Citroen C5 Aircross SUV first drive review: Comfort food on four wheels
Wine and cheese, souffle and salad, croissant and butter - there is something about French food that brings about a romantic flavour to the taste buds - something classy yet comforting. Much of the same delectable aura is what the Citroen C5 Aircross also brings about to the passenger vehicle segment in India. It is sporty but not audaciously so. It is roomy but not ungainly and on the move, it promises to be a serene cruise down river Seine even if the actual ride is on the infamously cracked Indian road conditions.
Yes, here is an SUV that seeks to go beyond the machismo usually associated with SUVs and instead, props up the comfort factor on offer. Citroen is ready for its India debut and nothing short of its flagship product - the C5 Aircross - would have sufficed to showcase what it plans to bring to the country.
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We took the C5 Aircross across city landscapes of Gurugram and onward to the Haryana hinterlands to test its French finesse and see if it can some of the several varying vile of Indian road conditions.
Chapter 1: Dive to Drive
The biggest claim to fame of the Citroen C5 Aircross SUV is the level of comfort and refinement it has to offer when on the move. So, it is only obvious that this review focuses first on this particular aspect which seeks to set this SUV apart from the other well-entrenched rivals here.
If Newton ever drove a C5 Aircross, he would have re-thought his third law of motion. Every action may not have an equal and opposite reaction, not in this SUV anyway. The Citroen C5 Aircross indeed glides over road cavaties with commanding prowess - the suspensions working overtime and all the time to absorb almost all of the shock from the ground.
Citroen would like us to tell you about its Progressive Hydraulic Cushions. We won't because it may be too technical. But what this essentially does is put two hydraulic stops in the suspension - one for compression and the other for rebound for a set up that dissipates the returning shock before it can reach you in the cabin. So while Mr Newton's third law still holds true - there is an opposite reaction when the C5 Aircross moves over bumps, hardly any of it reaches passengers inside. Citroen calls it 'flying carpet' effect and it is evident why.
Under the hood is a 2.0-litre diesel engine which produces 174 bhp and has 400 Nm of torque on offer. It is a capable unit that would ensure thrill-seekers will have much to look forward to even as the eight-speed automatic gearbox keeps ticking at precise moments to cut off any possibility of that infamous 'rubber-band effect.'
So far, so good. But on the flipside, we would have also really liked to see the petrol engine available on the C5 Aircross in western markets. The company states the premium SUV segment has an overbearing preference for diesel motors but we feel there is a tangible shift in this regard.
And although the diesel engine gives the C5 Aircross great drive dynamics, a sense of mature character while being spirited at the same time, this doesn't hold true for the steering wheel which is extremely light and lacking in feedback. At triple-digit speeds, we would have wanted a whole lot of reassurance from the wheel with added doses of feedback but there is none of that.
There is also noticeable levels of body roll when the C5 Aircross takes sharp turns at relatively high speeds which takes some of the sheen away from an otherwise superbly comfortable drive and ride experience. The road grip from the tyres on sharp turns could be a little less for the enthusiasts even if it should suffice for daily commutes. Oh, and just in case you were wondering - there is no 4X4 option. Instead, the high ground clearance helps tame ungainly speedbreakers but won't count for much on challenging terrains that are best left for other SUVs.
Push the C5 Aircross on smooth city roads or even on rough and broken tarmac, and the SUV will reward you with a drive experience found commonly in luxury segments. NVH levels are controlled splendidly with additional cladding on the doors, insulation on the windows and while the diesel engine grunts typically, hardly any of it seeps inside the cabin.
Chapter 2: Cabin Comfort
Masking the road noise and vibration is a key part of offering a car that is comfortable for all on the inside. But it is one part, the other is how good the seats are, the space on offer and all the convenience features packed in.
On most of these counts, the Citroen C5 Aircross manages to check the right boxes.
The seats - all five - are the mainstay of this SUV. With generous levels of cushioning, these have a special role to play in the level of comfort that the entire vehicle aspires to offer. The stitching is immaculate and the quality of upholstery is par for the course.
The rear seats are of particular interest because each of the three seats here can be customized individually and are independent of each other. What this means is that each of these seats can be pushed forward, rolled back, can be reclined or folded down. Good stuff.
And although the seats are likely to be in recline all the time because the upright position is just too upright, it also ensures that there is adequate head space for someone taller than the average Indian height, says 6 feet or slightly more.
Knee and leg room on these rear seats is also adequate but while the car boasts of being the widest in its class, three people of slightly large frame may be a slight squeeze still, especially on long journeys.
As for the cons though, there is no armrest in the back seat, the window size is just about adequate and these don't roll down completely, the elbow-rest angle is slightly high and while there are rear AC vents, there is only a solitary USB charging point under it.
Minor grey hues on the door handles, geometric patterns on the inside door and adequate space for bottles, however, combine to give the C5 Aircross passengers at the back a confluence of practical and aesthetic appeal.
There is clearly a good degree of attention to detail at the front which, to us, was the place to be at despite all the promise of comfort on the rear seats. The dash layout is a completely fresh take on, well, dash layouts. The square pocket AC vents look smart, the splash of soft-touch materials add to the upmarket appeal and the touch buttons for features such as music, AC, navigation and more are responsive enough. There is support for Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and even MirrorLink.
But why we need to first select a command from the buttons before controlling this functionality on the main screen is a tad bit weird. For instance, want to navigate to some place? Touch the Nav button first to bring up the interface and then use the screen to control.
Not much to complain about the screen itself though because it is mostly responsive to use and vivid to the eyes even if not really high-def, especially the parking cameras.
The TFT driver display is also large and clear to read, and can be customized by the driver according to his or her preference.
The center console stack is our favourite here and looks not just neat but very sleek and cutting-edge. Just take a look at the gear control lever!
The steering wheel can be adjusted for rake and reach and there's plenty of large storage options on the door and under the armrests although the glove compartment has an ungainly box that eats into a whole lot of space here.
The driver seat can be adjusted electronically and has a generally tall seating position which allows for a commanding view of the road. What adds to the ambiance is a large panoramic sunroof that is bound to be a hit with Indian buyers even if we are never entirely impressed by its practical purpose in most of our weather conditions.
Step out and hustle over to the boot and a sweep of a feet is all that is needed to open and shut the tailgate. The luggage space is generous enough to fit in two large suitcases and perhaps a backpack or two. Remember, the rear seats to fold individually to open up even more space.
All in all, here is an SUV that is more keen on playing to its strengths when it comes to cabin space and comfort rather than eyeing what its rivals may have on offer and what more could be promised. Targeted towards family buyers, the interiors have the credentials to impress most, if not all.
Chapter 3: It is All in the Looks (Or is it?)
The Citroen C5 Aircross SUV is designed to be quite a looker. Here is a vehicle that may have spent more time on the track rather than in a gym because while it has a sporty and athletic appearance, it isn't overly aggressive or bulky form any side.
Take the face for instance. The C5 Aircross gets a twin chrome line stretching from the two DRL units on either side and flowing in to converge into two swivels that make the Citroen logo. The bonnet has a bit of muscle and the butter-fly wing-like effect on its body adds a but of flair.
The LED head lights look sharp while the fog lights are housed in a small casing on either side of the bumper. There are two air-dam-like elements here as well which give the vehicle an unmistakably Citroen-like appearance.
Over at the side, the C5 Aircross continues to look dapper with the windows being outlined with chrome, smart alloys under wheel arches that are just the right size for these and large black cladding under the door with the geometric pattern. This here isn't the longest car in its segment but its generous wheelbase is amply evident, something that contributes to the space on offer on the inside.
The tail is also a remarkable example of sophistication with 3D LED tail lights and the Citroen badge adorning the visual profile. The rear glass is a little too small but other than that, the design elements come together nicely.
The boot can be opened - and closed - with the swipe of a feet and the relatively high ground clearance of the C5 Aircross further adds to its sporty flavour.
The C5 Aircross plays to its strengths really well. The great thing about this vehicle is that it is not aspiring to be something it isn't. No, there is no 4X4. No, it isn't aggressively designed and has no ripped muscles from any angle. And no, it isn't loaded to the brim with features that would overwhelm.
Instead, this here aspires to be a family SUV that is fun to drive and comfortable to be inside. It's design is a fresh take on SUVs in the country and the C5 Aircross does have a premium cabin and decent levels of space.
While we do wish there was a petrol engine on offer as well, the diesel delivers in both city and highway conditions, and as a flagship, the C5 Aircross could indeed set the benchmark for not just subsequent Citroen products in India but for rivals as well.
Expect Citroen to price the C5 Aircross between ₹22 and ₹25 lakh (ex showroom) for the two variants about to hit Indian markets.