2019 Citroen C5 Aircross review: a family-friendly SUV that echoes the good old days of French car design 

Citroen C5 Aircross
The Citroen C5 Aircross is every inch the modern family SUV, but there are elements which clearly descend from traditional French cars of the late 20th Century Credit: MATTHEW HOWELL 

If you’re a lover of old Citroëns, as I am, the chances are the arrival of the C5 Aircross will be bittersweet. This is, after all, the first range-topping Citroën to be launched for more than 60 years without the company’s trademark hydropneumatic suspension system even available as an option.

It also completes a transformation in the company’s range that has left it without a single traditional saloon or estate model; instead, Citroëns – at least in the UK – are either SUVs, MPVs, vans or small hatchbacks.

And yet, the Aircross arrives with left-field styling, a clever suspension system of its own designed with comfort in mind, and an emphasis on practicality – all principles central to the best models the company’s ever produced. For the die-hard fans, then, there’s promise here, even if it comes in a shape few will recognise.

The thing is, for most of this new model’s buyers, all of this is of little consequence. What will matter more is how well the C5 Aircross can cope with the daily challenges a modern family SUV must face: how spacious and versatile it is, how cheaply it can be run, and how easy it is to live with. Its Citroën-ness, or lack of, will realistically make little difference.

The Citroen C5 Aircross follows the same basic recipe as every other SUV, but there's enough character here to make it stand out  Credit: MATTHEW HOWELL 

Those buyers will be able to choose from two petrol and two diesel engines, each of 128bhp and 178bhp respectively. The two more powerful units are only available with the new Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic, and while the 128bhp diesel gets a choice between the two gearboxes, the entry-level petrol can only be had as a manual.

You can’t get four-wheel drive, but you can add Citroën’s Grip Control system, which tempers the throttle electronically and applies the brakes to make the use of the traction available.

Entry-level Feel gives you dual-zone climate control, a digital radio, and automatic headlights and wipers; upgrade to Flair and you get front parking sensors, part-leather seats, sat-nav and bigger alloy wheels; meanwhile, top-of-the-range Flair Plus gives you adaptive cruise control, a panoramic sunroof and keyless go.

No matter which C5 Aircross you choose, you get that snazzy suspension system, with what Citroën calls ‘Progressive Hydraulic Cushions’. Translated, that means that while each wheel features outwardly conventional springs and dampers, there are hydraulic bump stops built into each damper that allow it to reach the end of its travel without jarring.

So while the C5 Aircross can’t do the old hydropneumatic cars’ tricks of self-levelling and adjustable ground clearance, it should at least boast an unctuous ride. And while it isn’t quite as serene as Citroëns of old – sharper ruts and corrugated road surfaces can send irritating twangs and grumbles through the car, and if you try and punt it along an undulating road too quickly it can sometimes sway queasily from side to side – these issues result only in occasional irritations.

On the whole, this is an extremely comfortable car, with a mattress-like sense of isolation from the road surface that makes it considerably more relaxing than any of its rivals, and the sort of composure and stability you’d more usually expect to find in a much larger SUV or an executive saloon.

Of course, a soft suspension setup does not a sharp-handling car make. That said, the C5 Aircross doesn’t disgrace itself if you throw it at a few corners. The steering is slow, but it’s well-weighted and progressive, and that means you can easily place the car where you want it.

There’s plenty of front-end grip, and while the body does lean over considerably more than it does in, say, a Seat Ateca, the amount of roll always feels deliberate and controlled, rather than sloppy and unnerving. So while it’d be a stretch to call the Aircross fun, it does at least feel safe and reassuring.

In the same vein, while none of the engines on offer is particularly sporting, all offer plenty enough verve to keep you happy. The 128bhp petrol is perky, but suffers from too much engine noise, while the larger petrol is refined and potent, even if it makes the Aircross feel over-engined.

The big diesel is gutsier, but noisier and clunkier than its smaller sibling, which turns out to be the sweet spot in the range; flexible and responsive, especially when mated to the automatic gearbox, which changes swiftly and smoothly whatever speed you’re doing and suits the Aircross’s laid-back character. Yes, this engine can get a little shouty if you extend it, but most of the time it’s impressively muted, as are wind and road noise at any speed – and that goes no matter which Aircross you choose.

The interior is both conventional and imaginative, with exceptionally comfortable front seats Credit: MATTHEW HOWELL 

More points for comfort are notched up inside, where the front seats are deliciously welcoming – soft and wide, without lacking support and with plenty of adjustment. And, if you spec the rather pricey ‘Hype Brown’ leather, you get seat heaters and even a massage function. There’s a high centre console, too, which makes you feel safely ensconced in the car, and hides a gargantuan storage locker between the two front seats.

It’s not all good news in here, though, because the materials the interior has been built from are decidedly low-rent. Citroën has done its best to mask this fact by styling the dashboard and door cards to resemble luggage, of all things, just as it did in the C4 Cactus before.

However, brush your hand against the door card or open the glovebox and you can’t fail to notice the rough, brittle plastics.

The infotainment system is the standard unit you’ll find in most Peugeots and Citroëns now; a touchscreen that isn’t the greatest nor the worst in terms of usability, but gets laggy at times. It still incorporates the heating and ventilation controls into one of its menus, too, meaning you have to flick away from the navigation or media screens if you want to adjust the temperature, which never ceases to irritate.

How do you think this new SUV looks? Share your thoughts in the comment section below  Credit: MATTHEW HOWELL 

On the plus side, all Aircrosses get Citroën’s excellent digital instrument binnacle as standard; this replaces the analogue gauges with a customisable screen, and would cost you an arm and a leg if you were to specify it in most rivals.

In the back, this mixed bag continues; the rear seats aren’t the most spacious, though to be fair a pair of adults will have just about enough room for a long journey. One of Citroën’s big boasts for this car is that there are three individual seats back here, which all slide and fold individually, and this certainly makes the Aircross extremely versatile.

However, the downside is that instead of two large outer seats and one small one in the middle, you get three medium-sized ones – fine for kids, but adults will find them rather narrow.

Behind these you’ll find a huge boot that knocks even the vast Skoda Karoq’s for six, and which you can enlarge yet further by sliding the rear seats forward – at the expense of that already precious rear seat leg room – to a capacity that’ll match the larger Skoda Kodiaq’s. There’s a false floor, too, which you can set at two levels – higher to provide a flat floor with the rear seats folded, or lower to maximise the space beneath the parcel shelf.

The interior space is as versatile as you'd expect from a modern French SUV Credit: MATTHEW HOWELL 

It’s hard to escape the conclusion, then, that in spite of its flaws, the C5 Aircross mostly has its priorities right. You probably wouldn’t choose to take one for a spirited drive down a back road. But few – if any – family SUV owners were ever going to do so, and it’s refreshing to come across a car which openly admits that; one which knows its remit is entirely unathletic, and therefore prioritises outright comfort, rather than compromising it with delusions of sportiness.

That feels like a very traditionally Citroën-esque way of doing things. Throw in the sort of space and flexibility in the right places to suit a young family, and a dash of style that helps the C5 Aircross stand out from the crowd, and it seems both die-hard fans and ordinary family buyers alike now have a Citroën to get excited about.

*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 12/03/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront.  Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change.  Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.

Citroën C5 Aircross – the facts

Citroen C5 Aircross BlueHDi 130 Flair auto

TESTED 1,499cc 4-cylinder diesel turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £28,425/now

POWER/TORQUE 128bhp @ 3,750rpm, 221lb ft @ 1,750rpm

TOP SPEED 117mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 11.8sec

FUEL ECONOMY TBC

CO2 EMISSIONS TBC

VED TBC

VERDICT A stylish and likeable SUV with a strong – and pleasing – emphasis on comfort, rather than sportiness. Interior plastics and infotainment are let-downs, while the rear seats could be more generous – but their versatility, and the huge boot, help make up for that.

TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five

Citroën C5 Aircross – main rivals

Skoda Karoq, from £20,880

Smart, practical SUV that’s smaller than the Citroen on the outside but roomier inside, although its boot isn’t as big. Handles better, but the trade-off is a firmer ride, and there’s the overriding sense that the Karoq, for all its worthiness, is just a bit dull.

Peugeot 3008, from £19,785

The C5 Aircross’s cousin swaps its funky sense of style for a more suave suit. Beautiful interior feels several leagues above the Citroen’s in quality, and it’s just as spacious inside – and while its ride isn’t quite as supple, the trade-off is that it’s much sharper to drive.

Kia Sportage, from £19,195

Average to drive, but the Sportage is a car you buy with your head thanks to its vast warranty, enormous amounts of rear seat space and clever boot storage. Proving immensely popular with British buyers, too.

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