By Mark Nichol
What Is It?
The Citroen C3 Aircross is what you get if you take a small hatchback, fatten it up a bit and make it look something like an SUV. The result is a car that doesn’t really feel much bigger than a standard C3 to drive – a supermini about the size of a Vauxhall Corsa or Ford Fiesta – but because it’s so tall it feels significantly more spacious. Spacious enough, in fact, to pass for a main family vehicle if you only have a couple of kids.
What’s Good About It?
It’s kind of funny looking, isn’t it? But that’s no bad thing. It’s like someone at Citroen asked the design team ‘which shapes will we use for the C3 Aircross?’ and Citroen’s design team replied ‘yes’. But whatever you think of the C3 Aircross’s particular aesthetic, you’ll surely agree that it stands out. It’s chaos as art. There are 70 different combinations of body paint and contrasting roofs to choose from, you can read our C3 Aircross colour guide for more details. But what you really need to know about this is that there’s substance behind the multifaceted visual chaos.
The C3 Aircross is a very versatile, practical thing – probably THE most versatile and practical among all these smaller crossover SUVs – cars like the SEAT Arona, Skoda Kamiq, Nissan Juke and Vauxhall Mokka. It’s also very comfortable to drive, with a couple of caveats linked to the driving position itself. We’ll come to that.
What Could Be Better?
The level of flexibility you get from a C3 Aircross, and therefore outright practicality, is spec dependent. Any version has a 410-litre boot space, at least, which for context is bigger than the boot you get in a Ford Focus – a bigger family hatchback and technically a class up. But if you want an adjustable floor, which will make the loading bay flat when you drop the seats, that’s a mid-spec ‘Shine’ feature. And if you want the headline practicality features – such as sliding rear seats that gives you 110 litres more boot space, and a front passenger seat that folds flat for a van-like loading length – they’re top-spec ‘Shine+’ features. Roof rails are standard though, which is nice.
The infotainment screen isn’t ideal either. Citroen has got much better at this with its latest stuff, but the Aircross has a slightly older system that puts everything on a quite laggy display. It means that turning the fan speed down or turning the temperature up or inputting a sat nav address will take a little more time, effort and finger-prodding than is ideal.
What’s It Like To Drive?
The driving experience as a whole is as sedate and uneventful as a bit of Martin Keown football punditry and that’s a good thing because this is not a sporty crossover; some crossovers are pitched as ‘fun to drive’ and their comfort suffers as a result, but the C3 Aircross is unashamedly soft, in every sense. It follows that it’s not the most riveting driving experience, but it is wallowy and light, and that will suit those who value comfort above cornering speed – assuming they’re not too tall.
The issue the C3 Aircross has – and it’s shared with other smaller Citroens – is a quite ‘short leg/long arm’ driving position that seems to put the pedals close and the steering wheel far away. It’s exacerbated if you’re long-legged. The pedals will feel a little too close together for those in bigger shoes, too. Is it a deal-breaker? Almost certainly not, but there’s no doubt that the ergonomics in a C3 Aircross just aren’t as good as those you’ll find in a Kia or Ford or anything from the Volkswagen Group.
That said, the spongy suspension, very comfortable (and unusually flat) seats, and the general resistance-free feeling of the steering rack and gearshift will mitigate any feeling that the driving position isn’t quite right. Just don’t take a corner too quickly in a C3 Aircross. It leans. It leans a lot. And be mindful on the motorway when it’s especially windy, because those crosswinds… you’ll feel them.
The engine range is, similarly, more conducive to relaxed driving than to enthusiasm. It’s a simple choice between petrol and diesel, and there’s nothing with more than 130hp. Furthermore, the most powerful petrol model is available only as an automatic. They all have similar characteristics: plenty of low-down torque and relatively quiet at low revs, but a little thrashy and unrefined when pressed harder. They’re efficient and do the job rather than having much sparkle, which is why we’d say a diesel is a good choice: it feels powerful and it’ll give you a solid real life 55mpg.
How Practical Is It?
In essence the C3 Aircross is a large box, so fundamentally it feels spacious. There’s plenty of headroom front and back, proper rear leg space for such a short car, and some very neat storage flourishes in the cabin. There are actual cupholders in the door pockets and a good few little gaps in the dashboard, including one above the glovebox that’s designed specifically for pens, we’re told. It’s a good job it’s there too, because you won’t get many biros in the glovebox; the C3 Aircross suffers from the same ‘tiny glovebox’ issue as many other Citroens do. There’s only 1 USB port too, which feels a little anachronistic these days.
How Much Will It Cost Me?
The C3 Aircross has quite a basic engine range in modern context. There are no hybrid versions, nor indeed any electrification at all. This shouldn’t worry you though, because whichever drivetrain you choose will prove economical day-to-day. Your choice is between a 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine with either 110- or 130hp, the former rated at 54.4mpg and the latter (automatic only) at 47.3mpg, and there’s a 1.5-litre turbodiesel with an impressive 67.2mpg rating. The diesel isn’t that much noisier than the petrol engines – although that says more about the particular tonal quality of the petrol engines than it does the diesel.
Generally this is a very cost-effective runabout, especially given the size, including reasonable insurance groupings – all of them sit below band 20 in the 1-50 insurance rating scale.
Anything Else I Should Know?
There are 3 main trim levels (not including the various special editions that Citroen sporadically releases) with C-Series at base, which if not the most flexible C3 Aircross is still basically well specified and includes a lot of safety stuff. Euro NCAP gave the car a 5-star rating in 2017. Mid-level Shine specification largely gets styling tweaks, though you do get navigation and the adjustable boot floor, and you can option bigger wheels and even a clever Grip Control system that helps the car across uneven ground. There’s no actual 4x4 version of the C3 Aircross, despite the SUV-style looks.
Top level Shine+ cars get the flat folding passenger seat that hugely improves flexibility – perfect for Bargain Corner at Ikea – and automatic emergency braking, so in principle you’re less likely to dunch it when you’re fiddling about with the infotainment screen. This is genuinely a car that improves in look, feel and usability the further up the range you go, which seems obvious but it’s not always the case.
What Alternatives Should I Look At?
The most fun-to-drive small crossover on the market, full stop. Read our Ford Puma review here.
Stylish, spacious and well priced, the Bayon is surprisingly involving to drive too.
Volkswagen’s small crossover is more spacious than it looks and has a great engine range.
The Vanarama Verdict: 6/10
"Even though the C3 Aircross is getting on a bit now (it was released in 2017) it still looks the part, and arguably nothing has surpassed it in this class for usability and personality. That should be more than enough to sway most. It’s not the most modern (no hybrid), the most fun to drive, nor the most refined, but it’s very comfy, flexible and well priced. Well worth a look. "
3 Things To Remember About Citroen C3 Aircross:
It’s extremely spacious given its quite small exterior dimensions.
You’ll need an upper spec car for maximum cabin flexibility.
It’s very spongy and comfy, but not very engaging to drive.