One thing about Citroen, when it comes to designing cars, forget the C5 Aircross for now as it usually blends in with the designs on the streets, but they never conform, they design cars that will make you question your "normal." This one is no different, there is just no way you can miss its quirkiness, mainly because of this signature design where headlights under the day running lights, but guess what? It’s almost a thing these days, BMW did it with X7 and 7 Series, Hyundai with the Palisade, Kona, and Creta, Nissan started it with the Juke, and now with Qashqai just to name a few. 

It was hard for me to accept these designs before, mostly because of what I am used to, but now? Now things are shifting and are slowly becoming accustomed to whatever we thought is unusual. I mean we are past the resistance stage, especially with so many changes occurring at such a rapid pace in the automotive industry. Pause a little and remember that the European Union has just approved the ban on Internal Combustion Engine cars by 2035. Just twelve years from now, what we have now will be regarded as ICE age, literally, so adapt or die right?

Otherwise, let's get back to our car, the Citroen C3 Aircross 1.2T Feel. 

The experience

This quirky but what I call a new-age-looking small SUV is the updated Citroen C3 Aircross, it is the lower spec of the two variants on offer, and the upper spec is called Shine. It does not have all the bells and whistles but it has the most attractive thing offered in Citroen C3 Cars, Stellantis’ 1.2L turbocharged engine is good for 81kw/205nm. It does not sound like much at all but believe me, it has the punch and without it, this car would not have impressed me as much as it did. However, that's like saying "oh this person would not be attractive if it wasn't for their nice nose" because guess what, we can't remove it, it is here and it makes the overall package impressive. This engine reminds me of the Mahindra XUV300 I tested in late 2022, the cars look like they don’t offer much until you start moving them. On paper, the XUV fetches the torque as early as this C3 Aircross at 1500rpm, but, between first and third gear, the ratios are so short that you need to shift quickly to get it moving fast, this one, unlike the XUV300, does not suffer from the same on lower gears thanks to its automatic transmission that knows how to hold a gear.

It, however, does not pull as hard as the XUV300 when it gets to higher gears, the extra 5kw/95nm in the XUV300 makes it a much better performer once on the move. This is only offered with a 6-speed automatic, there is no manual option. Impressive that it has a sport mode that actually helps with holding gears for longer and squeezing whatever is remaining out of that 81kw at each gear, I just don’t like the engine sound when you do that because it has a “truck-like” scream and this is a petrol-powered car, it gives me some discomfort. Also, if you are not a fan of a kicking gearbox, you won’t like this one when it goes through gears, you feel it pushing you forward when it changes gears, every single gear has a kick but the severity diminishes as it gets to fifth and sixth gears. 

One thing I can’t fault much though is the feeling of comfort, my first Citroen experience was with the C3 hatch 1.2T Shine, the punch was there but I did not feel as comfortable as I do in here, from the way it soaks in bumps on the streets, to taking on curves, the C3 Aircross feels much more composed than the younger sibling, which I expected better from the smaller one, especially when it comes to agility. The suspension does not soak bumps as comfortably as a Haval Jolion or the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro, but it feels softer than the Mahindra XUV300. 

There is a lot of plastic used to put together this interior but funny enough the insulation is adequate, I can’t say great but it’s definitely nothing close to bad. In fact, you can hear the door sound and the heaviness as you close it that insulation is not going to be your biggest problem here. This contributes a lot to my liking of the C3 Aircross for long drives, especially because it is not lazy to push through overtakes, and well, thanks to Citroen for the leather-wrapped steering wheel, where your hands will obviously be frequenting, feels so soft that I think Citroen used it as a trick to hide how hard other parts in the cabin feel to the hands. Besides that, I think the steering wheel is one of this car's most visually appealing features after the rear tail lights in the dark.

 

Would I want to live with it as a daily?

That is where my doubt comes in, look it is one I would pick to do long-distance drive mostly due to its engine but as a daily, I doubt my pleasure levels will be the same. As I said, the transmission kicks, what it does at lower speeds is that it’s jumpy, especially when you reduce the speed and are about to stop. It makes you feel like a car about to stall, it's probably how the clutch is set up but I could not get used to it. My next point may boil down to one's sitting position, but I did not find the vision to be too great, especially through tight corners, I lean forward a lot to make sure that I don’t hit road Kerbs or anything down there. 

The biggest contributor to this is the position of the dashboard. My most comfortable position was when the seat is almost at its lowest position and it makes you feel like you are in a hole, only your head is visible from the side of the car, not even my shoulders are visible as the dash is awkwardly high. Then you ask yourself, why did they not put an armrest? A reverse camera would have been helpful as well, I mean this car is R430 000 rands, and I only have the parking sensors to assist me when reversing while I already complained about vision, that's not the best combination, not including the reverse camera is a blunder, it is there in the Shine variant but that's a thing that should be standard in small SUVs, I mean even Kwid Climber has that at just above R200K. 

Then as a family-oriented car, it does not come with leather seats even at top spec. You know that’s just about the only thing my wife cared about when we were looking for a car to cater to our child, Citroen needs to consider that, especially at this price point, even synthetic leather will go a long way. Then the fuel consumption, I blame the way I was driving but short distances are not good here, the fuel tank is 45L and I did not average anything less than 8L/100km, that’s 5 days if you do 100km daily, or if you do less than that and drive in traffic and hills. 

Make no mistake, there are things to like about it: amazing LEDs, from design to functionality, do a stellar job. There is a sufficient amount of space in the cabin and a generous boot at 410 liters. It looks a little small from the outside but when you jump in you realize it's a generous size. It measures just 358mm less than its big sister, the C5 Aircross at 4,14 meters with the wheelbase being just 124mm shy at 2,6 meters. 

Some notable specs, including safety specs, are offered are courtesy lamps under mirrors, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability programme, traction control assist, hill-start assist, driver & front passenger, curtain, and side airbags, speed reading, electric child locking system, and parking sensors.  If you have an extra R25 000, you can get the Shine derivative for R455 000 and get things like keyless start & smart entry, automatic wipers with rain sensors, automatic air-conditioning, auto-dimming rearview mirror, welcome lights with follow-me-home function.

Who should consider it?

I always saw Citroen as a specific niche-serving brand (in South Africa), considering that not everyone warms up to their designs. I do not see them deviating from that target market and it is the things that many don't like that make it be loved by its niche. That is their strength, not conforming to usual standards. People buy it because they love how "cute" it is and makes them feel unique. 

If you are not about buying a car that's over-popular, you have a small family, and you are looking for a car that you are hardly going to worry about its safety (besides crime, it's a 5-star Ncap-rated car), this is the car for you, it drives well, it is comfortable, and despite its shortcomings, it still managed to give me some joy with its power delivery. 

Should you decide to pick it up, it will come with a standard 3 Years / 60 000 km Service Plan, 5 Years / 100 000 km Warranty Plan, 5 Years / 100 000 km Roadside Assistance, 12 Years Anti-Perforation, and 3 Years Paint Warranty.

Pen: Sebuwa M

Photos: Sebuwa M