By Jonathan Crouch
Citroen aimed to deliver a more thoughtful, comfort-orientated take on the mid-sized SUV market with this stylish C5 Aircross model. If you're after a five-seat model in this sector that'll look after you a little more, offer up some stylish talking points and give you some clever technology, this one could be worth a look.
What if the kind of ride comfort you'd get on a large luxury SUV could be replicated - or even improved upon - in an affordable mid-sized model? Well that's what this car, Citroen's C5 Aircross, set out to provide to 'Qashqai-class' folk from its launch in 2018. Citroen arrived late to this particular party, but at least it tried to bring it something new.
The legendary Citroen 2CV had a reputation for being able to comfortably traverse a ploughed field. That apart though, back in 2018 this French brand couldn't call on much customer recognition when it came to vehicles cable of functioning off the beaten track. A decade or so before this, there were two re-badged Mitsubishi models, the C-Crosser and a car we didn't get, the C4 Aircross. But by 2018, that had been about it from Citroen when it came to mid-sized contenders of this kind. This had to change of course, given the developing European obsession with SUVs and by the end of the 21st century's second decade, the company was increasingly depending on its Aircross range of models to convince customers of its crossover credibility.
The first signs in this regard were promising for the Gallic maker. The little C3 Aircross, launched in Summer 2017, sold well in the small supermini-derived SUV sector. This family hatch-based C5 Aircross was equally important in the class above and claimed to bring 'an all-new level of overall comfort' to the segment. That came courtesy of super-supportive 'Advanced Comfort' seats and a clever new suspension system using what the marque called 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushions'. The C5 Aircross aimed to sell itself in terms of its practicality too. There was best-in-class boot space and a versatile back seat package that offered three individual sliding, folding and reclining rear chairs. Talking of chairs, though this car was a fraction bigger than the Peugeot 3008 and Vauxhall Grandland X SUV models it shared its PSA Group engineering with, it wasn't large enough to offer a seven-seat option.
Options included a Grip Control off road traction set-up. And there were six connectivity technologies, nineteen driver assistance systems and thirty exterior colour combinations. Plus something we hadn't seen before in this sector, a 'ConnectedCAM' dash cam camera. It all created a five-seat family SUV that promised to be genuinely different. The C5 Aircross range was expanded with a front-driven Plug-in Hybrid model in 2019, And the line-up was facelifted in Spring 2022. It's the pre-facelift models we're going to look at here.
What You Get
Citroen carefully sized this C5 Aircross, making it a five-seat design but quite a large one, with a 4.5-metre length that slots it into the centre of the mid-sized SUV segment. Familiar brand styling features include a raised muscular bonnet and the usual Citroen two-tier lighting signature, with the top units housing the LED daytime running lights, the lower ones being for the headlamps. Original buyers could colour-personalise the lower air intakes, the roof rails and the lower side sill 'Air bumps; in either red, silver or in white. The wheels could be 17, 18 or 19-inches in size and under the skin lies the light, stiff EMP2 platform that all this car's PSA Group SUV cousins also rode upon.
Inside, as with most modern Citroens, what you find is a mixture of interesting design, a few cheaper plastics and some clever electronics. Oh and lovely seats, with the ones you're most likely to get being of the generously proportioned 'Advanced Comfort' variety, which feature particularly broad bases, foam that's 15mm thicker than usual for extra support and extra quilted padding. The result is a feeling of cosseting Gallic luxury. The instrument binnacle is another cabin talking point, conventional dials completely replaced by a standard 12.3-inch colour screen that's fully configurable and customisable. Just about everything else you'll need to know can be found on the 8-inch centre-dash capacitive touchscreen which delivers everything you'd want - the usual DAB stereo, 'phone, navigational and smartphone-mirroring functions, plus WiFi and a Connected Apps package. It'd be better if it wasn't burdened with ventilation controls though. The cabin could do with a bit more storage - the glovebox is quite small - but the driving position's nicely commanding. Plus the stitched detail touches and cloth and grained leather upholstery is nicer than you'd expect to find at this price point.
In the rear, you'll find a much bigger cabin than you'd get in cheaper segment contenders like Nissan's Qashqai and SEAT's Ateca. And you'll get what Citroen claims is the 'most modular' reach bench arrangement in the class. It's certainly very versatile, made up of three individual sliding, folding and reclining seats. Once the hatch is raised, you're faced with a large 580-litre boot in the conventionally-engined models. Getting to the stowage area means negotiating a rather high loading lip, but a standard adjustable-height boot floor has been designed in.
What To Look For
What to Look For
Most C5 Aircross buyers we came across seemed satisfied and there seem to be no major issues with the hybrid system. We've come across some common C5 Aircross issues though. A number of owners have reported problems with the car idling unstably. Usually, this is caused by an ECU software or electrical malfunction. If this happens to afflict the model you're looking at, it can usually be fairly simply corrected by plugging into a computer at a dealership and having the ECU reprogrammed. On a handful of models we've come across, the electrical supply to the water heater can shut off too soon when the vehicle is stopped. Fuel will then remain in the heater, producing possible leakage.
On the subject of fuel leakage, a few models produced before October 2021 exhibited fuel leakages due to cabling and software upgrade issues. There were various small product recalls. One in February 2020 for trailer tow hitches possibly not fitted to correct specification. There were further towbar issues that prompted recalls in January and March 2021. Otherwise, it's just a case of looking at the usual things - scratched alloy wheels, evidence of child damage in the interior and so on. It's unlikely that this car will have been used seriously off road but have a quick look underneath just in case. And of course insist on a fully stamped up service history.
(approx based on a 2020 C5 Aircross Hybrid excl. VAT) Expect to pay around £4 for an oil filter, around £10 for an air filter and around £23 for a pair of wiper blades. Front brake pads cost around £38 for a set; rear pads are in the £28-£51 bracket. For front brake discs, think around £48-£67 for a pair; rear discs cost in the £56-£99 bracket. A radiator costs in the £142 bracket. A pollen filter is around £17-£34.
On the Road
Set off in a C5 Aircross and one of the first things that Citroen hopes you'll notice is the impressive ride quality, embellished by a clever 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushions' suspension system which delivers class-leading comfort over poorer surfaces. Hydraulic dampers cushion the top and bottom of wheel travel at the top and bottom of wheel travel and allow the fitment of softer springs and dampers, producing what the brand describes as a 'magic carpet'-like feel. Thick quilted 'Advanced Comfort' front seats further embellish the feeling of Gallic luxury. The inevitable flip-side of that is that there's a little more roll through the bends than you'd get from an obvious class rival. But if you can ignore this, there's actually more grip and traction than you'd think, though the somewhat over-light electric steering does its best to disguise the fact. Talking of grip, original buyers could specify an optional 'Advanced Grip Control' package that offered grippier tyres, 'Hill Assist Descent Control' and extra driving modes tailored to different types of terrain.
Under the skin, most of the mechanicals are shared with Citroen parent company PSA Group's other five-seat mid-sized SUVs of this period, the Peugeot 3008 and the Vauxhall Grandland X, including the sophisticated EMP2 platform and all the engines. Most buyers will be selecting between the two 130hp units, the range kicking off with the 1.2-litre three cylinder PureTech petrol powerplant, which (referencing WLTP-recorded figures converted to the NEDC cycle) manages up to 44.2mpg on the combined cycle and up to 118g/km of CO2. We'd prefer the torquier alternative 1.5-litre BlueHDi 130 diesel, which from launch had the added advantage that it could be optionally ordered with the smooth-shifting 'EAT8' 8-speed auto transmission that really suits this car. That auto 'box was later added as an option for the base 1.2-litre petrol unit. And it was always mandatory with the two more powerful 180hp engines, a 2.0-litre BlueHDi unit and a 1.6-litre PureTech petrol, the latter forming the basis for the Plug-in hybrid powertrain that Citroen also developed for this model.
We started off this review by pointing out that before this car's launch, Citroen had little heritage in this segment. That's not quite true. Back in the 1920's, Andre Citroen was thinking a good deal about how the motor car could be engineered for life beyond the beaten track. A version of his model of that day, the B2, was duly produced with a clever 'Half track' system that the Parisian entrepreneur was proud enough of to want to put to the ultimate test. Two brave explorers, Georges-Marie Haardt and Louis Audoin-Dubreuil, were tasked with undertaking the very first crossing of the Sahara desert with a fleet of eight B2 Half track models - and they duly did on 20th June 1925, having covered 1,865 miles of Saharan desert to Timbuktu and back. It created an adventure legend and opened up a route from the Mediterranean into North Africa.
Add clever engineering, you see, to an apparently ordinary motor car and you might get it to do extraordinary things. That was certainly the hope here. The 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushion' suspension of a C5 Aircross isn't going to be of much use to it in the Saharan desert, but it'll help it immensely in the much more challenging environment this car will actually spend its life in. Yours. A school run world of speed humps, potholes, tarmac tears and long taxing days that require your automobile to look after you on the drive home.
This car's emphasis on comfort won't endear it to magazine road testers or people who, rather mystifyingly, want their family SUV to handle with sporting sharpness. And from this era, there are cheaper cars in the Qashqai class and contenders that might tempt you with classier cabins - or an extra row of seats. But if you can look beyond all that, there's much here to like beyond the cossetting ride. The spacious interior, the versatile back seat arrangement and neat equipment. In summary, with the C5 Aircross, it was refreshing to see this Gallic brand getting back to what it does best. We think that this car stood out as a result. You might too.