If you have ever heard your car-loving friends lament “every other model seems have a similar feel and drive quality”, they probably haven’t driven a French car yet.
French automobiles have a unique design language that can sometimes (okay, often) polarise opinions. They have a flair that isn’t always easy to comprehend.
If you want straightforward and easy to understand, then the offerings from the German, Korean and Japanese marques will definitely be more to your liking.
HIP TO BE SQUARE
Citroen’s designers have decided that the C5 Aircross will have a boxy theme to it. Not in terms of the silhouette, but in the numerous style elements.
From the front air intakes to the tail-lights and exhaust tips, there are more than enough details to satisfy fans of this geometric shape. Heck, even the bonnet has square “indentations”. Perhaps the sleek headlights were just added for contrast.
The boxy theme continues inside, with everything from the seats to the air-con vents and instrument panel layout all having a quadrilateral design.
Why would Citroen go to such extremes? Well, the C5 Aircross needs to look as different as possible from its corporate cousin, the Peugeot 3008, which is built on the same platform and uses the same drivetrain.
Overall, the strategy has worked – the only familiar components are the switchgear, gearshift lever and infotainment. The rest of the cabin looks and feels different. With its Advanced Comfort Seats and non-angled dashboard, the C5 Aircross is clearly more comfort-oriented than the driver-centric 3008.
Apart from the cushy seats, the C5 Aircross improves comfort through its Progressive Hydraulic Cushions.
Instead of a regular setup (damper, spring and mechanical bump stop), the Hydraulic Cushions have an additional hydraulic stop for rebound and compression.
Controlling rebound and compression are key to delivering a smoother ride. Too strong a rebound and it’ll feel bouncy. If there’s too much compression, the car feels like it’s “wallowing”.
On the other hand, a lack of rebound and compression results means there’s no pliancy, resulting in a stiff and unpleasant ride.
Progressive Hydraulic Cushions balances out the forces acting on the dampers to keep things on an even keel. It works best when going over larger potholes and taller speed bumps. There’s still a woolly feel over rough patches of tarmac, though nowhere as bad as expected.
The Hydraulic Cushions work especially well over uneven sections that can cause suspensions to bottom out.
There is a particular bump along Ubi Road 3 on the approach to the junction with Ubi Ave 2. In a car with regular suspension, driving over it even at normal speed can cause the dampers to bottom out. This didn’t happen in the C5 Aircross, which took it in its stride.
FEWER PONIES, MORE CHARACTER
When the current C5 Aircross first arrived here in 2019, it had a turbocharged 1.6-litre 4-cylinder with 180hp and 250Nm.
But with COE premiums now in outer space, the C5 Aircross wouldn’t be commercially viable as a Cat B model. Thanks to its smaller drivetrain, the SUV now sits in Cat A.
A turbocharged 1.2-litre inline-3 capable of 129hp and 230Nm now sits under the Aircross’ bonnet. On paper, it’s drastically less powerful than the 1.6-litre unit, but in practice it’s actually not bad.
Paired to an 8-speed automatic, the powerplant propels the C5 Aircross past the century mark in 10.3 seconds. It’s slower than the 9 seconds clocked by the C5 1.6, but not that much slower. Certainly not at this level.
Once the turbocharger spools and delivers its boost, the C5 Aircross shows some pep in its step and has a rorty soundtrack to boot. The 3-cylinder’s vocals are unique, and they give the SUV more character than the 1.6-litre version.
You’ll need to keep the engine boiling if you want quicker progress. With Sport mode engaged, it’s easier to keep the revs up. The manual override function and paddle shifters are handy in this regard.
Though the drivetrain been downsized, the C5 Aircross’ retains numerous standard features, which include Lane Keep Assist, Collision Risk Alert, Active Safety Brake, and Speed Limit Recognition and Recommendation.
The wheels and tyres, though, are smaller than the ones on the 1.6-litre model. And a nicer-sounding audio system, in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, would have been welcome.
But if there was something I’d want more of, it would be quicker acceleration off the line. It could be due to the C5 Aircross’ mass (1423kg) and/or less powerful engine, but the 230Nm available from just above idle seems to arrive a moment later than expected.
That aside, the C5 Aircross will appeal to buyers interested in a Cat A SUV with a unique design. If you want to drive something different that stands out in any carpark, then this French contender, which starts from $124,999, might be worth a gander.
Citroen C5 Aircross Feel 1.2 (A)
ENGINE 1199cc, 12-valves, inline-3, turbocharged
MAX POWER 129hp at 5500rpm
MAX TORQUE 230Nm at 1750rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 90.7hp per tonne
GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 10.3 seconds
TOP SPEED 188km/h
CONSUMPTION 20.4km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE From $124,999 (after $15k VES rebate)
AGENT Cycle & Carriage