Is Citroen's high-riding supermini good to live with and to look at? We’re about to find out
Tom Morgan, deputy digital editor
8 February 2019

Why we're running it: To see if this quirkiest of compact crossovers has more to offer than its head-turning styling

Month 4 Month 3Month 2 Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Citroen C3 Aircross: Month 4

Becoming a familiar sight - 30th January 2018

Funny how you start spotting others driving ‘your’ car when you previously wouldn’t have given them a second thought. A few months in and more Aircross C3s are catching my eye. Most have a contrasting white roof option, like our car. I saw one with a matching body and roof over the weekend and it just didn’t have the same kind of impact.

Mileage: 5661

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Expandable Aircross proves its worth as a practical family car on the festive run - 23rd January 2018

Since arriving on the fleet, the Aircross has rarely been called on to shift loads larger than the weekly supermarket shop, or a couple of suitcases for a long weekend.

A week-long Christmas break spent visiting relatives across various parts of the country was a great opportunity for it to demonstrate just how practical it could be, with a full contingent of bags, presents, passengers and other miscellaneous holiday knick-knacks to carry.

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The first leg, with only driver and one passenger to accommodate, went as smoothly as you might expect. There was no need to lift the false floor or adjust the sliding rear bench seat to make extra room in the boot. It comfortably swallowed two suitcases, two bags of presents and a terrifying number of pine needles from when I’d collected the Christmas tree a week before (the 60/40 split rear seats ensuring the only tree trouble we had was actually fitting it through the front door).

Have I driven more exciting things home for Christmas? Absolutely. Did the Citroën disappoint in 2018? Not at all. Having incurred the wrath of certain family members the previous two years for my choice of car, the Aircross went down surprisingly well. (In 2016, an Audi S5 was too low, apparently, and tricky to get in and out of. A year later, an Audi R8 was loud enough to wake the dead, and two seats meant I couldn’t be the designated driver, y’see.) The slightly elevated ride made it “much easier to clamber into” than my parents’ BMW 1 Series, and the styling was variously described as “funky”, “exciting” and “cool”. So largely a success, then.

I racked up around 700 miles over the holiday, which mainly consisted of motorway driving. I quickly discovered the C3 isn’t a car that will have you searching out the more exciting routes, and is quite happy to stick to the motorways. This saw the Aircross deliver economy figures in the low 40s (according to my maths). The trip computer is still erring on the optimistic side, but has largely settled down from the first few thousand miles, where the figures were a bit more sporadic.

It was only the final stage of the journey, returning to London with two friends fresh off a plane after a week of winter sun, that we reached the limit of the C3’s storage. Two extra full-size suitcases in the boot meant several bags had to be relocated to one of the rear seats, even with the false floor removed and rear bench extended.

Unless you really don’t like your friends or family, you can’t fully extend the rear bench and still use it for rear passengers. Fitting a few child seats back there? Grand, extend all you like. But anyone with legs is going to suffer, so a compromise on luggage capacity was in order. Still, no one had to be buried, Tetris-style, under a heap of bags and coats, and I had no complaints about space all the way back to London, which I count as a win for the Citroën.

I also need to give a special thank you to Autocar reader Craig Thorley, who got in touch over the festive break to offer a solution to my complaint in a previous report about the C3’s touch-sensitive infotainment controls. He noted that a three-finger tap would activate an on-screen menu, presenting large icons for navigation, radio and heating controls. These are far easier to hit than the tiny icons at either side of the screen, and so less distracting to use while driving.

It’s a shame this handy function only works when you’re in the main Citroën UI, though, as I spend most of my time behind the wheel with Android Auto handling navigation and multimedia – meaning I still have to use the small buttons to adjust the heating. Still, it’s a useful feature for Citroën owners who are sticking with the built-in nav system.

Love it:

CAPABLE ENGINE Even when loaded up with passengers and luggage, the 128bhp Aircross had a decent amount of shove. A lesser engine might have struggled.

Loathe it:

TRICKY TEMPERATURES I’m still searching for the sweet spot between too hot and not warm enough for winter driving – and the on-screen climate controls don’t make it easy.

Mileage: 5615

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Not entirely accurate - 9th January 2018

The trip computer’s estimated ‘remaining miles’ figure proved rather optimistic this week, refusing to budge after the fuel gauge went from three quarters to half a tank of remaining. Confusingly, the trip’s average economy calculations seem a lot more accurate, at least according to my maths. I’d prefer consistency across both.

Mileage: 4754

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Life with a Citroen C3 Aircross: Month 3

Aircross deals with sibling rivalry and has its first taste of cold-weather commuting - 27th December 2018

Three months after it first arrived, the C3 Aircross has changed my morning routine – although not exactly for the better.

I already set my weekday alarm for an ungodly hour in order to beat London’s inevitable congestion, but now that the cold weather has well and truly rolled in, I’m having to factor in another 15 minutes to get the Citroën’s frosty cabin up to a manageable temperature. Even with the heating cranked to full, I sit shivering for a lot longer than I’d like.

It doesn’t help that the infotainment touchscreen is the only way to adjust the heating once you have thawed out. A shortcut at the side of the screen takes you straight to the air-con controls but won’t recognise your pokes and prods if you’re wearing gloves. Because it’s a touch-sensitive panel that sits flush to the screen, I’m also finding it next to impossible to hit on the first attempt without taking my eyes off the road. At least the heated front and rear windscreens get actual buttons.

Temperature irks aside, this month has also provided a chance to see how the Aircross stacks up to its bigger brother, the C4 Cactus – specifically the long-term test example of our sibling magazine What Car?.

The larger hatchback puts an even bigger emphasis on comfort than the C3 and this is immediately noticeable when you sink into its double-stuff cushioned seats. I’ve driven some long stints in the Aircross with no adverse effects, but the Cactus makes it feel like you’re sitting in an armchair.

I’m less convinced by the Cactus’s ‘hydraulic cushion’ suspension, which does a fair job of smoothing out speed bumps and potholes but at the expense of handling. The Cactus leans through corners and pitches noticeably in stop-start traffic. The Aircross is by no means stiff, but I’ll take it over the Cactus and its unsettled ride.

I prefer the larger car’s driving position, though. In the Aircross, you sit in the kind of upright, almost elevated driving position that crossover buyers seem to love, whereas the Cactus lets you relax more and be lower to the ground. It might ride higher, but the view of the road ahead isn’t that much better in the C3 – and it can still be tricky to gauge exactly where the Aircross’s front end, well, ends.

Parking the Aircross is more of a chore than it needs to be, on account of the visibility-limiting obscured rear-quarter glass and fairly tiny rear windscreen. Our car has rear parking sensors, whereas What Car? sub-editor Kris Culmer had gone for a reversing camera on the Cactus. It’s fairly low-res but does make backing into tighter spaces just that bit easier. Front parking sensors, a rear reversing camera and a self-parking feature are all options on the C3, but we didn’t go for them. I wish we had.

Kris’s Cactus is a mid-range Feel-spec car, whereas our Aircross is top-end Flair, which makes for an interesting mix of different and similar equipment in the two cabins. The C4’s all-digital instrument cluster is smart but lacks a rev counter. The Aircross has both analogue dials and a digital screen, which makes room for a lot more information. A shelf to store your smartphone in the Cactus is a lot more useful than the Aircross’s chunky cupholders, which are about as secure as a deckchair on the Titanic.

The Aircross does deliver on the practicality front, mind. Fitting a week’s worth of supermarket shopping into the back of the Cactus proved to be a tighter squeeze than I was expecting. A false floor and flat loading lip makes doing the same in the Aircross a breeze.

A back-to-back drive hasn’t quite made me a compact crossover convert yet, but the swap has made me appreciate why they’re rapidly becoming the small family load-luggers of choice.

Love it:

DOUBLE-DECKER BOOT False floor makes for easy loading of bulky items while leaving a place to hide occasionally accessed but still useful stuff.

Loathe it:

RESTRICTED REAR VIEW Relatively small rear windscreen and obscured rear-quarter glass make tight manoeuvres more of a chore than they should be.

Mileage: 3973

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Cabin doesn’t quite match the outside appeal - 28 November 2018

You certainly couldn’t call the Aircross’s exterior styling boring. Still, I can’t help thinking Citroën could have made the interior a bit more distinctive. In standard trim, things are a little on the dull side, with nothing but grey and black plastic. Speccing one with the optional Urban Red or Metropolitan Grey colour packs should add some much-needed character.

Mileage: 3672

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Life with a Citroen C3 Aircross: Month 2

Adapting to the C3’s cruise control - 7th November 2018

Our Aircross doesn’t have adaptive cruise control – and not just because we opted for a standard spec. It’s not even an option and was sorely missed on my first long-distance drives. Still, toggling it on and off manually as you approach slower traffic ahead is no great hardship, and Citroën’s control stalk layout is at least sensible – if not quite as convenient as on-wheel buttons.

Mileage: 3111

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Navigation not working out well - 24th October 2018

I’ve officially given up on the built-in sat-nav, which insists on playing a variety of pings, bongs and chimes at seemingly random intervals. They are there to alert you to speed cameras, accidents and so on, but when 10 play at once, it’s impossible to work out what they mean. I’m using Android Auto for now, but I’ll also be testing Apple CarPlay to see which gets the job full-time.

Mileage: 2383

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Long-distance cross-country driving isn’t a problem in this comfortable crossover - 10th October 2018

In my few short weeks of Aircross ownership, I hadn’t really had much chance to spend any extended journey time behind the wheel. This week presented the perfect opportunity: a friend’s wedding in the south of France, where the funky Citroën should feel right at home.

Our route took us from London at 3am, bleary-eyed, down to Bordeaux via the Eurotunnel and 600 miles of French motorway network. Unexciting (and expensive) perhaps, but purpose-built for this kind of long-distance motoring.

My passenger declared our start time “brutally early” and proceeded to sleep soundly until we’d passed Paris, waking only to acknowledge the customs official at the tunnel, and to begrudgingly wind the window down and pay for our road tolls. At no point were there complaints about the seats, however, which reinforces my view that the Aircross is a rather comfortable crossover.

The driving position is more upright than I’d like, but you can’t argue with the view of the road it provides. It’s largely the reason I survived the perilously sharp kerbs on the Eurotunnel carriages without nicking any of the alloy wheels.

The Aircross seemed to cope well with almost every road surface, delivering a smooth ride that kept most of the weekend’s passengers happy. Only a rutted dirt track truly made itself felt inside the cabin, but seeing how our car doesn’t even have the optional Grip Control pack installed, the Aircross put in a decent performance outside of its natural road environment.

Wind noise was the main concern, the upright shape and large wing mirrors creating plenty of turbulence that drones into the cabin at motorway speeds. Until you drown it out with the infotainment system, anyway.

Having brimmed the tank the night before we set off, we stopped for fuel twice along the route, with the second pit stop providing enough for a weekend of exploring the French countryside and a decent first leg of the return journey home.

The trip computer reported a respectable 41.4mpg, which is better than the low 30s I’d been averaging on a cross-London commute, but some calculations revealed my true average was closer to 38mpg. The 1.2-litre turbo was clearly happiest between 50mph and 60mph, with French motorway speeds draining the tank significantly quicker than I experience in the UK.

It was only the final hour of the outward journey, where motorway gave way to winding forest roads devoid of any locals, that I could push the Aircross a little harder. It’s by no means a driver’s car, with lots of body roll, overly light steering and a gearshift that’s disappointingly vague, but the engine can still entertain in small doses. The turbo is quick to spool and delivers a healthy punch of power when called upon, even if the engine note isn’t the most sonically pleasing.

Once we’d arrived, the Aircross was called into action to ferry wedding guests between châteaux – but with just a weekend holdall, picnic basket and suit bag in the boot, I hadn’t needed to move the rear bench seats. That meant sufficient leg room for rear passengers. It’s not expansive back there, but four adults can travel in the car without feeling cramped.

After the wedding was over, I’d planned a leisurely return journey to the UK. However, Citroën’s sat-nav isn’t the clearest system and I failed to notice it had aimed us directly through the centre of Paris. At rush hour. That meant an extra hour of stop-start traffic and a tighter dash for the train than I’d planned.

I resisted switching to Android Auto because, apart from that mishap, the C3’s mapping worked without any major misdirections, earning it a stay of execution for at least the next few journeys.

Love it:

REFINED RIDE Only truly dreadful roads unsettle the car, so the hours on country roads were largely as comfortable as the many more motorway miles.

Loathe it:

HEFTY HANDBRAKE Chunky plastic handbrake lever is just a little too far back from the centre console for a quick release and needs a bit of force to pull on.

Mileage: 2119

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Can’t trust the cupholders - 26th September 2018

Drinks can wobble dramatically in the Aircross’s square cupholders but I hadn’t encountered any spills before handing the keys to video editor Mitch McCabe for a week. In hindsight, I should have given him a heads-up. I’m now on the hunt for a drinks bottle that’ll sit snugly, and an air freshener to disguise the aroma of mocaccino wafting from the centre console.

Mileage: 1154

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Life with a Citroen C3 Aircross: Month 1

Welcoming the C3 Aircross to the fleet - 12th September 2018

There’s really no escaping the charm of the compact crossover, is there?

Take the humble hatchback, jack it up like it’s on stilts and apply some off-road-inspired design cues. Job done. The great British public has gone mad for SUV-themed superminis, and so manufacturers are sure to keep them coming to satisfy our thirst.

It’s an increasingly crowded corner of the market, so it pays to stand out, which is something the Citroën C3 Aircross has no trouble doing. The Aircross replaces the MPV-inspired C3 Picasso in Citroën’s line-up with the SUV styling du jour, resulting in a crossover that oozes quirky French charm inside and out. It gets Citroën’s trademark focus on comfort, albeit in distilled form, and practicality that’s on par with the best in the class.

This might not be the most dynamic, most luxurious or most affordable car of its kind, but we reckon it’s probably the most interesting. And seeing how it’s already the company’s second-best-selling vehicle behind the C3 hatchback, after a little under ten months on sale, it would seem customers agree.

We called the design “instantly likeable” when we road tested the C3 Aircross, even if we determined it “wasn’t quite a match for the Seat Arona on performance or handling sophistication”. To find out if that matters for day-in, day-out driving, and to discover whether there’s more to like about the Aircross than its standout styling, we’ll be running one for the next six months.

Our long-term test car is powered by the PSA Group’s near-ubiquitous 1.2-litre turbocharged three-pot petrol. It’s an engine that can be found in everything from a crossover like this C3 Aircross all the way up to Peugeot’s 5008 SUV, and is seen here in its most potent form. Power and torque outputs of 128bhp and 170lb ft should be well-suited to a compact crossover, while the six-speed manual gearbox will hopefully be a better match for the short-geared, rev-happy motor than the five-speed ’box fitted to our road test car.

Combined fuel economy is quoted at 54.3mpg (NEDC), and while that figure would put it firmly among its peers, we’re expecting inner-city life and all the slow-speed driving that entails to make achieving such a target something of a struggle.

More than half of UK buyers opt for the top-spec Flair trim, so we’ve done the same. It builds on mid-spec Feel variants by adding 17in alloy wheels, along with keyless entry and start, a sliding rear bench for a temporary boost to boot space, climate control, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. It also upgrades the 7.0in infotainment touchscreen with Citroën Connect Navigation, although with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay both included as standard, Citroën’s offering will need to impress if it is to replace the Waze app as our sat-nav system of choice.

We avoided loading our car with options, choosing only the blue paint and contrasting white roof (£520). The silver colour pack, a no-cost option, then added a further splash of colour to the wing mirrors, headlight surrounds and roof rails.

You can buy a C3 Aircross with Grip Control, a £400 option that uses electronics to adjust the traction control in place of four-wheel drive for all-terrain driving, but seeing how few customers feel the need for it, we decided we could live without as well.

With no child seats to fit (in the immediate future, at any rate), we also declined to add the Family Pack (£490) and its fold-flat front passenger seat. We’ll have to wait and see if we’ll regret not ticking the box for the £650 Techno HiFi pack, which adds wireless smartphone charging, a 3.5in colour instrument panel, uprated speaker system and colour heads-up display. As is, the instrument panel makes do with monochrome.

This brought the total cost to £20,105, which is on par with a Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 115 in FR trim – in our view, still the best all-round compact crossover available today. The thing is, while the Seat may offer a better drive, it has a tenth of the Citroën’s personality. That certainly translates into the cabin. Our test car’s mica grey interior is the most subdued colour option available, but the old-school dials and quirky shapes still make a good first impression.

Initial thoughts? The thrummy three-pot has a pleasant amount of shove around town, the high driving position gives a decent view of the road ahead, and there’s no shortage of space in the cabin. With the back seats in place there’s plenty of boot storage, but once the bench is folded flat there’s more room here than you’d find in a VW Golf. That should come in handy for a few of the road trips we have planned for the car.

It’s not all good news, though. The seats don’t have the high-density foam padding of those in the C4 Cactus (in which they’re part of Citroën’s advanced comfort ethos). It might be an issue on longer journeys. Having the climate controls relegated to the touchscreen, instead of on dedicated buttons, makes changing temperatures on the move a bit fiddly, and the square gearknob is overly chunky and awkward to grip too.

Our time with the Aircross so far has mostly been spent in London’s stop-start traffic, where fuel economy has hovered in the mid-30mpg region. Our car won’t be resigned to the city life for long, though: it already has a spot on the Eurotunnel booked for later in the year to see how it performs as a long-distance tourer.

Second Opinion

Driving the C3 Aircross straight after a C4 Cactus, I was disappointed to note the smaller car is more crashy around town. It smooths out at speed, but the Cactus’s hydraulic bump stops are sorely missed here. Another bugbear was the speed camera warning ‘bong’ interrupting the radio, taking a bit of the shine off an otherwise likeable car.

Lawrence Allan

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Citroen C3 Aircross Flair 130 Puretech specifications

Specs: Price New £19,585 Price as tested: £20,105 Options: Breathing Blue paint £520, silver colour pack £0

Test Data: Engine 1,199cc, three-cylinder, turbocharged petrol Power 128bhp Torque 170lb ft Top speed 124mph 0-62mph 10.4sec Claimed fuel economy 54.3mpg Test fuel economy 34.1mpg CO2 119g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
17

15 October 2018

The phrases ‘compact crossover’ and ‘handling sophistication’ don’t belong in the same sentence. It will ride like a medicine ball.

And slightly bizarre you’ve gone without the family pack - surely young families are the core market (with child-free couples considering something like a Juke to be a more ‘sporty’ choice).

15 October 2018

Surprised that anyone would resent avoiding points on their licence . .

"Second Opinion - Driving the C3 Aircross . . . Another bugbear was the speed camera warning ‘bong’ interrupting the radio, taking a bit of the shine off an otherwise likeable car".

 

15 October 2018

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pem

15 October 2018

Looks like a noddy car, poor fuel consumption, cheap looking seats for 20 grand, no thanks.

15 October 2018
Wife bought one auto braking system didn't work garage said they can't test it contacted Citroen several times never got back to us don't buy one unless you want to run into back of someone

15 October 2018

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24 October 2018
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22 November 2018

Those stubby stalks have been around since the Xsara and look archaic.  Moreover, my most recent experience of them on a Pug 308 hire car was shocking as the roughly sharp-edged finished threatened to 'paper-cut' my digits - this was never the case on our old Picasso.

The car-buying public gets what it deserves, unfortunately ...

22 November 2018

I think these look very slab-sided in the metal. The standard C3 has plenty of the same "off road inspired design cues", to me looks better, and would probably do as good a job for most people.

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