Citroen C3 AirCross - A Comprehensive Review.
The French do things differently, be it in the line of food, fashion or fast cars. It becomes and long arduous process for the world to adapt to the normality away from the whims and fancies that they are consumed by. Like the Croissant, it's a multi-layered bread, glazed and baked to perfection that everyone loves, but since it is not filled to the brim with exotic ingredients and sweet condiments, not everyone responds to it in the same way they love it.
The Citroen C3 AirCross is the same recipe. It's very simple, has its mechanical packaging done extremely well just like the crust of the croissant and it's soft and fluffy on the inside, but to the Indian consumer that's where the goodness of the product comes to an end. Let me tell you what you are missing out on.
The Visual Outlook.
Based on Citroen's made-in-India C-cubed platform, this is the extended version of the C3 hatchback which is sold in India since the last year. But in the way the car is designed, it feels like anything but an extended version of the C3. The proportions are quite large in all three trajectories, and that does make quite a lot of difference visually too.
I like the way that Citroen's designers have integrated muscle lines in the front and rear fenders and not on the door panels to give it a very aggressive stance from the side profile. If viewed from the top, this is an hourglass shape, which in reference to the human body has strong muscular biceps and thighs and a smooth/slim abdomen. It's a very clean design ideology that will look cohesive in any paint shade.
The rear three quarters however are a departure from C3 hatchback's simple and feminine rear end. There are muscular design cues here as well, with a solid boxy shape and thick 3D effect tail lamps. The black strip that connects the tail lamps doesn't look like an afterthought although it is a stick-on job than an integrated unit. The rear quarter glass too is integrated into the rear windscreen to give a wrap-around look making the design experience richer and well thought out. This is also the visual angle where you can appreciate the muscular bulge in the front fender giving it a proper SUV stance.
The integration of masculine elements into the overall design of the car is done very cohesively and it hasn't given away its French flair in the process. There are little curvaceous details at spots not visible directly, but those are to retain the French connection and also make the overall outlook very timeless.
The C3 AirCross feels like a departure from the regular C3 hatchback but just. There is a good use of light-coloured interior trims and plusher seats. A good dose of leatherette on the seats, an addition of an armrest for the driver and soft leather on the steering wheel makes for a compelling package when it comes to outright ergonomics. The width of the seat and girth of the cushion is supremely comfortable for longer trips, as much as I would personally prefer the fabric seats over fake leather material considering the hot Indian climate, but consumer demands suggest that leatherette sells more than real fabric. Alas! The generation of the validation hungry.
Seats are an extremely important factor of any car and car manufacturers today are slowly diverging from the real deal. When I drove it last year, I was hugely impressed with the kind of cushioning material Citroen chose for their C3 hatchback. My colleague Jatin complains for the seats of modern cars being uncomfortable as compared to his 1989 Mercedes Benz W124, but the C3, after many moons comforted his bottoms to the max. Everything in the cabin falls into the reach of the driver and is one of the most ergonomic cabins from the driver's perspective this side of ₹15 lakhs. I appreciate the fact that Citreon's Interior packagers chose fabric for the top 1/3rd of the seat where your shoulder perches and it is also the spot where one sweats profusely during hot summer days. .
The situation at the rear seat is far better than what you get in the regular C3 hatchback. For starters, you get adjustable headrests for the 2 passengers in the second row, which is a great start. In the 5+2 seater version, the seat squabs and under-thigh support is a little limited, pertaining to the packaging restrictions one has with an extra row at the back. The seats are also clamped to the floor a little closer to the front seats to create a usable foot space for the passengers in the third row. So if unfortunately, you're Tushar Kamath or a similarly tall automotive journalist, you might want to consider chopping at least 2 inches off your height to be in absolute comfort in the second row. The seat back too is a little upright for my liking.
The third row however is where the USP lies in this car. The two forward-facing seats at the back in all due respects are strictly for children. You cannot stuff adults in the back seat for long distances unless they are dwarfs or they are amputated. However short distance drives for not more than 40-45 minutes are reasonable if you have to stuff people in the third row and there is no other option. Ingress and egress to the third row isn't an issue but I solely wish they had invested in installing rails under the second row of seats to be able to slide them forward, that would have changed the game immensely for this 5+2 seater.
Not going to create a false narrative about the 5 seater version of this car on my forum, but I did not get any time to spend in the back seat of one, so I'll leave that review for later.
What I’ll talk about is the coloured instruments display which is a new and welcome addition to the C3 hatchback. It has 3 modes and it does include a tachometer. Finally? Yes. Who forgets to put a tachometer in a car built in 2023? Citroen, get your act right here. The omission of the tachometer is considered one of the biggest slaps in the Indian auto industry right now and I am happy to report, Citroen did not make the same mistake twice. Visualise that 1.2 L turbo petrol engine performing like a boss now.
But, before I move to the next topic of how good this car performs, which it actually does, there are a few omissions in the equipment packaging which I consider essential and are missing out on this brand-new French car and I want to address them hard over here.
The lack of cruise control pinches me the most. This car is focused on comfort and long-distance cruising over outright performance, the cruise control model would have acted as a great addition to the conveniences of an engine that runs at 2200 rpm over the 6th gear doing 100 mph. The cruise control would have also helped immensely in improving the highway fuel economy by at least 25%.
No AC blower for the rear passengers in the 5-seater version. This omission is going to hit sales to a large extent, especially considering the fact that North Indians are only getting worse. The AC however is one of the strongest in its class, but we'll only know when we properly test the 5-seater version out on a hot sunny day.
Omission of electrically folding mirrors. A massive sore point for me as a consumer. My 13-year-old Hyundai i20 has it as standard in its top-of-the-line trim, unable to fathom why did Citroen choose to omit it from their list of essentials. Like how expensive would the motor mirror retraction be?
No armrest for the front passenger. The driver gets it and it's a cumbersome experience to share it with your co-passenger in the front while doing long-distance trips. In response to this, Citroen's engineers say that this is done to create easy access for the arms to reach the handbrake lever. I think that could have been done away with a redesigned central console to accommodate both the handbrake and a passenger side armrest.
Bad quality and small sunshades for the front passenger. In 2023, if you give sunshades that feel like paper bags with cocaine-filled in them, you're doing something really wrong. That's exactly how the sunshades, a rather important piece of equipment feel like in the C3 AirCross.
Badly placed power window switches are a nightmare to use. If you're a fat person and are going to drive this car often, I have bad news for you, you would not be able to access the rear power window switches easily. I wonder why the French messed up with the placement of essential switches. And even as a passenger in the second row of seats, if you want to roll down the window, you'd have to unbuckle yourself and then press the switch which is not only bad in terms of ergonomics but also unsafe.
I'll be nit-picky here, but the lack of an ESP OFF switch on the dashboard is a major miss for a cross-country rough-roading enthusiast like myself. There is just no fun I was able to have while going full bananas in the back routes of Mahabalipuram. Although the suspension and steering feedback is excellent while doing silly rough roads at 70-80 kmph, the ECM cuts off the power vigorously to save you from crashing.
The lack of 6 Airbags is a huge miss in creating trust in the product. As much as I do not advocate trusting NCAP rating blindly, the lack of safety essentials in conjugation to crash safety legislations and standardised safety norms Citroen should have given 6 airbags as standard. That would have really paved the way for the brand to establish credibility in times when its image is being tarnished by reputed NCAP testing agencies.
The Driver's Car
This is where C3 AirCross's real party trick lies. One of the most glorious mechanical setups available south of ₹20 lakh is present in this car. The PureTech 1.2 litre, 3-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine produces 110 bhp of max power and 190 Nm of max torque. This is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission moving the front wheels. This is indeed one of the smoothest engine and gearbox combinations I have experienced after a very long time. I forgot about the lack of essential features in the car that I wrote about earlier in this car the moment I started driving it.
There are a set of MacPherson struts in the front, and a twist beam at the rear in addition to Citroen's hydraulic dampers which work like a charm to make the C3 AirCross one of the best riding cars in the market today. And having great quality does not have to hamper the handling character of the car. A lot of you would beg to differ, but the faster you go on bad roads in the C3 AirCross the better it gets. It won't toss around all over the place either, it will stay put, in the line where you want the car to be and would drive like a delightful magic carpet. A statement I haven't made about a car in full honesty, since I drove the C5 AirCross.
Out on the open road, the C3 AirCross feel the utmost comfortable. If only there were better adjectives to report on how comfortable this feels on the road, it is that good. The ride quality on the open highway is quite flat and you barely feel anything filtering into the cabin even at triple-digit speeds, and that's saying a lot for a car that can potentially be competing against the Maruti Suzuki XL6/Ertiga for the packaging it offers.
Even while you're cornering, the 1,200 kg chassis remains stable and there is hardly any body roll that blunts your confidence level, that factor alone is a boon for family car prospects.
Although the C3 AirCross weighs as much as the Ertiga, with a kerb weight rated at 1,200 kgs, the French car boasts 9 bhp of extra power and 54 Nm of extra torque. This shows up in how well it caters for the extra weight that is added in the form of passengers and luggage.
It feels effortless to drive on open roads and even through start-stop traffic all thanks to a light clutch pedal and buttery smooth gear shifts. What enhances this experience is the steering calibration. It stays light and easy to use when the speeds are low, in start-stop traffic or within the city speed limits. Once you woosh past the 70 kmph marker you can experience a significant rise in steering weight which is quite reassuring. Although I would have liked a little more feedback from the front wheels to the steering that would have hampered the stiffness of the dampers and killed the good carpet-like ride quality.
511 litre of boot space in the 5+2 seater version with the third row folded down is much larger than what you get in the Creta which has a capacity of 430 litres, but slightly lesser than what you get in Ertiga which, with the third row folded has a total boot capacity of 550 litres.
Even the 5-seater version has a rated boot capacity of 440 litres which is quite handsome for a car of this size and price bracket. How the C3 AirCross can take the cake away in the boot capacity game by having a completely removable third row of seats. This not only adds more space on the boot floor for you to use but also gives you the flexibility to use the third-row seats as camping chairs after removing them.
After driving the C3 AirCross for about 120 kilometres in the 4 hours that we got with it I have realised that this car picks up the legacy the Renault Duster left a few years ago. This a recipe for a simple, practical, uncomplicated yet mechanically robust car for the family that you would not shy away from doing silly adventures with, unlike what you'd do with the car having all the excess technology on board.
This is the orange juice of cars in the basket of exotic fruits and protein bars at your disposal. Sure it isn't perfect, it has a fair share of flaws. But get behind the wheel and spend more time with it, and you'll surely not feel short-changed driving this car every day. I just hope Citroen realises quickly that keeping a car in India sparsely equipped doesn't work anymore, but I am also glad they are slowly getting there.
What is anticipated now is the pricing, and we're guessing that it will be priced at ₹12.9 lakh (ex-showroom) for the top-of-the-line MAX variant. And if that happens, Citroen might see this car flying off their shelves quicker than we think.
Photographs: Aryan Juneja Words: Ishaan Bharadwaj