The Eiffel Tower, croissants and Zindane. That pretty much sums up my knowledge of France. Woeful, I know. However, the fondest memory I have of France is watching Sebastian Loeb attaining immortality whilst surgically dissecting the 2005 Tour de Corsa and winning every stage of the rally. His weapon? A Citroen Xsara WRC. That was the first time I properly knew what a Citroen was and was shell-shocked after watching what it could do. Fast forward sixteen years and Citroen is finally in India. However, what they have got, is far from my memory of the double chevron badge.
The Citroen C5 Aircross is a premium mid-size SUV. It is not for the 2005 Loeb, but for the current one who is 46 years of age. It is a comfy, practical and feature-packed SUV that will turn it up against the Hyundai Tucson and the current favourite Jeep Compass.
Now, it is no secret that in India if you want a car to sell in good numbers, it needs to be an SUV. But looking at the C5, SUV is not something you would imagine. The design is premium and contemporary and despite the generous use of black cladding it still misses that towering road presence. However, that is not to say that it is small in size. The dimensions at over four-meter long and two-meter wide are proofs that this is one big car. The front is stylish and there are quite a few elements like the indents in the bonnet and the funky-looking bumper that give it a modern design. You also have LED headlamps with LED DRLs placed up top which is the latest trend. It might not have the stance, but it sure does have a prominent front end. Over to the side, the snazzy-looking 18-inch alloy wheels add to the style along with the cladding and the roof rails. These are all elements added to enhance its SUV nature, but the overall silhouette is just not that of your traditional big and boxy SUV. There is also a fair amount of chrome and that surely steps up the premiumness quotient. The rear too is in line with the entire theme with tasteful detailing in the LED taillamps and big chunky cladding below the bumper. You also have faux exhausts adding to the style more than substance.
Step inside and you are greeted by a well designed and cool-looking interior. Since Citroen is an all-new brand, you probably have never seen the layout and switchgear. The buttons and knobs feel premium and everything you touch has an air of plushness. You get a flat-bottom steering wheel that also has a flat top and then there is the 12.3-inch instrument cluster that can be customised and set to your preference. You also get an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with the usual Apple and Android connect. But, the controls for the AC too are tucked away in the screen. So, should you want to quickly adjust the temperature etc, it is quite it involves some toggling on the screen. The rest though is upmarket and stylish. The centre console is minimalistic and you have massive amounts of storage spaces throughout the car. What will impress you the most, however, are the seats. The pattern on it makes it look like the seats have been working out, but in fact, it is the high-density foam that has been added for extra comfort. The cushioning, support and comfort is exceptional and they are hands down the best seats in the segment right now. Step into the back seat though, and some minor flaws start to creep up. The first being the space. Sure, the three individual seats do have adjustable levers, it still isn’t enough space for someone over six feet to seat comfortably. That said, you do get AC controls, one USB port and a flat floor which makes seating three abreast easy.
You also get a panoramic sunroof, but that is exclusively for the top-spec Shine variant. More on the practicality as the bootspace on the C5 Aircross is humongous. At 580-litres it is the biggest boot in its class and you can also fold away the rear seats and extend it to 1630-litres. Enough for a trip to France, isn’t it?
Now, all that is fine, but is the C5 Aircross worthy of the rally heritage?
Powering the C5 Aircross is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine that makes 174bhp and 400Nm. Mated to it is an 8-speed automatic gearbox and you also have the option of using the paddleshifters. It isn’t the most refined and smooth systems out there, but drive it sedately and it copes up just fine.
You also have drive modes between ECO, NORMAL and SPORT and the terrain response toggle as well. The performance then is not the best and it need not be either. The C5 Aircross is a family car for long trips and cruising on the highway. Show it some corners and you need someone of Loeb’s character to eke out the maximum. The suspension is soft and the heavy diesel mill combined with it makes for an average handler. However, the soft suspension is the biggest highlight of the C5 Aircross. Called the progressive hydraulic cushions, it helps the C5 completely iron out the bad stretches. It is exceptionally good and it was the perfect introduction to an eventful first impression. The Citroen C5 Aircross then has a tall order with the updated Jeep. You also get a bit more popular brand and excellent interior so why would someone choose this? Well, because there are quite a few reasons to own one. One is the cloud-like ride quality, next is the solid bottom-end grunt and overall, the touch of Europe that it gets along with it.
So, it all comes down to what you need from your next car. If it is practicality and comfort, look no further. Pricing though is crucial for Citroen and should they take the aggressive route and launch the C5 Aircross lower than that of the equivalent Jeep Compass which is around Rs 26 lakh, it just might work. The C5 Aircross with the lower-spec version is of exceptional value even though you miss out on the panoramic sunroof and electric tailgate so we just will have to wait until it is launched. As for Sebastian Loeb, I heard he flies his own helicopter now. I bet that is still slower than the Xsara.