France. What are the things that come to mind when one thinks of the Gallic region? The finer things in life, for the most part. Wine. From Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Beaujolais. Cheese. Camembert, Roquefort, Comté, Brie and Bleu d’Auvergne. Art. Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Degas, and Rodin. Fashion. Givenchy, Chanel, Balmain, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo, Lanvin, Dior and many others.
In fact, for all its moderate size (France is about as big as the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh put together), the country is home to more than its fair share of fashion, fine art, good food, beautiful old palaces and museums, and some of the best films produced anywhere in the world. And if that weren’t enough already, France even makes some of the best fighter jets on the planet; three dozen Rafale jets, made by Dassault Aviation, will be fully operational with the Indian Air Force by 2023.
While the above is all very impressive, France isn’t exactly the first country you think of when talking about cars. In Europe, Italy does dramatic supercars that inspire lust, Germany has a well-earned reputation for high-performance automotive engineering excellence, and the UK is known for its luxury and sports cars. France? Er.. most people, at least in India, wouldn’t know much about French car brands at all. But Citroën wants to change that. Part of Stellantis N.V. founded recently via the merger of Groupe PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, French carmaker Citroën has entered the Indian car market with its first offering, the five-seater C5 Aircross SUV.
Set up in 1919, Citroën is more than a hundred years old and knows a thing or two about making cars. The company has a fair number of memorable, iconic cars to its name, including the 2CV, the H Van and the unmatched DS, which featured bits like hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension, disc brakes and semi-automatic transmission, back in the mid-1950s. Some things we take for granted on modern cars – front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and monocoque construction – were all pioneered by the French manufacturer many decades ago.
So now that we’ve established its manufacturer’s credentials, let’s come to the C5 Aircross itself. It’s a five-door, five-seater family SUV that, says Citroën, is built for comfort rather than outright sportiness. With its gentle curves, rounded lines and prominent air dams at the front and on the sides, the C5 has a different design ethos as compared to some of its more aggressively styled competitors. There’s no AMG-, RS- or M-spec aggression here; the Citroën is the kinder, gentler alternative that easy on the eyes. Stylish, without being forceful, the C5 establishes a quiet presence that will get you noticed. Posturing, trash talking and elbowing others in the ribs in order to get to the front is not the Citroën’s style; the C5 would much rather let its abilities do the talking.
Under its hood, the India-spec C5 Aircross gets a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel that makes 175 horsepower and 400Nm of torque, with a claimed fuel efficiency of 18.6kpl. Power goes to the front wheels only (no 4WD here), via a slick and efficient 8-speed automatic transmission. For those who insist on rowing through the gearbox on their own, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters allow you to shift gears manually. We were quite happy with the automatic transmission’s responses though and did not bother with the manual mode.
The C5 rolls on handsome 18-inch alloy wheels, which are shod with adequately meaty 235/55 tyres that provide ample grip at high speeds. Where things really get interesting, spec-wise, is the C5’s suspension. The C5 Aircross gets a McPherson strut setup at the front, with double progressive hydraulic cushions for compression and rebound damping. At the back, there’s a twist-beam axle with single progressive hydraulic cushions for compression damping. Sounds complicated? Just ignore the jargon. All you need to know is, the C5’s suspension works beautifully on our roads – potholes, sharp-edged ridges, speed bumps and badly-surfaced tarmac are all dispatched with ease, with the C5’s occupants cocooned in total comfort at all times. This is the ‘magic carpet ride’ that many carmakers aspire to and which Citroën has managed to provide with the C5.
In addition to that very well-tuned suspension, the C5’s seats also help with boosting the comfort factor. The seats, fed on a full-fat diet of two different types of foam (high-density foam at the core, topped with a thick, textured foam at the surface), are properly plush and comfortable. The driver’s seat is power-adjustable while all the three seats at the back are individually adjustable (for fore and aft movement and recline) and can be folded down to create additional space for luggage. While boot space is already quite generous at 580 litres, it increases to a massive 1630 litres with the rear seats folded away. And all that space is easily accessible; the handsfree electric tailgate can be opened up by moving your foot under the rear bumper and can be closed at the touch of a button.
Once ensconced in the C5’s driver’s seat, your attention is drawn to its dual digital displays, both of which are customisable. The 12.3-inch colour TFT instrument panel is bright and legible, conveying relevant vehicle information without fuss, while the 8-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system allows you to control the aircon, radio and any devices connected via USB. The infotainment screen also shows the reverse camera display and controls the ‘park assist’ feature for parallel parking, with automatic steering control. It’s also fully compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, can mirror your smartphone to display compatible apps and some features can be voice-controlled.
The Citroën C5 also scores high on safety, with a long list of safety equipment that includes front, side and curtain airbags, ABS, traction control, stability control, ISOFIX child seat mounts, front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera and auto door unlock in the event of a crash.
From behind the wheel, the C5 Aircross feels soft, plush and comfortable. Remember, comfort is what the C5 has been designed to deliver, which it does effortlessly. Irregularities on the tarmac are mostly ironed out flat; the C5 often surprises you with the way it managed to brush off ridges and potholes and other assorted bumps that are found in abundance on our roads. And while it’s not exactly designed to scorch around the Le Mans circuit, the C5 never feels dull either. Its 175-horsepower diesel pulls strongly across the rev range and moving the C5 from ‘eco’ to ‘sport’ mode makes a noticeable difference in terms of throttle response and the urgency with which the C5 accelerates.
The front-wheel-drive C5 isn’t all-out sporty but isn’t intimidated by fast corners either and can hold its own if the driver wants to indulge in a spot of spirited driving. It’s softly sprung, yes, but is surefooted and doesn’t weave or wallow all over the place if it’s being hustled along at higher speeds. The C5 has a ‘grip control’ feature, with standard, snow and all-terrain settings, with the last one being optimised for driving on mud and damp grass etc. However, you’d do well to remember this isn’t a 4×4 and simply isn’t meant for hardcore off-road use.
To sum up, we think the C5 Aircross is a thoughtfully designed SUV, which focuses on the one thing that really matters for the vast majority of users; comfort. The C5’s ride quality and finesse over bad roads is in a league of its own, its cabin is well-appointed and feels premium, and the three independently adjustable seats at the back can be quite useful when carrying a full load of passengers and their luggage.
While Citroën will start with a relatively small dealer network and grow gradually, the French company promises to deliver world-class levels of aftersales support and customer satisfaction. With a 3-year/100,000km warranty on its vehicles, and 24/7 roadside assistance, Citroën wants to offer peace of mind to its customers, along with a hassle-free ownership experience. Official prices have not been announced yet, but we believe the C5 will be priced at around Rs 28-32 lakh, depending on the variant. For those who are willing to forego the comfortable familiarity offered by automotive brands that are already well established in India and want to get a taste of Citroën’s considerable gallic charms, you simply cannot go wrong with the C5 Aircross.