Chirpy C3 Aircross

packing plenty

Citroen C3 Aircross, front, static
Citroen C3 Aircross, side, static
Citroen C3 Aircross, side
Citroen C3 Aircross, rear, static
Citroen C3 Aircross, rear, action
Citroen C3 Aircross, interior

THE good old mumsy-looking Citroen C3 Picasso did first rate job.

A family wagon with a pleasant disposition, plenty of space and anodyne styling offended no-one and chalked up 65,000 sales in Britain.

But it was hardly likely to attract style aficionados or trendy young couples - more like growing families and pensioners.

With a tidal wave of SUVs sweeping the nation, it was only a matter of time before the MPV Picasso was dropped, to be replaced by a high-riding, chunky five door pretending to be an off-roader.

The new C3 Aircross is exactly that... and it has almost the same luggage and passenger space as the outgoing Picasso, thanks to its tall stance and square off tail.

In true Citroen style, it is quirky, bright and chirpy with a myriad of possible colour customising opportunities for both the cabin and the exterior.

Engine choice comprises three petrol versions - 81bhp, 108bhp, and 128bhp - and two diesels with either 98bhp or 128bhp.

Both diesels have emissions of below 110g/km and the petrol models are below 120g/km, allowing reasonable tax and low cost running.

Prices start at just below £14,000 and extend to the £20,000 mark for the Flair, which has the top trim level of the three versions available. Prices work out at about £1,500 higher than the respective C3 hatch.

The miniscule 1.2-litre petrol three-cylinder in 130bhp guise is similar to that used across the Peugeot range and is a real gem with bags of torque and an ability to rev smoothly through the range.

Performance is lusty with a 10-second dash to 60mph and a 124mph maximum.

It's the sort of willing unit that just likes to be pushed, although it is equally happy pottering around in traffic. The standard six-speed gearbox is pleasant enough to use with quite high ratios, making cruising at motorway speed quite relaxed.

Despite its height, and gound clearance extended by 5cm over the C3 hatch, cornering is sure and relatively roll-free.

In fact, the Aircross feels more agile and athletic than the recently revamped hatch with good suppression of bumps and a comfortable ride.

Less pleasing is the steering which feels somewhat numb, passing little road information back to the helm.

It is no surprise to discover Citroen doesn't offer the option of four-wheel-drive. Instead the Aircross gets a combination of Grip Control, hill decent and all-season tyres at a cost of £400 extra.

The cabin is unusual and different to any of its rivals and all the better for it. There's lots of coloured plastic and cloth inserts and a distinctly youthful look that is both efficient and welcoming.

The seats are soft, but supportive and the back seat splits and slides forward to expand boot capacity to a generous 520litres.

The Aircross, built on a Peugeot 2008 platform and made alongside the Vauxhall Crossland X in Spain, is among the most spacious compact SUVs around.

There's also plenty of wide door pockets, cubbies and bottle holders for the inevitable family clutter.

Both the mid-level Feel model and the topline Flair, come with central touchscreen which can run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

I also had opportunity to try the 1.6-litre diesel which develops the same power as the three-cylinder PureTech 1.2 petrol, although its characteristics are rather different.

With greater torque there's less need to row through the gears, but the engine is less smooth and at idle you can't mistake the telltale diesel clatter.

With a heavier front end, due to the extra weight of the diesel unit, handling feels less nimble.

Fun to look at, and more fun to drive than you'd ever expect, the C3 Aircross broadens Citroen's family appeal to a younger audience.

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