Living with a… Citroen C3 Aircross

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Last updated: 1st September 2019
After six months living with a Ford Focus hatchback, I’ve now returned to the world of SUVs. Small SUVs are exploding in popularity, with all the major manufacturers producing at least one. The idea is that they provide the attractive points of a “traditional” SUV – space inside, a high driving position and a feeling of security – with a smaller footprint that won’t feel massive on British roads.

My new ride, then, is a Citroen C3 Aircross, and it’s an SUV that really stands out in a crowded marketplace. There’s no other small SUV that quite looks like this, with its chunky, bubbly styling and, in my case, bright Spicy Orange paintwork (a £520 option). I don’t think I’m ever going to lose it in a car park.

Like all versions of the C3 Aircross, mine comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen that features Apple CarPlay for plugging in my phone (and Android Auto too, if you’re that way inclined). This is an immediate plus for me, as I tend to use my phone’s navigation, podcast and music apps on the move far more than any of the built-in Citroen systems. But rest assured I’ll have a play with the proprietary stuff as well, to compare.

It also comes with automatic headlights and cruise control with a speed limiter – features that are increasingly vital in these days of average speed check cameras – as well as tinted rear windows and air conditioning.
Citroen C3 Aircross
This is the Flair trim, which is the higher of the two available on the Aircross (the other being Feel). That gives it several extra features, including keyless entry and start (open the door and start the engine without having to fiddle with a key) and 17-inch alloy wheels. It also has a rear-view camera and sat-nav, and a white roof, which is a no-cost option. I’m not sure how much I’ll need them, but the rear seats slide forward and backward to give either more boot space or more legroom for passengers.

I’ve got a few extras on my C3 Aircross, including the Techno HiFi Pack (£650), which gives me a head-up display that rises out of the dashboard and shows speed information, as well as a wireless charging tray for my phone and an improved sound system courtesy of a subwoofer and amplifier.

The Family Pack (£260) includes a front passenger seat that can fold completely flat, which could be useful for lugging things around, as well as an arm rest for the driver and automatic high beam on the headlights. This system will default to high beam at night unless it detects oncoming cars, traffic in front of you, or you’re in a built-up area.

Engine-wise, I’ve got the BlueHDI 100 manual, which is a 1.5-litre diesel with 100 horsepower. I’m a little worried that it might feel underpowered, but having said that, the grunt you get low down in the rev range in diesels may make up for the relatively low overall power. We’ll see. The manual gearbox is a six-speed.

My aim for my six months with the car is to see how well it fits into my general lifestyle. Having gone from a larger SUV to a pick-up truck to a hatchback in the past 18 months, this is something new. I did occasionally find with the Focus that I wanted more space, so perhaps an SUV will help that, while being easier on fuel and less bulky than the Kia Sportage I ran before. I generally do a lot of driving on my own, often for long distances on motorways, so fuel economy, ride quality and creature comforts will be important. I also carry bicycles and assorted related paraphernalia, so for that reason I’ve had some roof bars (£189) and a Thule bike carrier (£67) added.

The future then, for the next six months, is orange. Hopefully, it’ll also be bright.
Citroen C3 Aircross
Month two: worst fear realised
Mileage: 1,734
Costs: £0 for the car, £475 in bicycle repairs

At the end of my last Ford Focus long-term report, I shared my enthusiasm for towbar-mounted bike racks. I also shared my fear that with a roof-mounted bike carrier, I’d forget that the bike was there and smash my pride and joy into a low roof.

Well, guess what happened this month.

Deciding that my fear was irrational, I strapped my quite expensive carbon-fibre road bike into the roof-mounted Thule carrier that came with my Citroen. I positioned the lockable arm to keep it securely in place and happily drove to a lovely part of the Sussex countryside. I took the bike down, went for a very nice ride, then strapped it back on and drove home. At no point did I encounter a low bridge, or a car park entrance, or anything that could render my bike into shards.

On returning to my block of flats, I went to park in an outdoor space. Out of habit, I swung the car right to reverse left into the bay you see in the below picture, as I’ve done hundreds of times before. I forgot that there was a low roof to the car park right in front of me. Crunch. Swear words.
Shortly before disaster
That three seconds of running on autopilot is about to cost me £475 to fix a cracked bike frame (it has to be sent to a composite specialist and will take months), but thankfully it hasn’t caused any damage to the car. I can’t have been doing more than 1mph when I clonked the bike, but that’s frankly of little solace.

Luckily, I have a spare bike, which is just as well, as I’m training for the Ride London 100-miler. I’ve been transporting the replacement bike inside the car. My roof-carrying days are over, and I’ve vowed that, for future reference, the extra expense of a towbar-mounted rack is well worth the money.

As it’s not a full-size SUV, fitting the spare bike into the C3 Aircross could have been rather tight but for the fact that, as part of the Family Pack, the front passenger seat folds down completely, which lets the bike fit in without taking any wheels off. I can see that being a very useful feature if you’re regularly using your car more like a van. I’m moving house in a couple of months, and have kept that feature in mind should we need any long flat-pack furniture.

Disasters aside, I’ve put plenty of miles on this Citroen over the past month or so, including a few multi-hour drives, and it’s been very pleasant for long journeys. The driver’s seat armrest is particularly appreciated when spending ages on the motorway, and so is the upgraded sound system, which has been chirping out music from my phone with impressive clarity. I’ve been getting decent fuel economy too, at more than 50mpg. So it’s not all bad news. Just don’t mention the roof rack.
Front seat down, spare bike in
Month three: no cups for you
It’s difficult to mistake a Citroen for anything else. I’ve been mulling that over the last few weeks when returning to a car park and trying to remember where I’ve parked the C3 Aircross. It’s not hard to spot. Not just because it’s bright orange, although that definitely helps, but because the overall design is so different to anything else in the market. In an age where aerodynamics, legislation and safety requirements go a long way to making one car look much like another, it’s refreshing that Citroen is going out of its way to make its cars identifiable and memorable.

It’s pretty different inside too, with all sorts of interesting design choices, although since I’ve started using it regularly, there are a few touches that seem a little bit like style over substance. The main culprit so far is the handbrake, which is a very nice piece of sculpture reminiscent of a jet fighter’s throttle. It looks great, but it takes up basically the whole space between the front seats. That means there’s no room for cupholders or a cubby hole to keep stuff. I’m all for spangly design, but not when it compromises practicality.

The lack of cupholder is annoying, as I have a long commute each day and like having a coffee mug and a bottle of water to keep me going. Luckily my coffee mug is one of the tall, sealable ones, and I can put it in the door pocket, but if I’d got a takeaway cup from a shop, or a can of soft drink, then I’d have nowhere to keep it.
There is a storage area in front of the gearstick, which also has a wireless recharging pad for my phone. I tend to use Apple Car Play, which requires me to plug my phone in via USB, and I use a holder to mount the phone on the windscreen. My preferred navigation app, Waze, shows the map on the car’s screen and turn-by-turn directions on the phone. This all means that I don’t really have a use for the wireless charging pad, but at least it doubles as a handy place to keep my wallet and keys while driving.

Speaking of Apple Car Play, it’s a very useful feature to have, and with BMW making it a paid-for subscription option in its cars, I’m pleased that Citroen has decided to provide it for free. If there’s any niggle with the C3 Aircross’ implementation though, it’s that sometimes the system takes an age to recognise my phone. Often it’s almost instant, but sometimes I’ll have got in and be two minutes down the road before it loads up.

In other news, part of the volume knob fell off. But it slotted straight back in again. I’m still not sure what caused it to ping off, but it all seems fine now.
Key specs:
-Model: Citroen C3 Aircross Flair S&S BlueHDi 100 manual
-List price: £20,885 MRRP
-Price as tested: £22,315
-Engine/gearbox: 1.5-litre turbodiesel, six-speed manual
-Power: 100 horsepower
-Torque: 300Nm
-Top speed: 114mph
-0-62mph: 10.8 seconds
-Economy: 54.4-63.07mpg combined (WLTP, claimed)
-CO2: 103-106g/km (WLTP)

Everything extra fitted to our long-termer:
-Metallic paint (£520)
-Techno HiFi Pack* (£650)
-Family Pack** (£260)
-Roof bars (£189)
-Bike carrier (£67)
*(Wireless charging, colour head-up display, 3.5-inch colour binnacle display, hifi radio with subwoofer and amplifer)
**(Fold-flat front passenger, front arm rest, automatic high beam assist, driver attention alert)

Interested in buying a Citroen C3 Aircross?