New Citroen C5 review: New family SUV key to turning around French brand’s fortunes

Organising a French festival must be the easiest job in the world. Employ a few beret-wearing chaps to hold a baguette and bottle of red, then park some Citroens around for visual effect.

If one is to celebrate stereotypes, where better than a Bastille Day festival for the brand to launch its new C5 Aircross family SUV?

Citroen’s first Australian entry to the competitive medium SUV segment sticks with the script. Rules state Citroens must have oddball styling and the C5 Aircross makes practically all its rivals look vanilla.

With an edgy, colourful body featuring signature protective Airbumps and skinny two-tiered LED front lights, the C5 embraces the brand’s vive la difference approach and aims to finally gain some traction in local sales.

We may buy their perfumes, cheeses and cakes, but we just don’t buy French cars in any number. Last year? Only 232 Citroens found new owners — Australians bought more Ferraris.

That’s exactly how most owners like it. You won’t buy the C5 Aircross because you saw one on next-door’s driveway, you’ll buy one because nobody else has.

Looks apart, there are solid reasons to consider one. Unquestionably comfortable to sit and ride in, roomy and versatile inside, the Citroen doesn’t skimp on specification and adds the assurance of a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

It won’t be cheap. A Mazda CX-5 or Nissan X-Trail can be had in basic spec from about $30,000 but the C5 Aircross comes in “we have no entry-level” trims of Feel ($39,990 plus on-roads) and Shine for $4000 more. You must pay for avant-garde tastes, monsieur.

Citroen general manager of marketing Kate Gillis says the cars should be seen as “the decadent choice”.

“Essentially we will rebuild the brand, be slightly non-conformist in our approach — inspired by our customers — and be truly experimental and innovative,” she says.

For the C5 Aircross, says product planning manager Justin Narayan, the key traits are comfort, character, modularity and practicality. “We want to offer the attractiveness of an SUV and the interior features (of a people-mover), bring something new to the market to shake up the segment, be a real Citroen.”

Sounds good but, in reality, sister brand Peugeot already does much the same with its 3008 and 5008 SUVs, especially the latter with its seven seats. The slightly smaller C5 Aircross fits five.

The Citroen cabins aren’t quite as pleasingly classy as the Peugeots but are far from dull. Buy the top-spec Shine and you score Advanced Comfort grained leather seats, with mattress-like pads giving a delightful sink-in experience. The Feel’s cloth chairs are hardly torture racks but can’t match the Shine for plushness.

A few hard plastics let down an otherwise likeable interior. Pluses are the 12.3-inch full digital instrument display, 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satnav, 180-degree parking camera, bi-zone climate control, ambient lighting and hands-free, foot-operated electric tailgate.

The Shine adds the lovely leather seats (electric for driver), wireless charge pad, acoustic glass and larger 19-inch alloys.

Standard safety kit includes autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor and lane departure assist — radar cruise control is a conspicuous omission at this price.

If you regularly transport rear passengers, the C5 Aircross excels. The three equal-width seats slide and tilt independently, and can allow up to a whopping 720L of boot space, even with five passengers.

On the road

No harm in trading on past glories. Citroen’s DS (1955-75) used hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension, turning pitted roads into liquid with pillow-soft ride comfort, and the C5 Aircross introduces a modern equivalent.

Citroen as patented what it calls Progressive Hydraulic Cushions in its set-up (see box) and it does an impressive job of living up to its magic carpet reputation.

It’s not as markedly revolutionary as the earlier hydropneumatic effort but the C5 Aircross nails the brief for a plush, unfussed ride even on some shocking NSW road surfaces on launch.

Of greater relevance, it wafts along through town and on the highway with quiet aplomb — the Shine especially with its noise-suppressing glass.

The suspension does a decent job of keeping body-roll in check through turns. However, the combination of its light steering, a mere 121kW from the 1.6-litre turbo and the sometimes tardy auto gearbox hardly translates to driving joy.

The four-cylinder runs out of puff on big hills and struggles to reach 100km/h in 10 seconds. Fuel economy of 7.9L/100km isn’t great, especially using pricier 95 RON fuel.

Overall it’s a harmonious drive experience and despite many hours in the plush saddle, this driver felt none the worse for wear.

Verdict 3/5

The C5 Aircross has the required look-at-me style of a Citroen, combined with mid-size family SUV credentials of excellent versatile space and good features and safety. Pick an out-there colour like Volcano Red or Emerald Green with contrasting colour pack for maximum effect, and enjoy the plush if not thrilling ride. It’s not cheap but it’s far from boring.

Citroen C5 Aircross

Price: From $39,990 plus on-roads

Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/u’ltd km, $3010 for 5 years/100,000km

Safety: 4 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, active
blind spot monitor, active lane departure assist, speed limit recognition, 180-degree parking camera

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 121kW/240Nm

Thirst: 7.9L/100km

Spare: Space-saver

Boot: 580L-720L

In suspense

A spin-off from motorsport, the C5 Aircross’s unique suspension uses Progressive Hydraulic Cushions. This tech, created for Citroen’s World Rally Championship and Dakar Rally racers, can still be found on its C3 rally cars. The cushions better absorb impacts, particularly after jumps. Australian roads may not be that bad but big impacts are softened thanks to hydraulic stops added to the conventional shock absorber. Joining the springs and mechanical stops, these also help to eliminate bouncing and allow a “magic carpet” ride over uneven ground.

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