First drive: Citroen C3 Aircross

The MPV is dying – long live the compact SUV. The C3 Aircross is Citroen's replacement for the old C3 Picasso, and will sit underneath the C4 Cactus in the firm's SUV range. AOL Cars gets behind the wheel in Corsica for a first look at the fashionable baby off-roader.

What is it?
The C3 Aircross is, as the name might suggest, a pumped-up SUV version of the C3 hatchback. As part of one of Europe's most popular market sectors, it has a lot of competition – including brand new cars like the Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona, as well as veteran offerings like the Nissan Juke and Audi Q2. According to Citroen project manager Etienne Menant, it's a "compact SUV with personality." We'll see how that translates on the road.

What's new?
Citroen's other entry in the compact SUV class is the C4 Cactus, which kick-started the brand's quirky revolution. The C3 Aircross sits below this, occupying a sector Citroen hasn't attempted before – but it's not a totally new car. It's based on the same platform as the C3 hatchback, and therefore shares a chassis and engines with that car as well as other SUV offerings like the Vauxhall Crossland X and Peugeot 2008.

In terms of design, the C3's influence is very clear to see, and the interior is virtually identical.

The Aircross does gain a new gearbox over the C3 hatch, though. It's a six-speed unit and vastly preferable to the baggy, long-throw five-speed in the hatchback.

What's under the bonnet?
There are a few engines available, all of which have seen service in Peugeot and Citroen products before. The range starts with a low-powered, 80bhp naturally-aspirated petrol. The petrol range carries on through turbocharged 108bhp and range-topping 128bhp units. All are three-cylinder 'PureTech' units.

On the diesel front, you've two options – both are 1.6-litre BlueHDi units, but power output is a choice of 98bhp or 118bhp.

Lower-powered engines get a five-speed 'box, but higher-powered units get the six-speed manual which would be our preference. If you'd like an automatic gearbox, you're limited to just the 108bhp petrol.

We sampled both 118bhp manual diesel and 108bhp automatic petrol flavours. We'd recommend sticking with a manual model as the auto 'box seemed to change gears at inopportune moments, leaving us floundering on steep gradients. The buzzy petrols are at their best when paired with a manual gearbox.

Citroen C3 Aircross review
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Citroen C3 Aircross review

What's it like to drive?
Out on the open roads of our test route in Corsica, the C3 Aircross impressed. It drove well, feeling more stable than you'd expect from a softly-sprung Citroen, while performance from the engines was perfectly adequate. Though not immensely fast, the C3 Aircross is more than comfortable for safe overtaking and keeping up with fast-moving traffic.

Throw it into a bend and things become a little unstuck, thanks in part to the vague steering. It's far too light to communicate anything about the road to the driver. It comes in handy when parking, though.

Though most owners will never leave the tarmac, it's reassuring to know that the Aircross doesn't immediately lose face when confronted with a bit of the rough stuff. Exceptional ground clearance and hill descent control were both very helpful when tackling steep dirt tracks in the mountains.

Overall the Citroen C3 Aircross feels like a well-sorted and confident crossover.

How does it look?
If you like the C3 hatchback, you'll find plenty to love about its Aircross sibling. Citroen's signature two-tier lighting gives the car a face which is certainly distinctive and divisive in equal measure.

Though Citroen's rough-and-tumble Airbumps don't make an appearance on the sides of the Aircross, it does feature plastic cladding around the wheelarches to give it a real crossover flavour. A 'venetian blind' effect on the rear three-quarter window is a neat touch, though it spoils visibility.

The most appealing feature for some will be the personalisation options on offer. Citroen offers a wide array of eight body colours and three exterior roof packs.

What's it like inside?
The personalisation theme continues on the inside, with five colour combinations to choose. Our car had a tweed-like material on the seats which was a refreshing change from the usual cloth or leather you find in compact crossovers.

Quality is as good as it is in the C3, with soft-touch plastics mixed in with a few cheap, harder materials. Practicality doesn't suffer for style, though – there's ample legroom in the front and the rear, while the boot offers up to 520 litres of space with the adjustable floor in its lowest position.

If you regularly carry passengers in the rear, though, think twice before speccing the optional panoramic roof. It eats into headroom.

What's the spec like?
The Aircross mirrors the standard C3 range with its trim levels – Touch, Feel, and Flair. Touch models are fairly basic but get all the essentials, while our top-spec Flair had touchscreen sat-nav, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless go, and an optional £950 panoramic roof.

Music lovers can spec the Techno HiFi pack to add wireless phone charging, a head-up display and upgraded stereo, while anyone worrying about those trick rear windows might want the Park Assist pack, with all-round cameras and parking sensors plus blind-spot monitoring.

Prices start at £13,995 for the basic model and rises to £19,720 for the range-topping Flair.

If you like the styling, there's no real reason not to consider the Citroen C3 Aircross. It's an easy rival to any of its similarly-priced crossover rivals, and would perform family car duties with aplomb. We also enjoyed its driving characteristics, while moderate off-road capability is another feather in the car's cap.

While it's no driver's car and speed freaks won't find much to love, the C3 Aircross is a comfortable, durable and practical car that scores highly in our book.

Model tested: Citroen C3 Aircross Flair BlueHDi 120 S&S Manual
Price: £19,720
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel
Power: 118bhp
Torque: 300Nm
Max speed: 114mph
0-60mph: 10.5 seconds
MPG: 68.9mpg (combined)
Emissions: 107g/km

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