Monday 19 August 2019

Don't just follow the herd if you are considering a crossover

Citroën Aircross certainly tempts our motoring editor

Citroen A3 Aircross.
Citroen A3 Aircross.
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I've no wish to be provocative, but I think some people are buying a certain type of car because they feel it is the fashionable thing to do. Of course I'm talking about crossovers/SUVs - what else?

After getting, and replying to, a boot-load of enquires this autumn in particular, I sense there is a rush to buy an SUV/Crossover - just because everyone else is. Bad idea.

Most people looking for advice have a hatchback or a saloon. They want out of those and into a Crossover.

I tell them it's a free country and by all means pursue your wishes. But don't lose sight of what is practical for you.

Sorry for being pedantic but I genuinely get the sense that several people who are shifting to Crossovers/SUVs would be far better off staying with a Ford Fiesta or Toyota Auris. I've told them as much. Horses for courses.

I'm swimming against the tide here, I know (I'm used to it). And I won't be too popular with some (I'm used to that, too). But sometimes the right thing to do is to give perspective.

Don't get me wrong. By all means buy a Crossover. But buy it for the (mostly) right reasons. And whatever you do, don't go lumbering yourself with extra debt or outlay just to get one.

Of course I see the attraction. These cars can look so different and smart, and they have such a reassuring high driving position. It's no wonder they're in such demand. But they have their downsides: they can be too bulky for just single occupancy (how many vehicles have just the driver on board?), suffer from bodyroll, some are tight on boot space and, because they're bigger, can be harder on fuel than smaller cars. That's why I ask people: if you just need a car to commute 10km/20km a day to work and for tipping around, do you really need an SUV?

Now let me flick the coin and assume you really do. You are immediately faced with another challenge. As I see it, the biggest one these days is finding sufficient difference between cars to justify choice and expenditure. They all do the business to a certain extent. If engineering and fuel consumption are your top demands, there's a line-up to meet them. If looks and style are tops (they are for most people), there's another long list. And they are not mutually exclusive. Some tick boxes all over the place.

I think this week's review car, the Citroën C3 Aircross, would - on first acquaintance anyway - slot into many Top 5 requirements. It is most definitely stylish, has a new high-tech 1.2-litre petrol engine, a large boot (up to 520 litres) and one of the roomiest interiors in its small-SUV class - there is excellent rear room.

It doesn't shirk on pushing the style/decorative envelope. My test car was themed 'orange' - outside panels/touches and inside inserts (air vents for example). I'd sampled it on a previous short drive, so the mixture of design and colour didn't have the same initial impact.

But it is always the measure of a good car if something tangible rather than visible stands out while in use. In this case, over the course of the week, I was greatly taken by the seats and the fabric adorning them. The rear seat-row inclines and slides (optional), but for me the great thing was how mine supported lower back and thighs - and felt so comfortable.

Yet not all my passengers agreed; one thoroughly disliked them. Wouldn't buy the car with them, she said. Just goes to show how taste varies so much.

I had a good mix of occupancy (three/four of us several times) - and journeys. The 1.2-litre petrol engine (110bhp) had plenty of pep on motorways and was nice and nippy around town. However, I was disappointed with its fuel consumption. At 7.8litres/100kmh I thought it poor enough (it's only 36mpg), even allowing for motorway speeds, full loads, tight city driving and all that. It is a downside of some small petrol engines, which I think are much better suited to urban driving - especially in smaller cars (sorry to keep harping on about that). In fairness, the Aircross cruised really well. We remarked how composed it felt.

They've brought proper Citroën flair to the cabin, packed in the goodies and made a right little package of it. Hard not to be impressed.

But there is one other list on which it might not register highly. The Citroën brand is rebuilding and may not be the one people automatically think of when drawing up SUV shortlists. It's a historic thing. How the Aircross fares will help determine how well they've overcome that perception.

Would I buy it? I would for the seats and the cabin. I'd think diesel rather than petrol, though. And for the price, I'd be happy enough with the value. It's the best thing they've done with a car for a long time.

But if it were my money, I'd buy a small hatch. I don't really need a Crossover. Do you?


Citroën C3 Aircross Crossover, Flair (top) spec, 1.2-litre petrol, 115g/km, €200 tax, 5-litres/100km (56.5mpg claimed)

Price: €25,095. Range from €20,695.

Spec included: 7ins touchscreen, Mirror Screen, Android Auto, MirrorLink and Apple CarPlay; DAB/Aux/USB sockets, 'cornering' fog lights, 17ins alloys, bi-tone roof, Colour Pack, auto lights; front/rear parking sensors. Two rear ISOFIX points. Safety Pack 2, Sat Nav, cruise control, auto air con, electric windows/mirrors, 12v Row-2 socket, 60:40 sliding rear bench/reclining seats, sun blinds on rear-side windows.

Extras included: Grip Control, panoramic roof, Techno HiFi pack.

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