India-spec 2021 Citroen C5 Aircross road test review
Its no surprise, Mercedes-Benz snapped up Alexandre Malval, the designer under whose penmanship, the Citroen C5 Aircross took shape. Alexandre is gifted and brought a certain elegance, style and luxury to various Citroen models during his stint there as their design director. And that's the first bit that strikes you as you look at the C5 Aircross, its got lovely design elements, quite unlike anything you expect on a car. Its radical, outrageous, gorgeous and fluid all at the same time. It has sex appeal, plenty of it and the C5 Aircross turns heads everywhere you drive it. And that stunning design ethos continues to elicit delight when you step into the cabin, where each and every element hits you in the face. You simply go wow, with a 'I've never seen anything look like that before!'
A few things on the inside that caught my attention. The seats and the seating configuration. The C5 Aircross is a proper 5-seater, and it gets 5 proper seats, two seats in the front and three split seats in the rear placed to look like a bench. Each of those three seats can be reclined, folded flat and adjusted forward and back individually to liberate more knee room. And with an almost flat floor, you get better space to adjust your feet. The seats also come upholstered with a combination of leather and fabric and the textures of the materials used and the shades of grey give it a stylish edge. Its all very Parisian chic, and that interiors sense of style will stay fresh and innovative for a long time.
Even the design of the gear shift, or the touch screen infotainment system, the air-con louvres, the steering wheel, every element has been detailed uniquely. The soft bezel and curved edges look add a unique and unmatched perspective to an interior space. Even the fonts used on the instrument display are stylish. The only debilitating factor is the usability of certain controls. For instance, the climate adjustments inside the cabin has two sets of controls, one on the touch screen and a separate array of buttons just below, when only one control system would have done the job. There are a few oddities in the cabin but nothing that you won't adjust to in time.
Rohit has previously elicited just how amazing the C5 Aircross is to look at, so I'm not going to get into that. What I was keen to examine is just how well does the C5 Aircross work in Indian conditions, especially since certain elements have been tweaked for our market.
And part of that tweaking involves the ride quality, something Citroen cars are famous for right since the days the legendary DS was unveiled way back in 1955. In the C5 Aircross, the suspension involves a slightly unconventional setup that uses a combination of hydraulic shock absorbers and springs but has a hydraulic and a mechanical bump stop that further slows down the damping and rebound characteristics far more than conventional setups with just mechanical bump stops. The system traces its origins to Citroens world rally championship cars that used a similar system for stability and control. The setup adds another layer of firm cushioning to the ride quality of the C5 Aircross, which is almost as impressive as several significantly more expensive cars. I did a longish 300km round trip skirting Mumbai city and part of that route involved broken and rutted tarmac. The C5 Aircross without exaggeration, simply wafts over those surfaces, keeping the cabin superbly planted. This makes it brilliant in urban or semi-urban to rural conditions, where speeds are low. After a while, I deliberately went looking for rougher patches of road, just so I could roll over them without having to slow down! It gives you that level of confidence and assurance.
But what happens when speeds increase. Out on the highway, you do get the sense that the suspension is working doubly hard to maintain that same balance as you get at low speeds. The C5 Aircross is well planted and confident, giving a sense of security unlike anything else you've experienced. The steering which seems effortless and light on urban roads also weighs up sufficiently as speeds rise, generally leading the car precisely where you want it to go. However, at times, because the suspension is tuned a bit on the firmer side of things, the instant you hit a rut or scarred patch the C5 loses a step. At times this can be disturbing, and I recollect something similar on two-generation old BMW5 Series sedans. The setup on those cars was so firm, you wouldn't end up getting damping as much as the car would simply bounce off the line. A similar thing happened on the C5 as well, once the speedometer got into triple digits. However, a firm grip on the steering keeps the ball rolling effortlessly.
The other grand highlight in the C5 Aircross is its diesel motor. The 2.0-litre turbocharged oil burner is a gem. Its smooth, refined, very responsive and would easily complement a sportier car rather than the crossover it sits in. There are several sound damping elements tucked away everywhere to reduce engine noise, and it works well to dim the diesel clatter to a soft hum at all times. The 177PS with a generous 400Nm of max torque works well to propel the C5 Aircross forward instantly. And the 8-speed automatic its clubbed with works brilliantly for a vehicle in this category. Its sharp, intuitive and quick to shift up or down the gears. And if you'd rather shift gears yourself, paddle shifters behind the steering wheel allow you to do so. Automatic mode allowing the engine and transmission to work cohesively feels the best and most natural. You get quick responses when you need them, or simply sit back and enjoy a more sedate pace of life.
The C5 Aircross also comes with multiple drive modes, a couple of which could be a bit confusing. Its got 3 off-road modes for snow, sand and dirt and grassy surfaces, but the crossover itself does not come with 4-wheel drive. Instead the C5 Aircross has a bit of a clever system that brings ESP into play on the front driven wheels. On a low traction surfaces it brakes the wheel with less traction and transfers torque to the wheel with better traction. It also reduces torque delivery to the wheels if it senses too much wheel spin while starting off, like you would on slick mud or wet grass. But since control is restricted to just the front wheels, in stickier situations you'd best not venture too far.
There has been a lot of thought spared on making this a complete package. And when I say complete, it's the addition of certain features that may not seem superficial but only goes to show the attention to detail spared on the C5 Aircross. For instance, child locks can be engaged by using a button on the dashboard just below the steering wheel. The lever to unlock the bonnet is still on the left side of the car, away from the driver, one of the elements that hasn't changed in the left hand to right hand drive conversion. That lever, however, is wedged in the door sill, and not under the dashboard, so it cleverly gets hidden when the door is shut but is exposed when the door opens. If you use the indicator lever, you'd generally tend to be a bit more brusque with them, instead in the C5 Aircross, all it requires is a very slight positive nudge to engage the operation. Same goes for the paddle shifters, just a mild click allows you to shift up or down. All this is possible because of drive-by-wire systems, and to enhance its effect Citroen has reduced the mechanical adjustments needed, and made it feel almost touch-sensitive.
If you head over to the rear of the C5 Aircross, you'd notice when you have the boot open, the area where the boot latch falls into place when its shut, has these falsetto sprung covers that don't expose the naked parts. Even the sounds of the doors and the boot being shut have been engineered in a manner to reduce the mechanical clunking, it's a positive note, that is almost pleasing to the ear. How do you ever engineer something like that! It all adds value to the overall experience, and I found this attention to detail highly appreciative.
What is lacking is a connected suite of features, and given the time Citroen had to introduce this vehicle, I feel this is a big miss. Citroen had the advantage of playing this out to their advantage but customers may now have to wait for future updates to see this incorporated.
Citroen intends to have a fairly well-spread network around the country, with touchpoints in ten cities starting off with a flagship store in Ahmedabad, and expanding that to several more cities over the years. This network expansion will be critical as Citroen intends to expand its product portfolio to include small cars in the near future and this will need broader coverage for products in lower segments to have wider penetration.
The C5 Aircross nonetheless is the first Citroen in India and is a fantastic debut product for the French carmaker. Whether it continues to enjoy box office success will depend on the positioning and effectively, pricing. I expect to see a price somewhere in the range of around INR 25 lakh bracket with a price differential of no more than a lakh of rupees between the 'Feel' variant we drove and the 'Shine' which is the top trim. This would put it against the top tier of the Jeep Compass, which incidentally is another product from the same group company, Stellantis. Other competitors would include the Hyundai Tuscon, the Skoda Karoq and the Volkswagen Tiguan, but numbers for these are abysmally small. Of these, the Skoda and Volkswagen SUVs are CBUs whereas the C5 Aircross is assembled here as a CKD which would work in favour of Citroen. So if Citroen intends enjoying success, fingers crossed they can get the pricing to be just as attractive as the product is.
Photography: Anis Shaikh
Citroen C5 Aircross real-world mileage and performance
Watch our video review of the India-spec Citroen C5 Aircross below
Everything You Need To Know About The Citroen C5 Aircross SUV
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