Ryan Bubear drives the Citroën C4 Aircross 2.0i 2WD Manual Seduction...
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The compact SUV market is said to be one of the fastest-growing segments in South Africa. But Citroën has never tasted even the slightest slither of that soft-roader pie. Until now.
The Citroën C4 Aircross is the French manufacturer’s first foray into SUV-ology in South Africa. But despite looking like absolutely nothing else on the road, this compact crossover should feel strangely familiar. Why? Well, because it shares the vast majority of its mechanical underpinnings — along with its stable-mate, the Peugeot 4008 — with the Mitsubishi ASX, which has easily been the Japanese carmaker's best-selling passenger vehicle in SA since its launch late in 2011.
French flair on the outside, with a deliciously reliable Japanese centre? Sounds like a match made in heaven...
Party at the front...
Visually, the C4 Aircross is not far short of stunning, and could almost get away with sporting the brand's DS badge. Out test model — the mid-spec Seduction model — boasts a very busy front end, dominated by fang-like LED daytime running lights (reminiscent of the DS3), a pair of aggressive bonnet creases, and an oversized chrome chevron grille (with integrated indicators). From the rear, it does a fair impression of a tall C4 — which, by name at least — it sort of is.
Under the bonnet, though, the Japanese flavour returns. Here, a 2.0-litre petrol engine sends 110kW and 197Nm to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. The shift action — much like the steering — is very light. A sixth/overdrive gear would have been welcome, since the naturally aspirated four-cylinder really sings at highway speeds. This would also help to improve fuel consumption, which Citroën claims is 7.5 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. We averaged somewhere in the region of nine (the trip computer developed an annoying habit of resetting itself).
There may be no turbo, but the Aircross has more than sufficient power to propel its near-1400kg frame along (hitting 100km/h in under ten seconds), and wheelspin proved surprisingly easy to induce. That said, our test model has no traction control, with ESP deemed necessary only on the range-topping Exclusive model. For the record, there are four models in the range, across three trims levels: the entry-level Attraction is a two-wheel drive manual, the mid-spec Seduction a two-wheel drive manual or CVT, and the top-spec Exclusive is available only as a four-wheel drive CVT.
With a ground clearance of 200mm, the ride is tuned for comfort rather than pure handling, and the Aircross feels slightly top-heavy during fast cornering. But while the driving position is definitely raised, you don't feel as though you're piloting a sizeable SUV. In fact, the Aircross befuddles with its exterior dimensions: from some angles, it appears very compact, yet from others it is rather imposing.
Business in the back
On the inside though, it is unquestionably big. Room up front is decent, but it is at the back that the Aircross really shines: leg- and head-room for rear passengers is tremendously generous, even for beanpoles. Despite the dark tints on the rear windows, the feeling on the rear bench is one of airy spaciousness. The luggage compartment — which also houses a full-size spare — can hold a fair 384 litres, and the rear seat backrests are split 60:40 should you require more loading space.
While it's all Citroën chic on the outside, the interior set-up borrows heavily from ASX. If you were expecting the stereotypically quirky French cabin, you'll be disappointed. But all that flashiness isn't sacrificed for no return: the Mitsubishi-derived interior is practical and comfortable, and boasts plenty of useful features and storage spots. Our test model enjoys, as standard, auto headlights, auto wipers, electro-chrome rear-view mirror, rear parking sensors, leather multifunctional steering wheel, six-speaker sound system (CD/MP3/USB/Aux), Bluetooth, cruise control/speed limiter, and automatic air-con.
Safety features include ABS with EBD and EBA, as well as driver, driver's knee, front passenger, side and curtain airbags. A three-year or 100 000km warranty and five-year or 100 000km service plan come standard too.
Interestingly, the two manual models are not only cheaper, but also quicker and more fuel efficient than the CVT variants. So, unless you absolutely require four-wheel drive, we'd suggest going for one of the manuals. Also noteworthy is the fact that, in terms of pricing, the C4 Aircross undercuts the ASX, although Mitsubishi doesn't offer a four-wheel drive version.
The C4 Aircross manages to successfully marry French and Japanese elements to create a visually alluring and comfortable-to-drive package. It's a positive start to Citroën's local SUV efforts, and while unlikely to knock its established competitors off their soft-roader perches, it is without doubt an enticing alternative.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.