C3 Aircross attracts attention with its unique styling
C3 Aircross attracts attention with its unique stylingevo India

Can the Citroen C3 Aircross take on the Hyundai Creta?

More to the point, is the Citroen C3 Aircross even a rival to the Hyundai Creta? An analysis

Ever since the Hyundai Creta came along and proved that there’s volume, and profit, to be had beyond just compact SUVs, the mid-size SUV class has been referred to as the Creta class. The Creta was what Skoda and VW targeted when they sat down to imagine their first India 2.0 cars, the Kushaq and Taigun. The Creta’s 10,000 plus volumes was what their cousin Kia were after when they launched with the Seltos. Offering more car than the Creta for the same price was what helped MG get off to a solid start with the Hector. Both Tata Motors and Mahindra had the very same Creta in sights with the Harrier and XUV 700. Same with Toyota and Maruti Suzuki with the Urban Cruiser Hyryder and Grand Vitara. And when Citroen say the C3 Aircross’ wheelbase of 2671mm is best in class, they are clearly looking at the Creta (2610mm). But is the Citroen C3 Aircross truly a Creta rival?

Dimensionally Citroen C3 Aircross is similar to Hyundai Creta

At 4.3 meters long the Citroen C3 Aircross is clearly a mid-size SUV and the styling is everything you’d except of this class. Butch SUV-cues, chunky wheel arches, faux skid plates, roof rails, 17-inch wheels, it has got everything. And here Citroen are clearly talking about this being an SUV unlike, if you recall, their insistence that the smaller C3 wasn’t a compact-SUV despite clearly being styled as one.   

On the inside too there’s plenty of space with knee room in the second row being particularly generous thanks to that 2671mm wheelbase. For perspective the Seltos and Creta are at 2610mm and Taigun and Kushaq are at 2615mm. The Creta will probably be a smidge wider and slightly more comfortable for three to sit abreast but we will have to put the two side by side to draw a definite conclusion. What I did find strange is the C3 Aircross has a noticeable transmission tunnel. Now this is based on the C-Cubed platform that is specific to India, everything has been designed and engineered in India, strange then that they couldn’t do a fully-flat floor. Even the new Innova Hycross as a flat floor, despite it being so much larger. Of course the transmission tunnel is not there for all-wheel-drive in the future, it’s there for torsional rigidity so let’s hope the C3 Aircross has better body control that what the C3 has been endowed with.

C3 Aircross gets halogen lamps and a faux skidplate
C3 Aircross gets halogen lamps and a faux skidplateevo India

Unique 7-seater layout for Citroen C3 Aircross

Citroen call it a 5 + 2 seater layout and this could be the game changer. The two seats clip into hooks in the boot and, similar to the Renault Triber, it can either be folded down or even taken out and stowed in the garage. So, in a pinch, when you really need to squeeze in seven people, the C3 Aircross can do it.

I am 5-foot-9-inches and I managed to get into the third row. It’s not comfortable, you will feel claustrophobic, there’s no headroom, but you can fit in two adults when that emergency arises. And of course it will be better suited to kids.

Take out the seats and you have 551 litres of boot space. The 5-seater version meanwhile has a 444-litre boot. The 5 + 2 seater version also has roof mounted air-con vents with blower control like the Innova.

The thinking is smart. But the question also remains whether mid-size SUV buyers really want occasional versatility or they’d be better served by something like the Kia Carens that does proper seating for 7.

The third row can either be folded down or taken out if you need more space
The third row can either be folded down or taken out if you need more spaceevo India

Clear and evident cost cutting on the Citroen C3 Aircross

Citroen’s C-Cubed platform is born of the same strategy, same thinking, even sprouting of the same minds behind Renault’s CMF-A platform that underpins the Kwid and Triber. But neither has it done rocking volumes for Renault, nor has it seen the C3 fly off the shelves. 9000 registrations in 9 months for the Citroen C3 isn’t exactly a roaring success.

Localisation is a key pillar for Citroen’s India strategy. It started with the engine and transmission plant in Hosur and then HM-Mitsubishi’s old Thiruvallur plant for the car itself. That has helps the C3 Aircross achieve an over 90 per cent localisation right from when it will be launched. Plus all the engineering was done here in India, by Tata Consultancy Services, further cutting costs.

But does cost cutting have to be so evident?

It starts with the key that is neither a key fob nor the flip type. And you insert the key into the ignition, no start-stop button. Before you get to the ignition key you will notice the visible key hole on the driver’s side. You open the door using flip-up door handles. And the door shut is terribly tinny.

The steering doesn’t adjust for reach, only rake. There’s no power adjust for the seats. There’s no sunroof (shock!). No wireless charging. You do get a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment with wireless connectivity and a 7-inch full-colour digital cockpit (unlike the tiny little unit that came in for much criticism on the C3). There are 5 USB ports but all are the older type-A, not type-C that all new cars are getting. And rear passengers have to stretch to the power window switches located on the transmission tunnel behind the handbrake to roll down their windows.

What else? No LED lights, only LED DRLs. No LED indicators. Like the C3 there isn’t any shrouding under the engine bay or sound insulation anywhere in the engine bay. And you have to make do with drum brakes at the rear.

Mid-size SUVs have, at least up until now, been an aspirational purchase – the cost cutting was left to the compact SUVs. But in the same breath I should add that if you can now buy a larger mid-size SUV for compact SUV money that too might work. Only time, and sales figures, will tell if Citroen are on to something.

No automatic transmission on Citroen C3 Aircross

Every single mid-size SUV is offered with an automatic transmission. Most, in fact, have multiple engines and transmissions to choose from. Citroen however have only one engine, the 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, turbo-petrol from the C3. It will obviously be tuned to make a little more than the C3’s 108.5bhp, but most of that will be balanced out by the additional weight of the Aircross. That said, the Aircross will not add more than 100kg to the C3’s 982kg making it the lightest mid-size SUV on the market and the 1.2-turbo should pull it along quite smartly.

But the 3-cylinder will never give you the refinement that you’ve come to expect of a mid-size SUV. And the only transmission is a 6-speed manual. Citroen would do well to just copy Hyundai and Kia’s iMT clutchless manual until they start local production (or find a cost-effective source) of an automatic transmission.

While on the subject of the 1.2 turbo-petrol, this engine hasn’t yet been homologated to the new BS 6.2 emission norms so you cannot get it on the C3 right now. Citroen say it is just a matter of a month before it will be back on sale.

There's only one engine option, the 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, turbo-petrol
There's only one engine option, the 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, turbo-petrolevo India

Electric Citroen C3 Aircross

This could be the ace up Citroen’s sleeve. The pricing of the e-C3 hasn’t been particularly impressive and that segment already has a few players. But an electric mid-size SUV? Now that’s currently a white space, save for the Mahindra XUV 400. And the C3 Aircross is bigger than the XUV 400.

The C-Cubed platform has clearly been designed to be electrified and there are enough smart people at Stellantis, so it is safe to assume that an e-C3 Aircross is a matter of when and not if. My guess is early next year, by when Citroen India hope to have 100 dealerships running, up from the 60 that will be operational when the C3 Aircross goes on sale, which itself is up from the 30 that they have right now.

And by 2024 there will be the third car on the C-Cubed platform. They’ve already done the compact SUV. The mid-size SUV is here. Will they go the Skoda-VW route with a sedan? Or the Kia route with an MPV? Or undercut the Baleno and i20 with a premium hatchback that doesn’t cost that much of a premium?

Is the naming strategy confusing?

Like styling you are entitled to your personal opinion on the name. But I find it confusing. C3 and C3 Aircross sit way too close to each other. And if you’ve been to Europe you will see a C3 and C3 Aircross that have nothing in common with the Indian cars. But you will find a C5 Aircross which is the same as what you get in India.

Anyways, companies lavish a lot of time, money and manpower on these things so there’s probably a long term strategy behind this.

The Editor with the Citroen C3 Aircross
The Editor with the Citroen C3 Aircrossevo India

So is the Citroen C3 Aircross a Hyundai Creta rival?

I will have to say no. Clearly Citroen are out to play the pricing game, undercut the Hyundai Creta and, while they are at it, Kia Seltos, VW Taigun, Skoda Kushaq, Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder — all by a handsome margin. The Taigun and Kushaq twins were supposed to (but didn’t) slot into the gap between compact and mid-size SUVs. And with car prices having been on a particularly steep upward trajectory ever since demand skyrocketed post the first Covid lockdown, mid-size SUVs no longer start at under Rs 10 lakh. Say if Citroen do manage to slot the C3 Aircross at just under that psychologically important Rs 10lakh mark (which we expected the Taigun and Kushaq to start at but they didn't), that could put wind in their Indo-French sails. Don’t forget Hyundai sells far more of the Creta than the Venue, and the same (happy) situation of the (more profitable) mid-size SUV outselling the compact SUV could also befall Citroen.

The launch is planned for the second half of the year, most likely during the Diwali festival season. Hopefully this time Citroen will announce prices before we test it, helping us put this new mid-SUV into better perspective. And do it the justice that it deserves.

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