Compiling a write-up involving any product from Citroën more often than not starts with a reference to the past guaranteed to involve its quirky styling, the DS, hydropneumatic suspension and propensity for going wrong backed-up by poor service and no resale value.
We shouldn’t go this way again
Good and bad, these traits are likely to linger no matter the aversions the company founded by Andre Citroën 103 years ago might have. Truth be told though, some have changed.
The quirkiness, while still there, is not as prominent as before, ride quality varies from vehicle to vehicle and the famed “comfort-first” suspension has gone through a series of evolutionary changes from generation to generation.
It is on the reliability and servicing fronts though that Citroën has been keen on improving, especially in South Africa after relaunching its operations under the then-PSA Group in 2019.
With the establishing of Stellantis last year, which includes a ten-year turnaround plan for each marque, the pressure couldn’t have been greater for a marque whose sales still struggle to break 100 units a month come the monthly Naamsa sales figures.
Less quirk works
Although battered by the apparent improving global semi-conductor crisis, the brand is unlikely to leave South Africa anytime soon as evident by the unveiling of the facelift C5 Aircross last week.
While very much a niche offering in the compact SUV segment, that element of styling, no matter its quirk level, prevails with the same applying the notion of the C5 Aircross being perhaps a bit too “out there” for many mainstream buyers.
Seemingly, the powers-that-be have taken notice as the changes applied to the C5 Aircross has removed some of the divisive edge, but not so as to bland-it up.
In fact, by being comparatively restrained, Citroën has achieved a breakthrough as the Aircross, arguably, stands-out more now than when the original waft into global existence in 2017.
Centre to the external changes is a redesigned grille complete with Citroën’s new chevron logo derived from the C5 X, a new front bumper and thin strip LED headlights designed to appear intertwined with the illuminated grille slates.
The new bumper means the C5 Aircross now comes vertical air intakes on the sides plus a new lower air intake with a blade design motif.
At the rear, Citroën has restyled the bumper and revised the LED taillight clusters, while retaining the chunky plastic cladding and dual exhaust outlets. New 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels complete the exterior transformation.
Interior of many
Inside, the automaker has been just as busy in that is has done away with the gear lever in favour of a toggle switch setup similar to fellow Stellantis marque, Opel’s new Mokka.
Housed within a new centre console that also accommodates the Grip Control mode selector with three settings; Eco, Comfort and Sport, the interior’s other changes include new comfort seats with 15 mm more padding, new fabrics and improved materials.
As before, the C5 Aircross offers-up 720-litres of boot space, which increases to a capacious 1 630-litres with the 60/40 split rear back folded down.
Route of wet and slush
The most impressive attribute though is the 230mm of ground clearance, which couldn’t have come at a better moment as the launch route around Vereeniging, Parys and Vanderbijlpark resembled lakes in places due to the ongoing heavy rains.
Besides hiding otherwise visible potholes strewed across some of the worst roads on the Gauteng/Free State border, the route included a 12km gravel stretch that had become more like slush complete with unearthed sharp tones and ditches.
It was a challenge that failed to upset the front-wheel-drive C5 Aircross much as it simply took the conditions in its stride without “hitting through” or jarring.
Presented with more acceptable tar, the Aircross made full use of what Citroën calls its Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension.
Incorporating hydraulic stops aimed at reducing jolts, the setup did exactly that as bumps and ruts were dampened with such ease that hardly any effects resonated inside the cabin.
In fact, the main source of content is the new ten-inch touchscreen infotainment system on the flagship Shine sampled at launch.
Neat looking and sitting atop a restyled facia with new vents, the system still isn’t the most user-friendly to decipher from the get-go, in addition to retaining the same dated graphics and menus as the previous eight-inch display retained for the entry-level feel derivative.
A standard addition on both models is the configurable 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and dual-zone climate control, whose interface located on said displays won’t be to everyone’s taste either.
As an option, buyers can specify a panoramic sunroof on the shine, which impacts on headroom for taller folk seated at the rear. Given the size of the boot, the restricted headroom and mere acceptable levels of legroom disappoints a bit in light of the C5’s emphasis on comfort.
The opposite is true though of the drivetrain where Citroën has stuck to the combination of its long-serving 1.6 PureTech turbo-petrol engine and six-speed automatic gearbox.
Developing 121kW/240Nm, the engine’s pull is more than sufficient with little lag and decent low-down shove when needed.
For its part, the transmission shifts smoothly, though for spirited occasions, the wonderfully placed touch-sensitive paddle shifters make for a guilty pleasure worth exploiting.
A vehicle that fundamentally did everything right four years ago, the Citroën C5 Aircross remains largely the same, but with a new type of charm thanks to subtle for effective restyling.
Ultimately though, it remains an unfortunate left-field offering unlikely to pose much of a threat for the segment leaders.
However, for those willing to fork out the R633 900 for the feel or the R683 900 for the shine and head against the tide, the C5 Aircross rates as a comfortable and surprisingly capable alternative worth taking.