ne of the boasts makers of large cars make about their products is that, on the road, they manage to feel smaller than they are. Citroen’s revised C3 Aircross does the opposite. Somehow it manages to feel bigger than it is.
This is a tall addition to the burgeoning compact SUV category, which prompted one of my passengers to comment, “This feels like riding in a van”. A bit unkind, I thought.
This is a stylish little car whose looks have been tweaked to make it seem a bit meaner and less cutesy than before. The Citroen chevrons have been integrated into the front grille and the cabin feels very French, with echoes of other Citroens strewn about like discarded Gauloises. Part of the dashboard of my test car was covered in a cotton-like material which looked both modern and attractive. The dials are clear but there is more hard, scratchy plastic than I would like.
The seats, covered in a combination of cloth and leatherette, look very elegant, but lack lateral support, and I sometimes felt that hanging on to the steering wheel was the only thing stopping me from sliding off the seat while cornering.
The engine in my range-topper test car was a 130bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder Pure Tech unit which sounded throaty when revved but operated smoothly. A less powerful 1.2 petrol unit with 110bhp and a 1.5-litre diesel are also available, although the diesel probably won’t find many takers. There is no electric option.
This is a very easy car to drive, with a pleasingly smooth gearchange, but it doesn’t perform as well as Honda’s 1.0-litre three-pot engine in the Civic, or Suzuki’s Boosterjet unit, despite having a 200cc size advantage.
The equipment levels seem fine – parking sensors are standard through the range and the Shine and Shine Plus versions also get a rear-view camera. However, not everything worked as it should on my test car. The infotainment screen changed its display at will, unbidden by me, the sat-nav was a bit slow and dozy and during one journey in central London it gave up the ghost completely, and just said “guidance failed”.
Also, it took days of searching the dashboard and computer to locate the switch to turn off the heated front seats (it is on the side of the seat itself), although why they were on in the first place in August beats me.
Head and legroom for front seat occupants is fine, but rear legroom is too cramped for anyone but a small child, and the ride gets very bouncy, especially at higher speeds.
What the refreshed C3 Aircross has in its favour is funky styling and ease of use – it really is a doddle to drive smoothly, and even if it doesn’t like corners much it still has a lot of Gallic charm. The snag is, as with certain other Citroen models, many of its competitors do things better and are more rewarding to drive. And in this fast-expanding category there is a lot of competition.