The French brand is a bit of a late starter on the SUV front, and it’s aiming at a style-conscious market which doesn’t want to put an enviable outline ahead of the family’s comfort, and everyday practicality.
Based on the Peugeot 3008 platform, but longer, this Aircross is spacious for the medium SUV bracket in which it competes. It’s certainly practical, and although we didn’t test it on a long road trip, that driver pew is most certainly comfortable thanks, the local spokesman says, to memory foam. Whatever it is, we didn’t notice the relatively flat planes and what looked like too little side support, even on the bendier bits of our usual commute.
We did notice how comfy the ride is, and how confident the handling for the bracket. Citroën’s Progressive Hydraulic Cushion dampers, apparently developed originally for rallying, effectively add hydraulic stops on either side of the suspension to further smooth the ups and downs without compromising control, and it seems to work well. This car is quiet too, though whether that’s an advantage might depend on how noisy the kids are.
The 1.6-litre engine swallowed whatever was thrown at it. It felt willing and able – certainly stronger than traditionally associated with what would once have been a fairly modest capacity. It’s well matched to the eight-speed auto and the car’s equally modest 1430kg weight, and though high winds and heavy rain during our test stint made for debris-strewn roads – not conducive to higher-speed driving – we were happy with performance at most real-world speeds, though there were a few hints the powerplant could be a little busy at higher revs. Niggles? The otherwise plush suspension felt a touch uncomfortable crossing deeper potholes at round-town speeds.
As for going off road, be fooled. The Aircross might look like an SUV, but it’s really a high-riding wagon, with front drive only. Dropping kids off to feed a neighbour’s pony meant playing it safe and backing into the mud ruts, to give those 19-inch wheels the best chance of pulling us back onto the road afterwards. Fortunately the Grip Control with hill descent control which is standard for this upspec Aircross offers Normal, Sand, Snow, ESP Off and Mud modes to adjust traction control and transmission if the surface gets slippery. For most folk we’re talking skifield car parks, grassy playing field environs or steep gravel driveways – we tried it on the latter, and it did make a difference.
Everyone who encountered our tester liked this cabin. It looks good, it works well, and though not everything felt premium to the touch, the overall effect was at least as good as you’d expect for this vehicle’s price and focus.
As for the useful bits, all three rear seat positions fold individually in a 40-20-40 arrangement, all three slide individually and the seat back angle adjusts too. Prioritise sleeping passengers and you can still pack 580 litres’ worth of luggage, slide the back row forward and tell the kids to pull their knees in and sit upright, and we’re told it expands to 720 litres, obviously much more once you’ve dropped the children at school, and can fold the seatbacks to fit those extra sacks of potting soil.
As for other features, our tester included as standard a full pack of safety aids, including auto headlights and fog lights with cornering function, windscreen washer fluid emitted from the wipers, roof bars, 19-inch alloys, a hands-free motorized tailgate, laminated and noise cancelling windscreen and front windows (not fitted to the base car), 3D satnav and much more.
It’s great to see a medium SUV at a mainstream price that doesn’t look like a generic clone, especially one which is genuinely practical and characterful without some of the odder (and sometimes inconvenient) quirks a few past Citroëns have been known for.
Like it, but can’t spend this much? You can save 10K if you drop your expectations a tad. Opt for full fabric seats, lose the red design flourishes and the stuff like the camcorder, noise cancelling windows and electric driver seat adjustment, and your Aircross will retail at $39,990.
Citroën hasn’t had anything like this here before, and because it’s a niche brand as far as most New Zealanders are concerned, the distributor is reluctant to predict numbers. The Aircross competes in the same bracket as Ford’s Escape ($37,990 to $54,990), Honda’s CRV ($33,990 to $48,990) and Hyundai’s Tucson ($39,990 to $63,990), not to mention Peugeot’s less spacious 3008 ($39,990 to $55,990), so Citroën may struggle to make Aircross stand out against bigger brands and budgets.