Nine-time 24hrs champion gives the current crop some tips
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Citroen C3 Aircross
The Top Gear car review:Citroen C3 Aircross
What is it like on the road?
The people-carrier heritage does come into play here, in that the screen pillars are a fair way forward and get in the way of your view thorugh tight corners. Also, the driving position leaves your legs rather upright, so it’s tricky to attack the pedals smoothly.
Still, the upright sides, large glass area and flattish bonnet – those are the SUV cues – make it otherwise an easy thing to place on a narrow street.
Engines are familiar enough from other Peugeot/Citroen group cars. The best driver is the plucky three-cylinder 1.2-litre, which makes up to 130bhp. We’ve tested it in 110bhp form, and it’s pretty silent and gets predictably onto boost.
The lowest price version is an 82bhp naturally aspirated version of the same engine. You’re going to have to rev it like crazy to get any performance because it’s shy of mid-range shove. Its peak torque figure is just 87lb ft, versus 151lb ft for the 110bhp turbo.
We tried the 110bhp engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which matches the manual’s performance but costs a bit in economy. The auto ‘box is a night-and-day improvement over Citroen’s diabolical old single-clutch automated manual, but it’s still a mite jerky indecisive at times. You can over-ride it with the lever.
Finally diesels, which are tunes of the company’s 1.6 – a civilised example of the diesel species. They have outputs of 100bhp and 120bhp, and both come with a manual. The odd-shaped gearlever, inconsistent shift action and unprogressive clutch mean you need a bit of practice to co-ordinate everything smoothly, but if you’re a half-competent driver it shouldn’t be an issue for long.
On the road it feels Citroen-like, but in some ways better than the C3 on which it’s based. To cope with the extra height, the roll stiffness is increased, but also made more progressive and damped with more precision. So it feels more natural through sequences of bends. Unfortunately an overly light and remote steering setup gags the fun.
More important though, the suspension tackles bumps with suppleness and decent hush. Even sharp transverse ridges, often a Citroen bugbear, get dealt with reasonably calmly.
As claimed by its name, the Aircross will do a bit of crossing. At least of land, not air. It has decent ground clearance and soft long-travel suspension, with the weight over the driving wheels. For an extra £400 you can add a traction-control system with a choice of calibrations for various surfaces, as well as a low-speed hill-descent assist, and, as part of the same bundle, all-season tyres. There’s no 4WD option, mind.