Tested: The antidote to boring cars
LESS is more when it comes to the Citroen C3 Aircross. In a small SUV market where competitors offer a multitude of variants of each model, Citroen offers just one.
That vehicle is $32,990 plus on-roads. The price takes it out of the reach of entry-level shoppers but pitches it directly against more expensive front-wheel-drive versions of the Mazda CX-3, Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Kona.
Unlike the Japanese competition, which focuses on flashy external shapes but leave the interior largely vanilla, Citroen's designers have been adventurous inside and the C3 Aircross is more memorable for it.
It is never going to be a top-seller - the Aircross is doing single-digit monthly sales when rivals with a much larger range are doing 1000-plus - but the C3 is not without charm.
A $32,990 list price equates to about $36,000-$37,000 on the road. That's competitive against the major rivals at this price point.
Standard gear includes a six-speed automatic transmission, head-up display, smartphone connectivity, a seven-inch touchscreen with in-built satnav, cruise control and 17-inch alloy wheels.
There's wireless phone charging for compatible devices. It comes at the expense of the central cupholders in the previous C3 but they were rubbish anyway so at least the replacement is practical.
The lack of cupholders is one of the few genuine annoyances in the C3 Aircross. The door pockets will take a bottle and there are reasonable storage spaces but most people will end up nursing their coffee.
Specifying anything but the base colour adds $590 but does include contrasting colours on the mirror caps.
Importer Inchcape has managed to make the base price attractive but the running costs are high for what is an uncomplicated car at $2727 for five years/75,000km, though you can get a 10 per cent discount by paying upfront.
Adding 20mm in ride height and alloy bash plates differentiates the C3 Aircross from the cheaper C3 hatch on which it is based.
The increased ride height makes it one of the most comfortable cars in the class for negotiating speed humps and potholes. The trade-off is the extra movement also introduces more body roll through the turns than harder-suspended rivals.
The seats are a touch flat but there's plenty of powered adjustment to find a decent position and the steering wheel adjusts for reach and height.
The infotainment system isn't the most advanced on the planet but it does what it needs to do - provide satnav directions and interface with Apple and Android smartphones.
The absence of rear air vents is an oversight in a vehicle that otherwise trails only the Honda HR-V for having the most practical rear seat space in the class.
A 410-litre boot is also well above the class average.
EuroNCAP rated the C3 Aircross a five-star vehicle when it was launched in Europe in 2017.
Changes in the crash-testing methodology since then would most likely restrict it to four stars if tested today because the city-speed autonomous emergency braking lacks cyclist/pedestrian detection.
Other standard features include six airbags, blind-spot and lane-departure alerts and a driver inattention warning.
Adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert would be nice at this price.
Plusher suspension than most compact SUVs gives the C3 Aircross a distinct point of difference. It takes the rough edges off urban obstacles and corrugations but does impart more sway through the turns than some rivals.
Ultra-light steering is also a boon in metro environments and there's still enough feedback to know where the front wheels are pointing.
The 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine pushes out decent torque low in the rev range and the six-speed auto is happy to change gears to keep it there as it works unobtrusively up to 60km/h.
Pick up the pace on the highway and you can feel - and hear - the engine starting to labour. Wind and tyre noise also intrude into the cabin at higher speeds.
On back roads the C3 Aircross performs well. Lowdown torque gives it steady punch out of the corners and it's only on chicane-style left-right turn sequences that the body roll becomes evident.
Grip from the tyres is good visibility is generally good and, despite the external look, the venetian-blind style stripes on the rear windows don't block the view.
I don't want a vanilla SUV. This thing has personality and I'm prepared to put up with the quirkiness. Give me something with
Smart specification and a roomy cabin make this a Citroen I could consider. High servicing costs and doubts about resale values are sticking points.
Toyota C-HR Koba from $33,290
The C-HR is another style-driven vehicle with similar outputs (85kW/185Nm) and it's similarly frugal (6.4 litres/100km) but the rear seats are snug and there's not as much boot space.
Mazda CX-3 Akari from $33,500
The segment leader has the looks to impress inside and out but a shortage of rear leg and headroom compromises it for those wanting to regularly transport four bodies.
Honda HR-V RS $31,900
The roomiest, most practical car in the segment, but let down by the absence of safety tech that's standard on most rivals.
A competitive price, cute looks and a comfy ride should put the C3 Aircross on shopping lists for inner city urbanites and empty nesters.
Citroen C3 Aircross
Price: $32,990 plus on-roads
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unlimited km; $2727 for 5 years
Engine: 1.2-litre 3-cyl turbo, 81kW/205Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, blind-spot and lane-departure alerts
Boot: 410 litres