Citroen C3 Aircross 1.2 Puretech 130 RIP Curl 5DR EAT6
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 through 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 the Aircross an otherwise easy thing to place on a narrow street or country lane.
Engines are familiar enough from other Peugeots, Citroens or Vauxhalls. The best driver is the plucky three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol, which makes 110bhp with the six-speed manual or 130bhp with the six-speed auto. It’s very quiet, has sufficient performance for a car of this type and returns decent mpg so long as you behave yourself.
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 and indecisive at times. There are no paddles on the steering wheel but you can override it with the lever.
The price hike for the auto (which also gets an extra 20bhp, don’t forget) is around £1,500 and it’s less efficient, so we’d stick with the 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.
The diesel is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder – it feels about as quick as the petrol and does good mpg. It’s even pretty refined. But few customers choose it – you’d have to do big miles to offset the added cost versus the petrol.
The Aircross is not meant to be a sporty car. Nor are most other small SUVs to be fair, but if you want one that handles with a bit of verve, try the Ford Puma. The Citroen isn't going to waste any time pretending it's a good steer.
To cope with the extra height versus the C3, the Aircross has been stiffened up a bit, so it doesn’t ride as, erm, Frenchly as you might expect. It‘s still softer than rivals so it pitches under heavy breaking and acceleration and rolls through bends, but patters over imperfect road surfaces, thumps through potholes and generally bobs around following the camber and crown of the road. Odd, given Citroen is so obsessed with the idea of ‘comfort’ in all its many forms.
Moreover the steering is remote, giving the impression there is no material connection between your hands and the front wheels. It’s not brilliant, but it is tolerable. Just remember this car likes to do nothing quickly, so slow down and enjoy the view.
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 few hundred quid you can add a traction-control system with a choice of settings for various surfaces, as well as a low-speed hill-descent control. There's no 4WD option, as is the norm in this class.
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