FIRST DRIVE | 2022 Citroën C3 Aircross is a cute, versatile family pick

20 January 2022 - 13:10
By Brenwin Naidu
More facial hair for the C3 Aircross.
Image: Supplied More facial hair for the C3 Aircross.

Though the Stellantis group wields considerable clout in the number of brands under its roof, its performance in SA is lacking.    

The company reported 424 new vehicle sales in December 2021, placing 15th overall in the passenger car market. Hardly impressive when you take into account its local portfolio of Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Citroën, Fiat, Jeep, Opel and Peugeot.    

Many of these are brands are historical underachievers in the SA context, battling stigmas of old legacies, falling by the wayside, as brands with uninterrupted, long-established operations and local manufacturing facilities surged ahead.    

Is there potential for a serious turnaround? Each of the marques within the Stellantis household has its own drawcard, heritage and devoted fans. The Alfisti, for example, who are undoubtedly looking forward to new products like the Tonale.    

The model gains an assertive look.
Image: Supplied The model gains an assertive look.

Or the adventurers who look forward to nothing more at the end of the week than conquering the great outdoors in their Wranglers. What about the diehard Opel fanatic, who lives in hope that we might see a return of monikers like GSi or perhaps even OPC.    Nostalgia and brand loyalty are good — but other efforts are required should the firm want to take a serious stab at becoming a top 10 player.

This week we tested the enhanced Citroën C3 Aircross, a car first released globally in 2017, arriving in our country two years later. The updated model is easily distinguished from its forebear (from the front, anyway); thanks to a more aggressive restyling job. Our vehicle was the high-grade Shine model (R424,900); well worth considering, as it is not radically costlier than the lesser Feel grade at R399,900.

Its headlamps have taken on a more angular shape, with two sharp-looking silver garnishes that meet in the middle to form the chevron emblem. The lighting system is of the full-LED variety, both for daytime-running and night functions. Its black plastic grilles are endowed with vertical slats, giving it a bristly look not unlike a thicket of hair belonging to the upper lip of a Movember activist.    

A comfortable, well-appointed interior.
Image: Supplied A comfortable, well-appointed interior.

That really sums up the extent of the aesthetic tweaks. The rest remains as it did in 2019. The C3 remains attractive, cute, in a left-field type of way, like a vehicular pet of sorts. With its black plastic cladding, cross-shaped alloys and upright stance, it conveys a sturdy impression.    

And this holds in good stead, from a visual perspective, against similar urban warriors occupying the B-segment, like the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Toyota C-HR, Volkswagen T-Cross and Haval Jolion. Formidable competitors, you will agree.

There are also tough rivals from within its own corner, such as the Crossland X from Opel and the plucky Fiat 500X. And then there is the stylish and fun-to-drive Peugeot 2008. The C3 Aircross is sized generously, with dimensions that are typical for the class, with a length of 4,142mm, width of 1,756mm and height of 1,637mm. 

Its ground clearance of 178mm would make gravel road travel a possibility. 

The rear remains unchanged.
Image: Supplied The rear remains unchanged.

Traditional fans of the Citroën brand are going to delight in the familiarity of the interior. Well, familiarity in that they expect a car from the French marque to boast quirky, unconventional execution.    

Even the ventilation slots are not of the typical variety, inset with intricate, bordered patterns. The seats are well-suited to wide posteriors (my blame goes to Christmas overindulgence) and are amply padded. Storage places are plentiful, which is what buyers want in a versatile family chariot. Boot space is 520l with the rear seats in place and up to 1,289l with them folded.    

Large windows make for a breezy cabin and excellent visibility — ideal not only for the driver, but also for your young passengers, who generally like to take in their exterior surroundings. A seven-inch touchscreen is clearly laid-out, with audio feedback as you click over the tiles through various menus.   

If this is your first time experiencing the interface, there will be certain factors to get used to. The air-conditioning and heating are controlled via the interface, doing away with traditional rotary dials completely. The system incorporates a navigation system and made for quick Android Auto integration. Certain omissions give away the age of the Citroën. You will not find wireless smartphone charging, for instance, while the instrument cluster has a decidedly outmoded look. A rear parking sensor is standard — but no reversing camera, which is a feature found in many budget-friendly cars these days.

Boot space increases to 1,289l with the seats flat.
Image: Supplied Boot space increases to 1,289l with the seats flat.

Thankfully, the safety kit is comprehensive. The basics of anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control are bolstered by traction control, dual front, side and curtain airbags as well as a tyre pressure sensor. An electrically-operated child-lock function is part of the list, as are ISOFIX mounting points. It earned a five-star EuroNCAP rating when it was tested in 2017.    

One engine serves both model grades. This is a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder motor, strapped with a turbocharger, producing 81kW and 205Nm. Save for an interval of lag on get-up, it is a tractable and stout engine, producing a growly tone typical of units with this number of cylinders. We were surprised by its overtaking punch, but learned driving with zeal impacts consumption more than one might have been prepared for.    

Consumption seemed higher than what we remembered from other vehicles featuring this engine. The additional body weight of the C3 could be a factor. Keep that turbocharger on song and the tachometer up, and you might see as much as 9l/100km on the readout. Peugeot claims 6.5l/100km if you finesse it along.

For small families wanting a characterful, spacious and safe alternative in the B-segment crossover and sport-utility vehicle category, the Citroën C3 Aircross would be a pleasant choice. Though, we would advise having a taste of some of the other contenders mentioned earlier before making a decision. In particular, its relative from the other office in the Stellantis building: Peugeot’s 2008.