Citroen C5 Aircross review, test drive
After the 2020 pause Citroen kicks off its Indian innings with the Jeep Compass and Hyundai Tucson rivalling C5 Aircross SUV
Comfort. If there is one thing Citroen want to be known for, apart from being obviously French, it is for delivering comfort. All their communication, everything revolves around comfort, and after a day with the Citroen C5 Aircross (Aircross is Citroen-speak for SUV), I can tell you that comfort isn’t mere marketing talk. This is Citroen’s global flagship, their brand shaper before the mass market cars roll out next year, and it does an absolutely wonderful job of delivering on comfort. Ride comfort, seat comfort, driving comfort, noise insulation, the C5 takes the stress out of driving. Even the annoying speed warning has a comfortable tone to it. This test, then, is about the Thrill of Chilling.
Styling of the Citroen C5 Aircross
The styling is quite the departure from massive grilles and macho posturing that’s the norm with SUVs. Now I wouldn’t go so far as calling the Citroen C5 Aircross pretty — nobody seems to want pretty cars anymore — but I will say that the soft curves, well proportioned stance, and right amount of detailing comes across as a breath of fresh air. Citroen’s double chevrons extend into the full width of the noise splitting the headlights with a narrow LED strip sitting atop the main beam, halogen on the Feel-spec we are testing here, LED on the Shine variant. The latter also gets a panoramic sunroof and remote tailgate while both variants get LED taillamps, 18-inch wheels that fill out the wheel arches and neat touches like the red-ringed anodised sections that emphasise the air dam. You will also notice red accents on the side skirts, Citroen calls them Airbumps, and there are red accents on the roof rails that contrast well with the blacked-out roof.
The C5 Aircross is 4500mm long, 2099mm wide and 1710mm high, all of which betters the Hyundai Tucson and Honda CR-V (which is no longer on sale) while the Jeep Compass is even smaller. The VW Tiguan, now only available in the Allspace 7-seater variant, is longer but narrower. All of which bodes well for interior space.
Advanced Comfort Seats on Citroen C5 Aircross
This is where the comfort-talk starts, with the wide, cushy and satisfyingly plush front seats. No need to mince any words here, these are the best seats in this class and, while plush, are also supportive enough that you can spend the entire day in them in, err, comfort.
The rear too gets Advanced Comfort seats which comprise three equally-wide sections that individually slide, recline and fold. Allied to the flat floor this gives you a thoroughly usable, and comfortable, middle seat, not the narrow hump that its rivals deliver — and that makes the C5 a proper 5-seater. It’s a brilliant idea if you regularly have a full car load of people, even better if you cart around kids and will be spared the screams of the youngest one usually stuck in the middle.
In reality though how many times have you seen 5 or 7 people squeezed into a car? And especially something like the C5 will usually have the owner sitting in the back while being chauffeured to work. With 60:40 split seats the extreme two seats are wider than the apologetic hump in the centre, which means you can spread out in the back. In the C5 though you are confined to your designated seat, pushed into the extremity with no elbow room against the door pad, no centre armrest and no way to spread out as the three seats are individually bolstered. You get best-in-class shoulder room but with only one person in the back all that space is gone to waste with no bums on the other seats. As for rear knee room, it is good enough but not best in class with the Tiguan Allspace being considerably more spacious and even the Tucson edges it out. On boot space though, with 580 litres expanding to 720 litres with the rear seats pushed forward and opening up to 1630 litres with the seats folded away, the C5 Aircross is best in class.
Interiors of the Citroen C5 Aircross
The cabin is lovely, the layout is well considered, quality of materials are spot-on and it feels expensive on the inside with plush arm rests, high-quality leather, and neat chrome-detailing. Ahead of the driver is a 12.3-inch digital cockpit with a digital speedo in the centre and a retro-themed horizontal tacho above it that reminds me of the tuner on grandpa’s FM radio. The displays are configurable but in all three modes the tachometer is all but unreadable, you cannot get traditional circular dials, and it doesn’t project navigation or music being played via CarPlay.
There is CarPlay and Android Auto operated via an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment which should feel small by current standards of giant screens, but works nicely enough. Getting used to it though will take time — I hit the air-con menu and then couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get back to Google Maps on CarPlay, all this while trying to extricate myself out of peak Mumbai traffic. It takes four presses in different places to get back to where you started, which just isn’t intuitive. Physical buttons for regular tasks, especially adjusting the air-con temperature, would improve ergonomics considerably. And if you’re in reverse there’s no way to get rid of the camera unless you start rolling forward.
Now comfort. We’ve always mentioned the fantastic seats packed with high density foam that’s finished in a mix of high-quality leather and cloth. Cubby holes abound, the centre armrest hides an enormous compartment that can hold a 1.5 litre bottle, even the glove box can take a 1.5 litre bottle, and there’s a total of 33 litres of storage space. The C5 gets an onboard air quality monitoring system that detects carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides to automatically activate the air-con’s recirculation while the activated carbon filter can take out very fine particles up to 2.5 microns. And finally there are double laminated front windows with an insulated layer and acoustic windshield along with heavy sound proofing for the engine compartment to cut out engine, road and wind noise. It works so well your passengers will be surprised — and I mean really, really surprised! — to know that there’s a diesel engine under the hood.
One powertrain for Citroen C5 Aircross
There are two parts to Citroen’s Indian operations. The first is the greenfield engine and transmission plant in Hosur, in partnership with the CK Birla group (from whom the erstwhile PSA bought the Ambassador name plate), that has already started exporting gearboxes and assembles the C5’s 2-litre diesel engine and front axle. The second is the vehicle assembly unit in Thiruvallur, the former HM-Mitsubishi plant that PSA bought off the CK Birla group, and that’s where the C5 is assembled.
The 2-litre diesel puts out 174.5bhp and class-best figures of 400Nm of torque and 18.6kmpl fuel efficiecy. It is exclusively available with the 8-speed Aisin automatic transmission. No manual gearbox, and no AWD though there is a terrain mode dial that Citroen calls Grip Control which alters the traction control settings for sand, mud and snow. It also gets hill descent control, hill start assist and a generous 230mm of ground clearance.
Performance of Citroen C5 Aircross
With a best-in-class engine output Citroen claims a 0-100kmph time of 9.5 seconds and the C5 Aircross definitely feels quick enough. The gearbox too works smoothly and unobtrusively and when you’re in the mood for it you can hit Sport mode which sharpens the gearbox responses or take manual control via the paddle-shifters which are mounted on the steering column (like in a Ferrari!). That said, most owners are unlikely to bother with either.
The C5 Aircross hasn’t been designed to hustle. It’s not like the road manners are all over the place, and we shall come to that in a bit, but the focus is on The Thrill of Chilling rather than the Thrill of Driving. Everything about the C5 urges you to take it easy. The comfy seats, the barley audible engine, the imperceptible gearbox, the astonishingly comfortable suspension, all puts you in a relaxed frame of mind. You wind up feeling silly hustling the C5. Even the Stop-Start works so quietly and unobtrusively that you don’t bother hunting for the button to switch it off. An hour into our test drive I came to the realisation that not every car needs to win traffic light Grands Prix or go round corners at a million miles an hour. More often than not you want a car that just takes the stress out of fighting traffic and the C5 does that beautifully. And it is down to its pièce de résistance — the suspension.
Citroen Advanced Comfort suspension on C5 Aircross
The only other manufacturer that talks about a magic carpet ride is Mercedes-Benz and, again without mincing any words, the C5 Aircross rides like it is an S-Class made by Citroen. I kid you not, the C5 is beautifully compliant over all kinds of roads and at all kinds of speeds.
Volkswagen Group cars like the VW Tiguan and Skoda Kodiaq used to set the benchmark for ride comfort but, as we have always pointed out, at low speeds there’s an evident firmness to the ride; a slight jiggle over even slightly bumpy roads that gets completely ironed out as speeds increase. The Hyundai Tucson also rides in a similar manner, slightly firm at low speeds with compliance improving dramatically as speeds rise, and is one of the reasons why we now rate it so highly. But what the C5 manages to do is also iron out the low-speed firmness to deliver a beautifully plush ride irrespective of speed. The Progressive Hydraulic Cushions use two hydraulic bump stops in the dampers, one for compression and the other for rebound, and they are far better at soaking in and isolating the cabin from road shocks compared to the usual rubber bushes. The pliancy and compliance is delicious. Over broken roads and sharp speed breakers the C5 rides beautifully and it doesn’t come at the expense of poor body control or a floaty ride on the expressway. To be sure the Tiguan is more planted and stable on the expressway, and you do feel a bit of squishiness in the C5 over the more severe expressway undulations taken at speed, but the overall ride comfort is clearly top of the class. The heavy sound insulation also means you cannot hear — or feel! — any suspension thuds or thumps. It’s an S-Class at a quarter of the price.
Can the C5 Aircross go round corners?
Front end bite is strong and sharp and your heart will not skip a beat when you go round the first corner. But, immediately, you will back off before the second corner. Nothing about the C5’s demeanour encourages serious corner-carving. There’s abundant body roll as is evident in the pictures and it leans heavily on its outside dampers. It’s not like the C5’s rivals are brimming with steering feel but even by those standards the steering is disconnected and remote. And if you get on the throttle mid-corner it will push even more enthusiastically into understeer, easily cured by getting off the gas and reminding yourself of The Thrill of Chilling. Braking though is strong with disc brakes all-round.
Does the Citroen C5 Aircross set a new benchmark?
In terms of comfort, without a doubt. For day-to-day use, in a city like Mumbai that prides itself on a breathtakingly lackadaisical approach to road surfacing, I cannot shower enough praise on the C5’s all-round comfort. You feel little and you hear even less of what’s going on outside. It really does take the stress out of daily commuting. That said though, even if you’re being chauffeured, the (excellent) front seat is the most comfortable place to be. The rear, what with the democratically partitioned seat, will end up getting wasted on just one person who is confined to one corner and is unable to spread out into all the (considerable) space. If I were Citroen India, I’d immediately put in a requisition to headquarters for a traditional 60:40 split rear seat that will suit the Indian buyer better.
Then there’s the pricing and rivals. The Hyundai Tucson is the only natural rival, now that the Tiguan is only petrol while the Compass is half a size smaller in terms of interior space (though surprisingly expensive if you want a diesel automatic which can only be had with 4x4).
Pre-bookings for the C5 Aircross open in the first week of March and it goes on sale in the first week of April from 10 dealerships. If priced right, in the region of Rs 25 lakh, the C5 Aircross will do a good job of establishing Citroen’s brand presence before the mass market C-Cubed cars start rolling out in a year’s time. And do it all, rather comfortably.