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- Jul 9, 2022
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The Citroen C3 Aircross entered the crowded compact SUV space with a laser-like focus on space and practicality, while being more affordable than the competition. However, this comfort-centric affordable SUV arrived without one key convenience - an automatic transmission. More than four months after launch, Citroen has finally bestowed the C3 Aircross with a two-pedal setup, but does that help make more sense of this French SUV? We find out.
The C3 Aircross arrived on the scene with glance-worthy good looks, especially with its styling. Its pronounced wheel arches, chunky bumpers, all-around cladding, and tall roofline give it the most SUV-like stance compared to other offerings in its segment. The no-nonsense 17-inch dual-tone alloys also fill the arches well enough without giving up too much suspension travel, but we’ll talk more about the ride quality later.
It’s only when you get to the rear of the Citroen SUV that you identify it as a budget-oriented model with its bland tailgate design. Those C-shaped headlights are quite similar to those seen on the smaller C3 hatchback, and pale in comparison to the connected LED taillights that now dominate the segment.
The interior of the C3 Aircross certainly leaves much to be desired, but there are many positives to take note of as well. You might also recognise that the front seat experience is seemingly identical to that of the Citroen C3 hatchback. It offers a high seating position and the minimalist layout makes it easy to figure out the basic controls you would use most often. Details like the semi-leatherette upholstery and door pads are a nice touch while the rest of the cabin touch points remain quite basic.
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This is where the Citroen SUV starts to earn its brownie points. Its second-row bench is comfortable and accommodating, offering sufficient amounts of legroom and knee room. The seat base provides adequate under-thigh support to give rest to your calf muscles. For added comfort, the seat back reclines as well (only in the 7-seater configuration), but there is an overall lack of bolstering which means if there are only two or less occupants, they will wish for more support when the car is going around turns, or on long journeys.
The overall lack of features is all too apparent in the rear seats. Your rear window controls are housed in the centre console tunnel and the 5-seater version of the C3 Aircross misses out on rear AC vents entirely. The roof-mounted AC vents for the rear occupants are only offered in the 7-seat configuration.
Finally, we have the stand-out aspect of the Citroen C3 Aircross: an extra two seats, thanks to the longest wheelbase in the segment. To access the third row of seats, simply pull on the strap on the left-side of the split-fold second-row seats and it tumbles forward. These two seats are placed a bit low to the floor but offer adequate room for your knees and you can slot your feet under the seats in front of you. Headroom is limited but it should not be a bother for short jaunts in the city while there is sufficient width for two adults to sit without constantly clashing elbows.
Even though the Citroen C3 Aircross is not the biggest SUV in the segment on paper, its design allows for a lot of luggage space in the back. In its 5-seater configuration, you get a flat trunk that has a claimed capacity of 444 litres, second only to the Honda Elevate.
If you have the 7-seater variant, you’re looking at a measly 44 litres with the third-row seats in use. However, these two seats are removable, which opens it up to 511 litres of luggage space, though the flat trunk is interrupted by the seat hooks in the floor.
The biggest weakness in the C3 Aircross package continues to be the lack of creature comforts. It covers the basics with a 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment unit with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 7-inch digital instrument cluster with various modes, and connected car tech now with remote engine start for the automatic transmission variant. However, it still misses out on some of the features you’d expect for the price such as auto AC, cruise control, a sunroof, or even electrically folding ORVMs. Even the key seems archaic and a disappointment for a car that you will pay over Rs 15 lakh for.
On top of that, it does not get any of the “feel good” features, such as ventilated front seats, push-button engine start/stop, leatherette upholstery, a wireless charger and a premium audio system, offered by most of its segment rivals.
In terms of the safety equipment on offer, the Citroen C3 Aircross offers the bare minimum with dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, electronic stability control (ESC) and rear parking sensors. It does get a rear parking camera but the video feed quality is quite poor. Meanwhile, segment rivals and even smaller and more affordable SUVs now come with six airbags and a 360-degree camera, while the premium models are equipped with advanced driver assist systems (ADAS).
Citroen tries to make up for the lack of features around the interior with its many spacious storage areas. There’s a shelf under the manual AC controls for your phone or wallet, and another flat storage space for keys and receipts just in front of the cup holders. There is another beverage holder at the end of the central console tunnel for the rear passengers, but only the 5-seater variants offer a rear fold-out armrest with more cup holders. However, the 7-seater variant does offer dedicated cup holders for the third row.
You also get plenty of USB chargers - one in front, two for the second row and two fast-chargers for the third row.
The Citroen C3 Aircross is only offered with one engine - a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol unit. After a short delay of a few months, the French carmaker has finally introduced the choice of a 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission. The engine still makes the same 110 PS as offered with the 6-speed manual, but the torque has been bumped by 15 Nm to 205 Nm.
It’s an interesting choice, and the only turbo-petrol in the segment to get this option. The only other compact SUVs to offer that kind of automatic transmission are the Maruti Grand Vitara and Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder with their 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine.
Citroen has not made any changes to the engine in terms of refinement and so the 3-pot still has the expected amount of noise and vibrations. When driving at city speeds, this automatic gearbox feels restless and fidgety, constantly changing gears to keep the engine in boost which results in a slightly jerky experience. That’s not what you’d expect from a typical torque converter automatic, but this Citroen unit is predictable and you can get used to it over time. Above 50 kmph, though, the auto-box shifts smoother and the gear changes feel subtle and not intrusive.
The gear ratios are spaced well, offering good acceleration and a smooth power delivery as you gather speed, resulting in great driveability overall. When it comes to the fuel economy, the readout from the C3 Aircross’ digital driver’s display was promising, climbing past 10 kmpl when driven smoothly without successive hard accelerations from stops. That kind of efficiency is good for a small turbo-petrol engine pulling a car this size.
The one aspect where you can have high expectations from a Citroen product is the ride quality and the C3 Aircross does not disappoint. Just as we discovered when testing the manual variant when the SUV entered the market, the automatic variant also delivered a comfortable experience. It gets Macpherson struts at the front and a rear twist beam with coil springs all around, and the suspension setup is tuned just right to absorb the Indian roads littered with potholes, highway joints, and the endless stretches of undulations found in most city roads.
Of course, all of the above traits are experienced at relaxed speeds. In our more spirited bursts, we did feel some jostling over broken tarmac but the C3 Aircross stayed flat, even in the corners. The overall body roll is contained well for such an SUV, especially with the tall stance at the rear.
We were pleasantly surprised by the steering setup which has a nice weight to it. While handy for more enthusiastic driving and at highway speeds, it can be a bit tiring in city traffic.
The Citroen C3 Aircross has felt like a puzzle, answering questions we did not think to ask, while raising plenty of others with some missing pieces. The introduction of this automatic transmission option fills a big gap in the overall package, piecing together the bigger picture which is the C3 Aircross SUV.
It is a well-engineered product with regards to the driveability, passenger comfort and overall practicality in terms of space. There are many features that are amiss in comparison to the competitors, but the C3 Aircross was not aiming to be a tech-packed pricey affair either. Even with the new automatic transmission, the top-spec C3 Aircross is fairly affordable while rivals are crossing the Rs 20 lakh mark (all prices are ex-showroom).
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