Sticking to its French traditions, Citroen certainly has played its cards well in India. Everything that the modern Indian yuppie needs and wants has been amplified to 11 and it seems to hit the right spots. Quirky and fresh styling? Check. Flying carpet suspension? Check. SUV? Hell, yes!
So after much delay, thanks to 2020 hitting pause on planet earth, the C5 Aircross is finally here and it’s Citroen’s flagship no less. The French carmaker takes much pride in stepping away from the “car company” tag in fact. Inspired by many things French, including its fashion, lifestyle and even product design, the C5 is a bold interpretation of a brand that has consistently strived to do something different and delivered
Eyes on India
The C5 Aircross is as proper as a 5 seater can get, with three independent rear seats that forsake an armrest for individual seat adjustments. If this isn’t an indication of different, I don’t know what is! But let’s start from the front and exterior, which I have to say is one of the best integration of DRLs anywhere in the automotive world. The double chevron logo perfectly extends from the centre out in a beautifully neat and double-decked headlight unit and with a sculpted hood, air cube cutouts in the air dam and side skirts, makes for an unmistakable silhouette. Around the back, the 3D LED taillights add further drama along with the distinctive C pillar design, so there’s no dearth of “look at me” elements. There’s a choice of two-tone colour options but even the regular options manage to turn heads, thanks to the newness of it.
Stepping inside the cabin continues the experience of being exposed to fresh ideas and design elements. Bits like the handbag-like strap on the dashboard, more than 30lts of storage inside the cabin, advanced comfort seats that feature the right mix of high-density foam at the core and a soft, textured foam on the surface...there are lots of things to appreciate not just in the brochure, but also while living with the C5.
Where it feels a bit too quirky for its own good though, is in the electronics and infotainment department. The 12.3in all-digital instrument cluster is generously sized but doesn’t show much data except speed, basic trip info and a convoluted bar-like rev counter that’s hard to read. Even the speedometer is replicated as a vintage radio dial atop the actual digital readout, duplicating information but not in the most intuitive manner. You can customise the cluster but it only changes the views and makes it even more minimal. Similarly, the 8in infotainment screen has no home button as such and serves primarily to reduce button clutter for AC, Nav and media controls, with no added features. There is wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, but only one USB-A input front and back. It’s easy enough to use and the volume knob is always a good addition, but you can’t help but feel that the design team wasn’t appraised well enough and looks more like an older system repackaged for 2021.
Two chunky, individual buttons let you select drive modes (again, which could’ve been just one toggle button), a dial that engages Grip Control for better throttle response on various off-road surfaces and a gear lever that is surprisingly comfortable to rest your hand on comprise the centre console. The 8-speed transmission is silky smooth and mated superbly with the 2.0L diesel engine that itself is potent enough with 177hp/400Nm torque, figures that scream sporty instead of comfort.
With all the hype around the Progressive Hydraulic Cushions, Citroen’s version of “take me to the bad roads'' suspension, it’s hard not to focus your attention on the ride quality. In a word, it is fantastic. But in other words, the competition isn’t too far behind either. The low-speed comfort over bad patches and rough roads is almost matched by its peers like the Compass and Tucson but it’s during higher speeds that the C5 Aircross genuinely feels like it conquers the Indian interstate terrain. Even body roll is contained well and steering accuracy is reasonable, marred only by the oddly-placed paddle shifters. But honestly, the transmission algorithm is so well judged that you’ll never need to take manual control. The inconsistent rev counter doesn’t encourage manual shifting at the right points anyway. In auto mode, the C5 always remains in the right gear and the power-packed engine never displays any turbo lag, even the slight hint at low RPMs is masked well by the 8-speed in normal drive mode. Sport doesn’t change the personality by a lot, but the Grip Control traction system does help the drive in different situations, even though it's just front-wheel drive. Overall, the comfort aspect is easily outshined by the sportier side of the C5 and it genuinely is a fun-to-drive SUV, bettering its peers with a linear power delivery, smooth and refined diesel engine and seamless gearshifts that never get a foot wrong. Essential safety kit like a reverse camera, albeit slightly low res, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, electronic parking brake and park assist are joined by some segment-first ones like blind-spot monitoring and coffee-break alert warning.
There’s no branded audio on offer and neither is there any mention of the specs on the stock system. There’s no subwoofer to be found anywhere and the audio quality is just about average, suited best for casual and background listening. Wireless charging gets a miss too, so do ventilated seats, compensated somewhat by a huge panoramic sunroof and an air-quality sensor that detects and purifies incoming air through the HVAC. Between the two variants, Feel and Shine, the only differences are the LED headlights, panoramic sunroof and foot-operated electronic tailgate.
The Citroen C5 Aircross has enough distinction to draw crowds to the showroom. It looks like nothing else on the streets, with a genuine style quotient that’s hard to match. Its wide, supportive seats are superb for long-distance comfort, ride and handling balance that are at the top of the class and is safe to boot. Where it loses some points are in the essential tech space, where even lower-priced competitors outshine it. It does get everything that you need, but getting pampered by indulgent features is hard to beat in a market like India. Eventually, it’ll boil down to how aggressively the C5 is priced that will decide its success, but Citroen has had enough time to study the Indian market and play to its strengths so I wouldn’t expect anything less than a success story here.