Citroen C3 Aircross review
The funky Citroen C3 Aircross is a practical take on the small crossover concept
The Citroen C3 Aircross offers 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, made all the more practical following a mid-life refresh in 2021.
There's still plenty of scope for personalisation to build on the already-funky looks, while on-board tech upgrades have made the C3 Aircross a more convincing proposition to customers looking for a good family all-rounder.
About the Citroen C3 Aircross
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, with the Citroen C3 Aircross now continuing to challenge in this hard-fought sector.
The C3 Aircross replaced the C3 Picasso small MPV in the range, 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. A facelift in 2021 brought in a slightly tweaked exterior, a more practical cabin with improved storage and a new infotainment set-up.
Car group tests
- Hyundai Bayon vs Citroen C3 Aircross vs Renault Captur
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- Skoda Fabia vs Ford Fiesta vs Citroen C3
- Fiesta Active vs C3 Aircross vs Tivoli
- MG ZS vs SEAT Arona vs Citroen C3 Aircross
- Hyundai Kona vs Citroen C3 Aircross vs Mazda CX-3
Power comes from a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and a 1.5 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.
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.
Equipment levels start with the the entry-level C-Series, followed by the Shine and Shine Plus specifications. Standard kit for the C-Series includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED eco headlights, rear parking sensors, automatic air conditioning and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Upgrading to the higher trims brings bigger 17-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, front parking sensors and a nine-inch infotainment touchscreen (in place of the seven-inch version offered with the entry-level car).
The Citroen C3 Aircross goes toe-to-toe with the Nissan Juke and other established rivals such as the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and the Vauxhall Crossland 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.
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.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The 1.2-litre PureTech petrol engine is available in two power outputs - 109bhp and 205Nm or 129bhp and 230Nm. The 1.5-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.
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 with CO2 emissions from 134g/km.
The more powerful 129bhp petrol uses a six-speed auto transmission and returns a healthy 47.3mpg, although emissions are a little high, ranging from 140-158g/km depending on your chosen spec. 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. A mid-life facelift in 2021 saw exterior changes including slimmer headlights, a wider grille and revised running lights, while a redesigned centre console and cubbies add to the car's everyday practicality.
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 seven body colours available, along with four of those aforementioned 'colour packs' and two contrasting shades for the roof.
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.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Citroen infotainment systems are generally frustrating, and this applies to the C3 Aircross. In some ways it’s a great set-up – it’s very attractive to look at – but unfortunately it’s also irritating to use.
The facelift has improved things slightly, now that top-end models get a larger nine-inch display. Yet the menu layouts are awkward, loading times are the slowest here and the screen isn’t that responsive. Worse still, window heating aside, almost all of the climate functions are only accessible through the screen.
On the plus side, the built-in navigation system boasts Real Time Traffic, a three-year subscription to live traffic, weather and fuel price data. As part of the £500 optional Sight and Sound pack, the Citroen is available with a head-up display; the pack also includes a higher- quality screen between the dials and an uprated hi-fi.
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.
A mild redesign of the centre console and other cubbies formed part of the facelift in 2021, and the interior now includes a useful lidded storage bin, which can be used by both front and rear occupants.
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, in our 2020 Driver Power survey, customers voted the small crossover into 66th position out of 75 cars, 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.
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