Thursday 17 October 2019

C5 Aircross: why Citroen's compact SUV has points to prove

Cars

C5 Aircross
C5 Aircross
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Every car should have its unique selling point (USP); something you immediately associate with it and can summarise in a word or two. Sadly, that is not always the case with modern motors.

In the rush to blend as many marketing selling points into one entity, individuality can be sacrificed, modified or lost in the mix.

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It's easy to see how it can happen. A car is a package of myriad elements that have to be of a (relatively) high standard and competency. So they can, sort of, cancel themselves out in terms of prominence.

So much so, I often struggle to find much difference, or variation, between models and brands. It is especially true of small SUVs and mid-size saloons.

Many cars have unique avoidance points (UAPs?) too. They include dour looks, poor suspensions, bland-as-bedamned interiors, stiff prices and so on.

I think this week's review car has the potential to have both a USP and a UAP.

You probably know that the new Citroen C5 Aircross is a mid-size 2WD crossover rival for the Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Karoq, Peugeot 3008SUV, Ford Kuga etc. Most of those have a USP: be it cabin layout, technology, looks or decent handling.

I felt the Aircross competed well on many of those fronts. At 4.5m long, for instance, it is a segment leader; it is also a noticeable 1.7m tall.

I thought the cabin was both well thought out and put together. There was excellent room. Sliding, individual rear seats mean you can constrict or expand passenger space at the back. With all seats up, usable luggage-area goes from 580-litres to 720-litres (depends how far back you slide the seats). Fold them flat and you get a huge 1,630 litres.

I liked the feel of the car. I found the info-interface screen easier to use than most (not the Peugeot 3008's though). I liked the feeling of comfort in lumbar-friendly seats, my driving position and a general ease while in it. It's got one of those 'warm' interiors - something Citroen have always been good at.

Interestingly, a factory-fitted dash cam comes as standard. It records and automatically saves 30 seconds before, and 60 seconds after, an incident. As it has an integrated 16GB memory card to store photos and videos, footage from a collision will automatically be saved. It is the only car on the market with it built-in as standard. A unique selling point? Maybe.

But I prefer to think the 'floating carpet' suspension (Progressive Hydraulic Cushion) makes a better case for a USP.

It made this mid-sized crossover - a genre afflicted with bodyroll due to height, and average handling and ride - into something capable of dismissing the impact of serious lumps at normal speeds.

No other car in the class would have patted away a series of substantial ramps the way it did. It also dispersed/absorbed the shudders and shakes from teeth-rattling jolts on uneven, poor midland roads with pace and poise. I sampled a lot of them in the course of my test.

The dash-cam is a great idea but there are several ways you can add one. Not easy to do that with a suspension like this. After the Aircross had head-butted some of the rockiest roads I could find, I came away as impressed as the first day I'd driven it. I think it deserves USP status.

Powering my model was a 1.5-litre 130bhp diesel. More workmanlike than sparkling, I reckoned it needed a bit more oomph to make it feel as spritely as that great chassis deserves. But it will be fine for most buyers. A 2-litre (180bhp) awaits your preference and higher outlay.

There is also a decent value mix of price and spec levels. A model from mid-range probably makes most sense; you get a good spread of comfort and safety elements there.

So what about its UAP (Unique Avoidance Point)? It is a bit predictable and, I feel, a tad unfair to mention. But it arises because it is one of the near-automatic reactions from people when they ask, and you tell them about, a Citroen.

Even though I now always emphasise that there is a five-year unlimited mileage warranty as standard on the likes of the Aircross, people invariably cite troublesome Citroens of yore and their depreciating values.

I think a five-year warranty is a substantial bulwark against such fears. However, we tend to have long memories, don't we?

Yet if the Aircross can't overcome such hurdles in a manner similar to what its suspension does with bumps, it's a poor lookout.

Facts & figures

Citroen C5 Aircross SUV

1.5-litre diesel, 130bhp, 8spd auto, €190 tax. From €26,495; 1.5-litre diesel tested €37,795.

'Start' trim: 8ins display, cruise control. 'Touch' adds folding mirrors, Android Auto/Apple Carplay, 17ins alloys, rear parking sensors. 'Feel'- 18ins alloys, front parking sensor, wireless phone charging. 'Flair'- adaptive cruise control, 19ins alloys, panoramic sunroof.

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