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First Drive: Citroën C5 Aircross

There’s more to Citroën’s flagship SUV than concept car styling, says Alex Grant.

SECTOR Medium SUV PRICE £23,225 -£32,725 FUEL 49.6-68.9mpg* CO2 108-129g/km* VERDICT ****

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Citroën, it seems, has got its mojo back. Distinctive, colourful and targeting the right segments, in the last five years it’s regained the confidence to be different, and it’s growing in a UK market recording month-by-month declines. The new C5 Aircross, which will lock horns with the Qashqai-sized SUV segment when it arrives in the UK next year, shows it can even find its own corner in one of the most hard-fought parts of the market.

This flagship SUV is certainly no wallflower, with its scaled-up C4 Cactus styling, double-deck headlamps and colour-contrasted inserts in the protective Airbump panels and roof bars. It’s also far better aligned to this segment’s norms than its Mitsubishi-derived nearest predecessors – thankfully with some space for unique character under the skin, for those opting for subtler bodywork hues.

While rivals boast sporty, hatchback-like handling, Citroën has set out its stall around its tradition for comfort. So the C5 Aircross uses the same suspension damper technology as the updated C4 Cactus, moving freely enough to float over small bumps while also gradually soaking up the larger ones instead of rebounding aggressively. There’s no pretence of Nürburgring-worthy handling here – it’s light and effortless over long distances, making light work of even the roughest surfaces.

It also bridges a gap between SUVs and MPVs. Uniquely in this class, the C5 Aircross can accommodate three child seats in the second row, on three individually adjustable, sliding sections of the bench. There are no plans for a seven-seat version, and it only has two ISOFIX points, but that modularity is a useful USP which rivals haven’t woken up to yet.

Citroën has had space to weave its own personality throughout the cabin, which feels surprisingly plush even without leather upholstery. A 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 8.0-inch infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard on all versions, but don’t get built-in navigation, or the more comfortable seats. Top-level Flair Plus includes a hands-free tailgate, panoramic roof and keyless entry, all optional elsewhere, but with a £2,400 price hike. The mid-spec Flair is perhaps the best all-rounder.

From 2020, the C5 Aircross will be Citroën’s first plug-in hybrid, offering 221bhp and a 31-mile (WLTP) electric range. For now, the engine line-up comprises two petrol and two diesel engines at equivalent 128bhp and 178bhp power outputs. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on both 178bhp versions, optional on the 128bp diesel, and can be paired with the Grip Control off-road traction control setup. There are no four-wheel drive versions.

We tested the car with both high-power engines, each offering quiet and easy progress rather than electrifying straight-line pace, but the C5 Aircross is relaxed enough to make do with either of the lower-powered drivetrains. Ironically, it’s perhaps more in the spirit of Citroën’s most luxurious classic limousines than anything currently wearing the DS badge. And that’s something to feel very confident about.

Verdict:

The C5 Aircross is the most convincing large Citroën product for a generation – the right segment, the right styling, and the modularity family-focused buyers need.

* Fuel economy and CO2 figures are NEDC Correlated

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.