Everything you need to know about Citroën SA's new model range
Bruce Fraser introduces you to the quirky French firm's comeback kids
The last time I attended a Citroën launch was back in 2016 for the fabulous little C4 Cactus. An unusual name for an equally unusual car.
It was one of those vehicles with certain features that would ultimately divide opinion – as if being French isn't divisive enough!
Top of the list had to be the innovative Airbump panels on the side of the vehicle that were designed not only to help absorb small impacts but also lend an additional visual element. Quirky? Without a doubt. Relevant? Debateable. French? Definitely!
At the time I even went so far as to suggest the C4 Cactus might just be the vehicle to turn around the fortunes of a struggling Citroën group in SA.
Turns out I was about as spot-on with that prediction as I am with my weekly Lotto numbers, as unfortunately one could probably count sales of the Cactus on one hand, and it wasn’t long before Citroën basically closed shop and said bon voyage to Mzansi.
Technically, though, they never really departed SA as they left behind a support structure for motorists who had a Citroën sitting in their driveway and needed servicing, which was done through Peugeot dealerships.
It may be a coincidence – and if so it's a nice one – that in the year that the French manufacturer is celebrating its 100th birthday, they have returned to SA with another attempt to woo the local consumer.
From last week Citroën is now officially back and it marked the occasion with the launch of three new vehicles with the promise of more to come. All vehicles will be available in two specification levels – Feel and Shine.
There is no real surprise that their emphasis is on the SUV-style of motoring, considering this is what the market currently demands. The odd one out, though, in the launch line-up, is the C3 hatchback.
Say what you like about Citroën, but one thing is guaranteed, every now and they it manages to produce distinctive, striking designs. With its use of a two-tone exterior, red foglamp surrounds and red wing mirrors, the C3 hatchback makes just as much of a fashion statement as it does a motoring one.
There is a definite youthfulness to the design, an aspect that probably explains why there were so many bloggers and influencers at the launch.
Powering this vehicle is a choice of two three-cylinder engines. The one a naturally-aspirated 1.2-litre powerplant producing 60kW linked to a five-speed manual transmission and the other a turbocharged version of the same engine producing 81kW hooked up to a six-speed auto transmission.
Safety and comfort-wise both versions of the C3 hatch pretty much have the bases covered. Step in to the cabin and one quickly realises this is clearly a different vehicle to some of the more mundane out there. A case in point are the unique door straps plus bright red colour trim and a dashboard that projects a clean and simple design.
And in case you were wondering, yes, the Airbump is back – on the Shine model.
Next up, the C3 Aircross has to be my favourite of the new trio. Striking is perhaps an appropriate description when you take into consideration its overall appearance.
This compact SUV oozes personality and based on the C-Aircross presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 2017, the C3 Aircross is sure to shake up the compact SUV segment on looks alone.
To start with it manages to fuse elements of style and practicality. You are provided with a nice raised ground clearance, front and rear skid plates, large wheels and touches of colour on the roof bars.
Powering the C3 Aircross is the same powerplant found in the Hatch – the 1.2-litre PureTech 81kW engine. I must say that on a gravel section of our test drive, the vehicle did feel slightly jittery. But maybe that was because I had just stepped in to the C3 Aircross after driving the brands flagship model – the C5 Aircross.
This particular model is Citroën's answer to the likes of the Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5 and Renault Koleos, so it is a fair-sized SUV. Compared to its siblings, its appearance appears to be more toned-down – an aspect that perhaps reflects the more mature, family-orientated demographic it is targeting. The C5 Aircross doesn't sit at the top of the range without good reason and is packed with a wide range of safety and comfort features.
One nice touch are the three rear seats that can be individually adjusted according to requirements. Another aspect where the vehicle really shines, is its performance on gravel roads as it manages to soak up the vibrations like a sponge does water. One can put this down to the hydraulic cushion suspension system and buffers at either end of the suspension setup.
Peek under the bonnet and you will find a 1.6-litre petrol engine linked to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. Producing a respectable 121kW, the C5 Aircross is deceptively swift, and just as it performs well on a bit of gravel and dirt, it also provides an extremely comforting, engaging drive in the urban and highway environments.
To conclude, if you are looking for something offbeat, stylish and fun, these new offerings from Citroën are worth more than just a cursory glance and hopefully will reignite interest in this legendary brand.
Mind you, the last time I predicted good things for this particular French manufacturer, we know what happened!
C3 Hatchback Feel – R239,900 / Shine – R289,900
C3 Aircross Feel – R339,900 / Shine – R359,900
C5 Aircross Feel – R469,900 / Shine – R509,900