- It rides like a luxury car, but it looks like something we can't even begin to describe.
- A compact engine with considerable power and torque will satisfy drivers used to larger powerplants.
- It is loaded with features you'll need for many years to come and can work as a small family car.
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Citroen has introduced a facelift version of its C3 Aircross in South Africa, and we spent the last week assessing the newcomer to see if it's any good to drive. The car comes packed with standard equipment, but we have to tell you upfront that its styling didn't impress us much, or the numerous people who sent messages via social media to say it didn't look good or that it reminded them of the Fiat Multipla.
We'll never call a car ugly because each will appeal to someone like a work of art. But, man, what happened here, and how did this front end make it beyond the concept stage on a mass-market hatchback? Before we get too carried away on the front end design, it's quirky; let's call it that and move on and let's tuck into what it was like to live with.
Built on a common platform
The Citroen C3 Aircross is built on the Stellantis Compact Modular Platform (CMP) that's also used for the Peugeot 208 and the Opel Corsa. Extended versions are also used to create crossovers, hybrids and electric cars. It's a well-compiled base, leading to a sublime ride and handling proposition.
Lovely 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 205/50 tyres also gave us confidence on the road. It's nice that the car didn't come with low-profile rubber as you can ride through minor imperfections in the street and on gravel with comfort and control.
We really enjoyed the supple damping of the C3 Aircross's suspension, something Citroen is known for. Still, it stands out especially in this segment as it's a compact car that rides, no it glides more like a medium-sized luxury vehicle. Handling won't set your heart racing, as it's built for comfort, and that's fine because the car's engine and gearbox are also more suited to cruising rather than bruising.
Compact powerplant, plenty poke
Under the C3 Aircross hood, you'll find a shared Stellantis 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that's assisted by a turbocharger. It produces a wonderful 81kW of power and 205Nm of torque. This should satisfy most drivers as the car is lightweight, and it feels like it pulls with intent when you want to overtake safely.
We also enjoyed the automatic gearbox. It offers six forward gears, and it uses tried-and-tested torque converter technology instead of dual clutches or a CVT. The gearing is rather long here, so you'll find it hanging onto fourth and fifth gear around town, but rest assured out on the highway, it will engage sixth, and you'll comfortably cruise at 120km/h around 2200rpm. We had no issues making haste in the vehicle, but it makes you want to cruise and enjoy its smooth ride and serene acoustics.
Claimed fuel consumption in this car is 6.5 litres/100km, but we achieved closer to 8.0 litres/100km as most of our time was spent to and from school, sitting in traffic, with the air conditioner on the maximum cold setting. We also used the "S" button for the gearbox, which keeps it in the lower gears for a more spirited drive, which led to some of its thirst for unleaded.
Loaded with standard features
On the safety side of things, you get anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce assist, hill start assist, traction control, stability control, tyre pressure monitor, six airbags, and a head's up display. It might seem pricey, around R400 000 for this car, but when you compare it feature for feature to some of the other best-sellers in the segment, you'll be surprised at how much you're getting here in terms of spec.
We also really liked its standard-fit electric windows (lockable at the rear) and mirrors, electronic lock for the rear doors to prevent curious kids from opening them when tugging on door handles, and the ISOFIX mounts that made it easy-peasy to transport kids. Boot space was also very good at 410 litres and will trump many hatchbacks in this class.
After a few days of getting used to it, we also really enjoyed its touchscreen audio system. The unit supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and you can use voice commands such as Siri on iPhone to make calls, find music playlists, respond to messages and even check the weather. It was irritating to have to dive into the screen all the time for settings for climate control and the car itself, but this minimalist style seems to be the way things are going in cars. At least there are actual buttons and knobs on the steering wheel here and none of that capacitive touch stuff you find in other vehicles.
Is it worth buying?
If you don't mind the car's look, you will love the way it drives. It's also feature-rich and comes with a five-year or 100 000km warranty and a three-year or 60 000km Service Plan. Numerous readers and followers on social media said they are wary of buying a Citroen due to its management here in the past. Still, Stellantis has reassured us that it's backing Citroen fully into the future.
Priced at R401 900, the Citroen C3 Aircross is a quirky alternative to the Volkswagen Polo, and it's closer to the T-Cross if you're considering either one of these cars for your garage. We really enjoyed the interior of the car, the way it drove and its features, but we couldn't fall in love with its looks. To this end, if we wanted to be different on the road, we'd go for the Peugeot 208 or 2008.
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