to the new one without having to compromise practicality.
Under the skin, the Aircross shares its platform and running gear with the C3 supermini. It also has the same level of personalisation, with a range of funky colour options, contrast roof colours and different interior trims on offer.
Power comes from a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and a 1.6 diesel. The 1.2 is called PureTech and comes in 109bhp and 129bhp guises. The lower powered petrol engine gets a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while the more potent version has a six-speed auto transmission.
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The 99bhp BlueHDi diesel is fitted with a six-speed manual. There's no auto option with the diesel, while no version of the C3 Aircross can be had with four-wheel drive. Instead, Citroen offers its Grip Control switchable traction control system with mud and snow tyres that help boost the car's ability on sand, snow or rough terrain.
Citroen has kept equipment levels simple; the entry-level Feel is now followed by the C-Series limited edition and then the top-of-the-range Flair trim.
Feel trim adds 16-inch alloys, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a leather steering wheel, LED daytime running lights and extra aluminium-effect trim outside to give a more rugged look.
The C-Series edition includes the Regal Red colour pack, a black roof, gloss black 16-inch wheels, upgraded interior trim and exterior badging.
Flair spec really raises the stakes, with 17-inch wheels, dual-zone air-con, auto wipers, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and navigation. It also gets a contrast-colour roof and a style pack as standard.
Citroen was late to the small crossover party, and the Nissan Juke is due to be replaced by the Mk2 model soon. Other established rivals include the arch-rival Renault Captur and the Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Crossland X from Citroen's sister firms. Another strong contender is the SEAT Arona, while the Hyundai Kona is a better option than the Kia Stonic, which shares the same engines and tech. Elsewhere, the Ford EcoSport is still trying to make up ground to the class leaders.
The Citroen C3 Aircross is not particularly rewarding to drive, but it does offer relaxed cruising ability and promising fuel efficiency from a strong range of petrol and diesel engines. Ride comfort is decent, too, while the distinctive interior has lots of kit and useful family-friendly touches.
What makes it stand out are decent levels of practicality - something that can't be said for every vehicle in this class - and plenty of scope for personalisation to build on the already-funky looks.
Engines, performance and drive
On the move, the C3 Aircross feels pretty much like a slightly larger, taller version of the C3 - and in the most part, that's no bad thing. The two cars share a lot of components because they're both based on the PSA Group's PF1 platform.
This isn't the most sophisticated set of chassis parts on the market - indeed, it can be traced right back to the old Peugeot 206 - but a string of updates over the years has kept it respectable, and the C3 Aircross implementation is one of the best we've yet experienced.
It continues PF1's well-known trait of allowing the occasional sharp road imperfection to jar through into the cabin, unfortunately, but the extra bit of travel afforded by the Aircross’s extra height does make it feel a bit more accomplished than a C3.
It hangs on surprisingly well, too. The Aircross shows decent resistance to pronounced body roll, and while the steering is far from communicative, it’s direct enough for you to learn to lean on it.
This is not the type of car that you'll get a great deal of enjoyment from driving at the limit - but should you carry a bit too much speed into a corner, it's worth knowing that the Aircross will punish you not with any sideways drama but with predictable, consistent understeer.
We've tried examples on 17in and 16in wheels and the larger tyres have a tendency to scrub across the tarmac; the 16-inchers actually behave themselves too, but there is a noticeable groan from the straining sidewalls.
The C3 Aircross isn't really designed to for serious off-roading, but Citroen does offer its Grip Control system as an option if you know you're going to get the wheels muddy from time to time. It's basically an advanced stability programme that can be altered depending on the surface you're driving over - and it includes a hill descent setting that will take the car down steeper slopes at a gentle, easily controlled speed.
The 1.2-litre PureTech petrol engine is available in two power outputs - 109bhp and 205Nm or 129bhp and 230Nm. The 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel unit produces 99bhp and 250Nm.
We're very familiar with the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine - it's used in a variety of Peugeot and Citroen models. It's a refined enough engine, only feeling a bit strained when you get above 4,000rpm, but possessing enough torque to make sure you shouldn't have to do that very often. The 109bhp version offers the strongest mix of performance, economy and price.
The auto box, meanwhile, is an Aisin unit that’s also seen use across the MINI range; it’s not infallible, but it’s generally smart enough for swift, smooth progress on all but the twistiest of roads.
The diesel engine - PSA’s well-proven 1.6 - is a great little motor, blending that admirable bottom-end shove with smoothness that only starts to break up at levels of revs that you simply don’t need to use.
We tried this engine with the six-speed manual transmission, which is a solid enough gearbox let down by a slightly vague linkage (a typical PSA trait, unfortunately) and a squared-off, stylised gearknob that isn’t particularly comfortable in the hand.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
Citroen is pitching the C3 Aircross as a larger, more upmarket vehicle than the C3 supermini; indeed, to some extent it's a de facto replacement for the C3 Picasso small MPV. As such, list prices are a bit higher than they are for the regular C3, although the starting figure for the Aircross is still low compared with many of the car's rivals.
Citroen has a history of offering plenty of dealer incentives and discounts, and this is likely to continue on the Aircross, which should have some of the more appealing monthly finance rates on the market. This is, in some respects, a safer way into an Aircross than outright purchase, because it insulates you from depreciation - a factor that has not been particularly kind to Citroens in years gone by.
The petrols can't match the diesels' official figures, of course, but the PureTech three-cylinder engine is one of the more efficient offerings in this area of the market, and its numbers are no disgrace in a car of this size. The 109bhp petrol manages official combined economy of 51.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 141g/km.
The more powerful 129bhp petrol uses a six-speed auto transmission and returns a healthy 47.3mpg, although emissions are a little high at 150g/km. On the whole, though, the C3 Aircross looks one of the more efficient offerings in the class.
Premiums for the C3 Aircross shouldn't be too expensive - diesel models range from group 14-16, while petrol-powered versions sit in groups 13-17.
Depreciation data on the C3 Aircross shows that it's not quite up with the best small crossovers for holding on to its value - Citroen's tactic of dealer incentives and discounts doesn't help. Although the experts quote lower retained values for the Citroen, as it’s generally cheaper than most of its rivals on a like-for-like basis, it will actually lose less money. On average, the C3 Aircross should hold onto 43% of its original value over 3 years and 36,000 miles.
Interior, design and technology
Citroen is hoping to attract new customers to the brand with the C3 Aircross - and it believes those buyers are drawn by funky design and the scope for personalisation.
The Aircross certainly looks the part, with a beefy evolution of the C3 supermini's looks. That means the ultra-slim daytime running lights at either side of the grille, but a taller, bluffer front end and more plastic around the bodywork.
The side profile is dominated by the 'floating' roof, which can be enhanced further through the choice of a contrast colour and, as part of a colour 'pack', a different shade of roof bars. This pack also brings graphics for the C-pillar, which is blacked out otherwise.
This appetite for personalisation should be satisfied by the colour options. There are eight body colours available, along with four of those aforementioned 'colour packs' and three contrasting shades for the roof.
Feel models get 16-inch alloys, C-Series editions offer gloss black wheels, and range-topping Flair steps this up again, to diamond-cut 17-inchers.
Inside, there are some cues from the C3, but the overall feel is of a more mature product. The standard mix of cloth and hard grey plastic isn't particularly sophisticated, but the optional 'Metropolitan Grey' and 'Hype Colorado' ambiance packs (available on Flair editions) give a softer-touch fabric to the main panel of the dashboard. In this respect, the C3 Aircross is every bit a match for the likes of the Renault Captur and Nissan Juke.
The rest of the package is about par for the course in the class, though, with hard, scratchy plastics never too far away from your touch. At least the front seats offering something different; they're part of Citroen's 'Advanced Comfort' approach, so they're wider and a bit more cushioned than you'll normally find. They remain surprisingly supportive on twistier roads, too.
Up front is pretty standard fare, with analogue instrument dials - although a head-up display is available as an option.
It's worth noting, too, that because Citroen thinks the C3 Aircross customer has a different 'lifestyle profile' than someone who'd buy a C3, this car is not being offered with the supermini's ConnectedCAM dashboard camera, even as an optional extra.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The entry Feel trim includes DAB and Bluetooth functionality as part of a six-speaker infotainment system, also supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A seven-inch colour touchscreen is standard, with C-Series and Flair trims adding sat-nav. It’s the same system as in sister brand Peugeot’s more recent SUVs, and it works relatively well, with clear colours and sharp graphics even if the screen is sometimes a little slow to respond. The menu layouts also aren’t always the most logical, but are still easy enough to navigate.
It’s packed with kit, though. Mirror Link is offered as part of the inclusive connectivity package, but this is a bit clunky compared with the slicker interfaces designed for most modern smartphones.
The system itself is one of the more comprehensive on the market - but that doesn't mean it's one of the best. There's a lot functionality rolled into that one display, including temperature controls for the cabin, and at times the system can feel like it's being overwhelmed by the amount of processing required.
The interface doesn't help with this, of course, because it forces you to come out of some areas of the system to perform tasks like raising the cabin temperature by a single degree. This is even worse if you're having to duck in and out of the otherwise-slick world of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The dashboard contains a single USB socket at the bottom of the centre console; this is welcome enough, but we'd have preferred to see a second one alongside it, instead of the 12V socket that's increasingly irrelevant in today's market.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Small SUVs generally have a whiff of 'emperor's new clothes' about them, because they're usually more expensive than their supermini relatives without actually offering any more space.
The C3 Aircross manages to buck this trend. Its wheelbase is longer than a regular C3's, by around 60mm, and this translates into a rear cabin that could actually cope with a couple of adults for a reasonably long journey. They're unlikely to complain much even if their knees to graze the front seat backs, too, because they're soft and squishy enough to be forgiving.
Headroom could be more of an issue, especially if the C3 Aircross in question has the panoramic sunroof fitted. It makes height more of an issue for any rear passengers over six feet tall.
Up front, meanwhile, there are wider, softer seats than you'd commonly find in the class, and they're supportive enough to not give you backache on a long journey. Headroom is less of an issue for the front occupants too, even with that sunroof - and there's no denying its appeal, because it bathes the cabin in light and prevents it from becoming gloomy.
The boot is a useful 410 litres with the rear seats pushed back, and you can slide them individually to increase this capacity to up to 520 litres, or fold them down completely to open it up to 1,289 litres. The floor is flexible too, allowing you to prioritise either a flat load bay or overall capacity. There’s also a neat vertical slot at foremost edge of the boot, for you to tuck the parcel shelf away and accommodate taller loads.
The C3 Aircross is 4,155mm long, 1,765mm wide and 1,637mm tall. That makes it around 16cm longer than the C3, and taller by a similar amount. It’s also a little longer and taller than a Renault Captur, and the SEAT Arona - although the Spanish offering is a few millimetres wider.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Think of the C3 Aircross as a halfway house between a supermini cabin and a family hatchback and you won’t be far away from the packaging on offer here. There’s plenty of room for two adults up front, and two fully grown adults should be able to sit behind them in relative comfort (soft, squidgy front seat backs help with this, by allowing rear-seat occupants to press their knees forwards).
Headroom is a little more of an issue - especially if you choose the panoramic sunroof. It does make the cabin much brighter and more airy, but it cuts away a few centimetres of headroom; this is especially true in the rear cabin, where six-footers will feel the top of their heads rubbing on the lining.
Can the C3 Aircross operate as a five-seater? The answer is yes, but despite the lack of a big transmission tunnel in the middle of the floor, it’s probably best if the thinnest of the group sits in the centre rear seat. And three adults are likely to find their shoulder space a bit restricted, especially during a longer journey. In this respect at least, the Aircross can’t quite shake off its supermini origins.
Small SUVs don’t have a great reputation for delivering any more practicality than their supermini cousins, but the C3 Aircross bucks the trend by offering a genuinely useful boot. Its capacity is 410 litres with the rear seats in place, and you can slide them forwards (either as one, or using the 60:40 split) if you want to increase this to up to 520 litres.
With the seats folded, there’s 1,289 litres on offer - not exactly a rival for an estate car, but usefully capacious. You can also move the boot floor to prioritise either capacity or a flat load area with minimal lip - and if you need to remove the parcel shelf, it’s worth noting that there’s a space for it just under the front end of the boot floor.
Reliability and safety
The C3 Aircross is built on some of the PSA Group’s oldest and most trusted current components. Indeed, its PF1 platform can be traced back to the days of the Peugeot 206, and much of its engine line-up has already seen service in several other Citroens and Peugeots, including the C4 Cactus, one of our favourite small SUVs.
With that in mind, the C3 Aircross should offer reasonable reliability. In fact, customers voted the small crossover into 66th position, out of 75 cars, in our 2020 Driver Power survey, while Citroen improved on its previous 24th placing - finishing 18th out of 30 manufacturers.
Euro NCAP awarded the C3 Aircross a five-star rating in 2017, with safety scores of 85% for adults, 82% for children and 64% for pedestrians., There was a 60% score for safety assist, because autonomous emergency braking is only offered as an option on Feel and Flair models. All cars get electronic stability control, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and tyre pressure monitors, though.
Citroen UK offers a standard warranty with the C3 Aircross - two years of unlimited-mileage manufacturer warranty, and a no-cost option of a third year of cover from the dealership. This final 12 months has an overall limit of 60,000 miles, however. This level of protection is just about par for the course across the industry, but some of the C3 Aircross’s rivals do offer more - notably the likes of the Hyundai Kona and the Kia Stonic, which come with warranties lasting five and seven years respectively.
Citroen offers the company’s fixed-price servicing deals on the C3 Aircross, which means you can get three years of cover for around £400, which can be paid for up front or for a small monthly outlay.