Citroen C5 Aircross: Focus on the family
Citroen has put comfort first with its new C5 Aircross SUV, says William Scholes
YOU can tell Citroen is serious about SUVs because it has invented a whole new word to describe its versions of the jacked-up family car, writes William Scholes.
The oh-so-French car-maker has taken to giving its SUVs the 'Aircross' suffix.
This terminology is no less or more sensible or logical than anything else in the car world - what is an 'Aircross', exactly? - and even makes some sort of sense in Citroen-land, where its cars have been available with 'airbumps' for some time.
These are air-filled pockets, covered in tough plastic, which adorn the flanks of the likes of a C4 Cactus and are intended to act as a sort of automotive bubble wrap, giving protection against car park run-ins with errant trolleys and the like.
You can also have your Aircross with airbumps, and the latest which can be so adorned is the car on these pages, the C5 Aircross.
Citroen used to do a line of saloon and estates called the C5, though almost no-one can remember them.
This new C5 has nothing to do with them, as is underlined by the fact that it is resolutely available only as an SUV. Or Aircross.
The C5 Aircross is aimed squarely at the family buyer, which means it is pitched into battle in what may just be the most competitive part of the car market ever seen.
Family buyers have never had so many options. As with the Ford Focus tested last week, a well executed hatchback still remains the best answer to most motoring questions.
But the reason that the roads are also awash with SUVs of approximate size to a Focus or Volkswagen Golf - think Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-5, Range Rover Evoque, Hyundai Tucson and an endless bunch of others - is that many families have concluded they do, in fact, offer answers to those questions that a hatchback can't - or they think can't - handle.
A bigger boot, the slightly elevated driving position and a greater sense of space and practicality are among the reasons punters have fallen in love with SUVs, even if they cost a little bit more.
The Aircross has charm. It's a striking, stylish and practical SUV that puts your family first; it's easy to see the big Citroen becoming part of the family, too
The car-makers love them too, because they tend to be more profitable than the hatchbacks with which they share the same oily parts and floorpans.
There are family SUVs which are, it has to be said, rather cynically conceived. They really are little more than a hatchback on platform soles.
That, however, was never going to do for Citroen, which has a rich tradition in innovation and family transport.
The C5 Aircross gets off to a very strong start by being based on the same platform as the excellent Peugeot 3008 and Vauxhall Grandland X.
And just as those cars manage to each have their own personalities, so too the Citroen feels like… well, a Citroen.
It also looks like a Citroen. Would any other mainstream car manufacturer be brave enough to put something as distinctive into such a conservative and competitive market?
Many of the design themes we've seen already elsewhere in the Citroen range are present and correct - airbumps included - and the C5 Aircross's soft-edged, nicely detailed exterior really help it stand out.
It is a friendly looking car, too, and wears its obvious practicality like a badge of honour; the doors are big and square, the windows deep and large, the boot vast.
You can tell all of this from outside. Your children will approve, too. They will particularly like the sense of airiness, space and light in the back seat - my son is always quick to mark down a 'dark car', his description for a vehicle with gloomy rear accommodation.
The three rear seats also slide and recline individually, upping the flexibility considerably.
Playing around with the various legroom settings yields a boot volume of between 580 litres and 720 litres.
Even the smallest of those is impressive in this class of car, with 720 litres verging on the ginormous; drop the seats and a 1,630 litre cavern opens up.
The C5 Aircross is a friendly looking car, too, and wears its obvious practicality like a badge of honour; the doors are big and square, the windows deep and large, the boot vast
The boot floor has two levels, also, and there is a lot of very sensible and useful storage around the cabin for phones, water bottles and such like.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the C5 Aircross's cabin are the seats themselves - flat and broad, they are most unlike the pseudo-bucket bolstered affairs just about every other manufacturer offers.
They fit in with Citroen's 'the car as family lounge' vibe. They are comfortable, too, with much cleverness around foam density and so on being employed to make the C5 Aircross as pillowy soft as possible for a £25k family car.
Citroen also uses some rather fancy dampers in the suspension which, essentially, remain super-soft in normal driving conditions, though are meant to offer tighter body control at the extremes of their travel.
It's an approach which should work well on Northern Ireland's pockmarked roads.
The soft ride, light steering and plump seats all add to a laidback, chilled out vibe; this is not a car in which to dismantle your favourite B road, but it is a car in which to cruise and remain insulated from the world outside.
By prioritising comfort so dramatically, Citroen has, I think, been quite canny in ignoring any pretentions to so-called sportiness and focusing on what will be of most importance to most buyers of cars like this.
A Mazda CX-5 is still the sharpest steer in the class, but it isn't as comfy, quiet or cossetting.
C5 Aircross prices start at just over £23,000 and there are three trim levels, rising from Feel to Flair and Flair Plus.
The Citroen benefits from the same excellent and frugal petrol and diesel engines already found elsewhere in the Citroen, Peugeot and now Vauxhall ranges.
Safety is top notch - Citroen says there are more than 20 driver aids on board - and there is a dizzying range of personalisation options for paintwork, exterior trim, wheels and the interior to make your family's C5 Aircross look just how you want it.
And therein lies the Aircross's charm. It's a striking, stylish and practical SUV that puts your family first; it's easy to see the big Citroen becoming part of the family, too.
AT A GLANCE
Citroen C5 Aircross Flair 130 PureTech
Price: £25,325. As tested £26,900, with metallic paint £545, 'exterior look' pack with 19-inch alloy wheels and panoramic opening glass roof £1,030
Engine and transmission: 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 128bhp, 170lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 117mph, 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 55.3mpg (combined), 121g/km
Car tax: £165 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 25 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Not yet tested