The Citroen C3 Aircross is the brand's third product for India and is slated to launch next month
The Citroen C3 Aircross is the brand's third product for India and is slated to launch next monthShot by Avdhoot Kolhe for evo India

2023 Citroen C3 Aircross first drive review

Citroen C3 Aircross enters a heavily saturated segment with a seven seater

The mid-size SUV segment is the most saturated segment you can find in India. There are so many options to choose from, so making a case for one SUV over another boils down to exactly what you are looking for. Hyundai and Kia ace on the features front, the Skoda and VW SUVs win you over with driving dynamics and the Maruti and Toyota are the best at nursing dinosaur juice. You can also buy a Honda Elevate that is very sensibly packaged, as well as the tech-laden MG Astor. The C3 Aircross is the newest entrant in this saturated space. Why would you even bother right? Read on to find out!

2023 Citroen C3 Aircross Design

There is no contesting the fact that the C3 Aircross is a handsome SUV. Not only does it look unique in this segment, it strikes a fine balance between flair and muscular presence. The bulging arches, tall stance, dual tone paint job and chunky alloys all add to the C3 Aircross’ attractive design. You can spot the C3 in many angles but the wider stance, new bumper designs, higher 200mm ground clearance and larger 17-inch wheels, all indicate that the Aircross is a step up. Which is why Citroen should have named it differently because customers might get confused with the segment the Aircross straddles in. It is built on the same CMP platform as the C3 but the larger dimensions place it firmly in the midsize SUV segment, where you can pick from so many other SUVs, the C3 Aircross had to match or better on the equipment front.

The C3 Aircross is underpinned by Citroen's Common Modular Platform under the C-Cubed programme
The C3 Aircross is underpinned by Citroen's Common Modular Platform under the C-Cubed programmeShot by Avdhoot Kolhe for evo India

But at first glance, you will see only halogen headlamps, and a key that needs to crank to start. First impressions can be tough sometimes, because they set the bar low on what you will expect going further. The C3 Aircross from the onset feels built to a price that will undercut its rivals if it has to make any headlines.

2023 Citroen C3 Aircross interior and features

Step in and the C3 Aircross presents a bright cabin with white leatherette seats that give it an upmarket feel. You sit a bit too high in its lowest position though. The steering adjusts for rake only, but besides sitting high, the driving position is comfortable. The dashboard design is the same as the C3 with plenty of shared parts splattered all around the cabin but thankfully, the instrument cluster isn’t the same. The C3 Aircross gets a better digital display and the 10.23-inch infotainment screen displays crisp information but the more you look around, the will notice a real skimping of features. There’s no start/stop button, you don’t get climate control or cruise control, you don’t get four power window switches on the driver’s door, there are no type-C ports anywhere in the cabin. The older type-As are now old and won’t find phone cables that are compatible in the coming years so you will have to buy converters. The big miss though is the absence of an automatic gearbox. Citroen doesn’t have an automatic gearbox to offer yet, making the Aircross the only car in this segment to not offer one. The competition is way ahead of the curve on the features front.

The rear seat of the five seater has an armrest. The 5+2 seater (and Citroen is mindful of calling it a 5+2 and not a 7-seater because the third row is for children and short people only) gets roof-mounted AC vents which is going to keep the cabin cool, but the modularity of the cabin means that the armrest can’t be had in the 5+2. Like the Renault Triber, the third row of the C3 Aircross can be completely taken off, creating more boot space. In fact the floor is deeper in the 5+2, liberating 511 litres of space. The 5-seater gets a 444-litre boot.

2023 Citroen C3 Aircross engine, gearbox and performance

You get a 1.2-litre 3-cylinder turbo-petrol engine under the hood of the C3 Aircross. Like the Honda Elevate, this SUV competes with the base powertrains in this segment only. When you consider just the base powertrains, the turbo 3-pot isn’t short on power or torque. It makes 108.5bhp and 190Nm of torque. It’s a motor that can stretch its legs in the C3, but the heavier C3 Aircross makes it a much slower car. You’d rather drive it in a relaxed manner, and that keeps the NVH levels from the 3-cylinder mill in check too. The C3 Aircross gets a tachometer, something the C3 didn’t get, so you can watch the revs rise and find the right gear. The turbo petrol engine is mated to the same six-speed manual gearbox from the C3. It’s a notchy gearbox but the clutch is light. Hustle the car through a series of gears and you will want to ease off the pace. The C3 Aircross prefers a more relaxed driving style. We’ve been spoiled by more refined turbo-petrols in the Kushaq and Taigun than the one in the C3 Aircross. And in the case of cars like the Grand Vitara and Elevate, the nat-asp mill is so creamy smooth, the marginal step up in the performance of the C3 Aircross doesn’t feel like a deal you’d want to make.

2023 Citroen C3 Aircross ride and handling

Keeping the C3 as my reference point, the C3 Aircross feels so much nicer. There’s nice weight in the car. It feels solid as it goes through a bad patch of road, and the faster you go, the more poised it feels through undulations and rumble strips. The suspension is tuned for comfort but chuck it into a corner and it doesn’t feel like it is going to roll into an understeer. The C3 Aircross holds its line well through a series of corners. It isn’t as agile as a Kushaq but nearly not as loose as a C3. Even the steering is better weighted than the C3, which makes you want to have a more involving drive in this car. The C3 Aircross runs with a maturity that is refreshing. From the cabin, you barely feel road imperfections as it glides through all that our Indian highways throw at it.

Shot by Avdhoot Kolhe for evo India

Just to prove the robustness of the C3 Aircross, Citroen even set up an off-road course, where we got the chance to drive the car through a series of obstacles, from articulation tracks to a mini hill where we could test hill hold on the Aircross, to a small water wading section. These front wheel drive SUVs will do a light bit of off-roading quite easily, and need not be restricted to just city and highway runs.

2023 Citroen C3 Aircross fuel efficiency

Citroen claims an ARAI rated efficiency figure of 18.5kmpl. The test number differs a fair bit based on the traffic conditions in your city, and in our experience of small 3-cylinder turbo petrols, they aren’t as efficient in stop/go traffic conditions. The manual gearbox equipped Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara returns an ARAI figure of 21.11kmpl and the Kushaq/Taigun duo return an ARAI figure of 18.09kmpl so expect the C3 Aircross to return similar real world figures to that of the Skoda and VW.

Shot by Avdhoot Kolhe for evo India

2023 Citroen C3 Aircross price and verdict

The Citroen C3 Aircross doesn’t make any big headlines to be honest. It’s just another SUV in this segment. But, and there’s a big but here, this mid-size SUV has played one card right for the Indian audience, and that is space. A 7-seater SUV in this segment is a first, and every other brand will be keenly looking at it and trying to find out if this is something people fancy. If it does, and if the price is right, Citroen may have a winner on their hands with this comfortable 5+2 cabin. Otherwise, it could very easily be forgotten in such a saturated space.

Shot by Avdhoot Kolhe for evo India

You only get one variant in the C3 Aircross, that can be topped with a factory-fitted vibe pack. I expect Citroen to price the C3 Aircross around the Rs 12.5-13 lakh mark to be competitive in this segment. Any higher and the Grand Vitara will gobble up the C3 Aircross for breakfast. The launch is slated for next month and deliveries begin in October. Would you buy one? Leave us a comment.

Shot by Avdhoot Kolhe for evo India
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