Citroën’s C 5 Aircross is a “shining” light in a sea of conformity

Brian Joss – Citroën, which is part of the PSA Group,  made a quiet return to South Africa in October, after being absent from the marketplace since 2016 when it decided to stop introducing new vehicles.

Although it still serviced Citroëns through Peugeot. Citroën quit because of low sales volumes, and,  let it be said: poor service, and perhaps they were too off-beat for the conservative tastes of South Africans.

You shouldn’t hide your light under a bushel but that’s what  Citroën seems to be doing. I haven’t seen much television or print advertising for the C range. No matter which way you look at them they are stand-out vehicles and the C5 Aircross SUV Shine, the flagship of the range, which arrived in my driveway, is no exception. It boasts many engineering features. In fact the Citroën founder was instrumental in developing the like hydropneumatic suspension which was used to such good effect in the DS. It was designed by Flaminio Bertoni and André Lefèbvre). The website said the name is also a play on words, as in French it is pronounced déesse, meaning “goddess”. A similar system is a feature of the C range.

The founder of Citroën, Andre Citroën , wasn’t shy to “shine” a light on his creations, and according to one website, placed a giant hoarding of a Citroën on the Eiffel Tower. His motto was probably go big or go home.

Citroën design language is embedded in its DNA and the C5 Aircross features the Airbump® inspired lower door, wheel arch protectors and roof bars. Although I dislike conflating “inanimate” objects with human characteristics the Aircross does have an assertive personality and its muscular stance gives it presence. It has split headlights that, according to Citroën, “squint” from a widescreen grille. Black A-, B- and C- pillars are designed to create the effect of wraparound glazing and make the C5 Aircross look wider and sleeker. The AIrcross is one of the most comfortable cars in its segment thanks to Citroën’s Advanced Comfort® programme, Progressive Hydraulic Cushions® suspension and Advanced Comfort seats. Hydraulic buffers at either end of the suspension setup have all but eliminated bounce from the car’s ride. And that’s not just sales talk.

There is space inside for five and it has three individual sliding, folding and reclining rear seats. More about that later.

Citroen has included a whole raft of safety systems in  the SUV.  There is also a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel behind the steering wheel and an 8-inch touchscreen on the dashboard covering the infotainment functions.

The suspension system  absorbs major and minor surface unevenness to give occupants the feeling of flying smoothly over the road while ensuring outstanding poise and vitality. Conventional suspension systems consist of a shock absorber, a spring and a mechanical stop, the Progressive Hydraulic Cushions® system adds two hydraulic stops on either side, one for rebound and the other for compression. In cases of major compression and rebound, they gradually slow down movement to avoid sudden jolts. The company said it has taken out 20 patents on the Progressive Hydraulic

The interior features an uncluttered dashboard, with a horizontal layout. The raised centre consol between the seats provide a raised comfortable driving position. The new, ultra-connected model can be equipped with Wireless Smartphone Charging and ConnectedCAM Citroën™ on the Shine models. Some of the driver aids include Park  Sensors, Coffee Break Alert, Keyless Entry and Starting*, Electric Parking brake, Reversing camera with rear 180°camera;* Fog lights with static corner function, Active Safety Break* Active Lane Departure Warning System* Driver Attention Assist, Active Blind Spot Monitoring* Hill Start Assist (*on Shine models only) and they all work.

Before we talk about the ride, the Shine gets 10/10 for practicality and design. Citroën has had years of experience with Multi-Purpose Vehicles (MPVs) and it has put its knowledge to good use especially in the seating configuration.  There are three full width individual rear seats and are just as comfortable as those for the three passengers in the second row.  Adjustable over 150 mm, they can slide back and forth to transform the cabin or boot space according to your needs. They can be tilted to offer five different positions. The seats fold down to provide a flat floor thanks to the dual-level boot floor. The SUV, according to Citroën, offers boot volume of 520 litres to 720 litres , depending on the second row seat position.  With the seats folded down it has an enormous capacity of 1 630 litres. There is ample storage space, the central armrest, glove box, and wide door pockets. On the Shine specification there is a large storage area at the front of the central console, equipped for wireless smartphone charging.

The C5 Aircross Shine, the test vehicle, delivers on all fronts and with its smooth-as-silk six-speed automatic transmission it’s a car you’ll want to drive every day, all day. In the city where it is easy to drive and on the open road, thanks to Citroën’s suspension,  floats “like a magic carpet” over all and I mean all road imperfections. The peppy 1 600 turbocharged engine is a perky performer and puts out 121 kW and 240 Nm of torque.  The auto transmission is well matched to the power train. If you want to change gears manually you can use the shift paddles situated behind the steering column. The Shine has a Sport button but I didn’t find any difference in the performance.  On the highway it easily reaches the speed limit and is quite sprightly and agile in heavy traffic.

Body roll was negligible even fast around  corners. The steering is light and responsive. There was hardly any wind, road noise or unexplained squeaks and rattles. The Shine offers a refined drive and the seats are made for comfort.  Designwise it attracted a lot of attention from the “kyk daars” which is not surprising. It’s a stand-out vehicle and you’re unlikely to lose it in the slew of vehicles in the mall’s parking lot.

Citroën claims a fuel consumption of 7.9l/100km which is a bit optimistic: my figures were about 8.5litres/100km and that was in all sorts of driving conditions to various places on the Peninsula including the picturesque Gordon’s Bay.

If I had to niggle about a feature I would say the infotainment centre: although it has all the tech it does seem a bit old-fashioned compared  to the rest of the SUV.

Recently it launched an online reservation portal to help  customers adjust to the ‘New Normal’, where they could order new vehicles, including the C3, C3 Aircross SUV and C5 Aircross SUV, which you could design to your personal specification and which would be delivered under strict Covid-19 protocols.  

Summing up,  the Citroën C5 Aircross 1 600 AT just oozes French flair.  It outshines many of its rivals in this competitive sector.  The Aircross is a practical and versatile vehicle and best of all it is a joy to drive. It has a price tag of R514 900 (and worth every cent). Included is a  5 – Year / 100 000 km warranty and service plan across the range.  There is a 24-hour customer care centre, licence renewal reminder, roadside assistance, service plan and warranty expiry notification. Citroën vehicles can be serviced at any Peugeot accredited dealership nationwide.

CAPTION:  French flair: the Citroën C 5 Aircross 1 600 AT. Picture: Motorpress

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