Auto focus

Test Drive: C5 Aircross: French flair, tailored for India

S Muralidhar | Updated on February 18, 2021

The ride quality is over-pliant at times over sharp undulations and really comfortable on clean tarmac   -  S Muralidhar

Citroen’s first vehicle sports a novel design and European interiors. It is also meant to be as comfortable as a ‘chaise lounge’ during your daily commute

French car maker Citroen’s entry into India is significant not just because of how late it is for any mainstream brand to foray into an extremely developed and complex market, but also because it is one of the last remaining European brands to set foot here.

Why is that a point to take in? Because, its first vehicle for India will be a premium sports utility vehicle that’ll have to compete fiercely within a low volume segment. Well, it’ll at least not have to deal with the Honda CR-V. But the other reason for highlighting its European parentage is the fact that, historically, manufacturers from the West haven’t been able to fight on cost with car makers from the East.

So, it is not going to be easy for the C5 Aircross. But after driving this debut model, I can confirm that there is a lot going for it purely from a product standpoint.

Design

The C5 Aircross looks like nothing that’s already on our roads. The design looks vaguely like it is based on an MPV (multipurpose vehicle) and the slightly longer overhangs kind of promote that imagery. But it has SUV roots and has a big, bright stance with tall shoulders. Its design also doesn’t have an air of aggression about it. Instead, with its rounded body shape and very unique accents, it manages to stand out and exude a novel character. At the front, the double chevron Citroen logo in chrome on the grille extends into the LED section of the headlamps, which itself is a split unit. The main lamps, set lower, feature the primary radiator grille in between.

Digital instrument cluster’s layout looks novel, but misses out on the practicality of an rpm-meter. A wireless charger would’ve been nice too   -  S Muralidhar

 

A sort of round-edged trapezium has been chosen as a theme shape for multiple accents around the C5 Aircross; you’ll find them in the front fender, the body side cladding, tail-lamps and inside the cabin too. Body panels are smooth and bereft of any sharp design lines. But prominent wheel arches run high nearly up to the beltline and the subtly carved shapes on the bonnet give the C5 Aircross more character. The very unique C-pillar and the curvy haunches where the elaborately configured tail-lamps sit will make the C5 Aircross’ rear instantly recognisable even at night.

The contrast-layered rear fender with dual tail-pipes and dummy air vents give the rear a very interesting character.

 

Cabin

From the outside, the DLO (glasshouse) seems to be a bit narrow at the rear. But inside the cabin the panoramic sunroof should more than make up in brightening the interior. Rear visibility could’ve been better, though. But here again, the large door mirrors and the convenient blind-spot assist function helps me drive through extremely crowded roads during peak hour.

The first feature in the cabin that catches the eye are the seats. The rectangular pads of cushion in the mid sections of the seats are inviting. They seem to be filled with memory foam. Thick side bolsters and firm underlying sections are supposed to make long drives comfortable, but it feels good to experience softness first. Unlike sport seats with firm squabs that’ll hold me in a vice-like grip while cornering, the C5 Aircross seats are like a lounge (furniture is the comparison that Citroen makes).

The USP here are the three similarly constructed rear seats with individual adjustments for fore/aft and backrest recline. In the absence of a central transmission tunnel, the middle seat can actually be used by an adult. The dashboard is suitably upright for an SUV and is suitably French in its mildly quirky, but appealing design. It features a mix of materials and design elements to create what Citroen calls ‘metropolitan grey’ ambience. There’s grey leather and graphite cloth upholstery for the seats, a lighter grey band for the dashboard fascia and a slightly darker soft touch plastic panel for the dash top and door panels. Dual stacked aircon vents on the centre stack frame a 8-inch touchscreen and right below this is a sort of command bridge that houses touch controls for each of the infotainment functions and the aircon.

The centre console is a tall unit that literally divides the front two seats. The highlight of the console is the joystick-like gear lever and the rotary ‘Grip Control’ terrain mode selector.

The steering wheel is a chunky unit with a flattened top and bottom, and one control node on either side offering a limited set of functions for the infotainment with a customisation button for the digital instrument cluster.

The 12.3-inch digital instrument screen is also a bit ‘hatke’ in its style, has three types of display options, though in all of them the rpm-meter is an oversimplified horizontal bar graph and not a dial, and there’s no real-time mileage display or distance to empty.

Space in the cabin is generous, though I will not rate it as jaw-dropping. However, boot space with all seats in use is a good 580-litres.

Performance

The C5 Aircross is being offered with only one powertrain option — a diesel engine and 8-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. There will also be only two trim variants on offer — Feel and Shine. The 1,997cc, 4-cylinder diesel engine delivers 177PS of peak power and 400Nm of peak torque.

Citroen officials say that the powertrain was chosen based on Indian buyer expectations.

The engine doesn’t feel either over-eager or under-powered. Power delivery seems measured and the auto gearbox also shifts leisurely in part throttle in Eco mode. In Sport mode, kickdowns are quicker and the acceleration is also a shade better. Overall, the focus is comfort and the C5 Aircross is clearly not meant to be driven sportily. The best you can manage is manual gearbox selection using the steering mounted paddles.

Powertrain refinement is good, added to which double-glazed front windows and extra insulation in the engine bay help deliver an extremely quiet cabin.

A lot of focus has gone into the ride quality of the C5 Aircross. Its suspension set-up includes what Citroen calls ‘progressive hydraulic cushions’, basically replacing mechanical stops so that the rebound and compression cycles are cushioned to lessen the impact of bad roads. As a result, the ride is very pliant, almost wallowy over speed breakers, but very likeable when I was driving over broken tarmac. The ride is also composed over regular black-top. But there is body roll and the nose does dip a fair bit while braking.

Bottom line

The C5 Aircross also doesn’t get 4-wheel drive capability, though it has electronic assistance that plays with the brakes for offering snow, sand, rocky and highway terrain modes. There is also hill descent control. The top trim Shine variant gets a few extra features like LED lights, a panoramic sunroof and hands-free auto tailgate opening.

The C5 Aircross’ focus on comfort matches Citroen’s pitch. If it has chosen this SUV to benefit from a top-down market strategy in its run-up to launching a second vehicle on its much-anticipated ‘C-Cubed’ platform, and if it is based on the understanding that Indian buyers in the D segment are largely backbenchers, then Citroen has chosen well. The only fly in the ointment could be the price tag for the new C5 Aircross.

Likely to start at about ₹30 lakh, this will need to take on a bunch of competitors ranging from the Ford Endeavour, Hyundai Tucson, the Jeep Compass and Toyota Fortuner. With only ten dealers initially and a small target market for the C5 Aircross, Citroen only seems to be testing the waters. It probably has set sights already on the developed for India compact SUV that is rumoured to be its next vehicle.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on February 18, 2021
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.