Citroen’s hybridised C5 Aircross loses none of its SUV practicality
While believing that fully electric vehicles are an inevitability of present and future transport legislation, Iain Robertson welcomes hybrid technology not just for its ‘best of both worlds’ premise but also for convenience and real-time frugality.
At various stages in Citroen’s history, the French brand has been a tremendous innovator. It was kick-started by the Light 15 model, which was also produced at a factory in Slough Trading Estate prior to the location becoming home to Mars (the confectionery firm). Of equal import were the ID and DS line-ups. Often described variously as the most beautiful, the most advanced, the most aerodynamic, the most ahead-of-its-time and the most complicated of late-1950s motorcars, they led an entire era of car production, not just for Citroen.
However, DS was as much landmark as landmine for the company. Forced into liquidation and subsequent French government rescue, Citroen continued to lead the market in many ways: the use of advanced plastics in its cars; the development of lightweight manufacturing technology; and (naturally) suspension and ride quality developments (some of them still used by Rolls-Royce). However, during the mid-1990s, its partnership with Peugeot several years old but still with a French government stake, Citroen went numb.
Corporate mentality took a hold. Innovation was a costly and unnecessary activity, when contrasted with sales volumes aimed at improving a domestic market share. It did seem as though all of the life force had been sucked from Citroen. Shared platform strategies (a la VW) and even adopting a German taunting advertising programme did little for its status, even though the C4 Picasso MPV became an immense success story.
For many years, Citroen’s C5 model was a mid-size family car that simply did not sell in enough numbers to warrant its continuation. In fact, spotting survivors is more of a challenge than finding ‘Herbie’ (an in-car game for all children and fans of the VW Beetle!). Citroen needed to effect a serious change and the burgeoning SUV scene has provided it, as much as it has provided salvation to any number of other niche brands. Provided with the firm’s patented, if slightly more subtle ‘air bumps’ (the side and bumper rubbing strips that dominated on the Cactus model), a loftier driving position and SUV status, the resultant Aircross version weighs into the busiest segment of the crossover sector. It ought not bode well but actually does, making the latest C5 easily the most popular ever of the model name.
Based interestingly on the same group platform as the Peugeot 3008 but retaining front, as opposed to four-wheel drive (by using a second electric motor on the rear axle), helps to keep the Citroen less complex and more affordable. It is certainly a most handsome estate car, with its slim LED headlamps and chrome trimmed ‘Double Chevron’ frontal aspect, and the attractive applications of metallicised window surrounds on the flanks. However, its place in the SUV scene is enhanced with the tall body, side protection and slightly higher ground clearance.
While a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo version kicks off the line-up, it is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘180’ motor that powers the pricier but exceptionally well-specified hybrid model that goes on sale in early-2020. Alongside its optimised but conventional engine is an 80kW electric motor feeding a 200V lithium-ion battery pack located amidships below the car’s floor. Featuring plug-in technology provides the C5 with an EV-only range of around 31 miles and a seriously low 39g/km CO2 rating, with upwards of 130mpg potential. It is not zero-rated for toll-free passage through the centre of London and owners will have to pay a small amount of road tax annually but it needs never to engage its petrol engine in a built-up area.
Driving through an electrified e-EAT 8-speed transmission, a combined 222bhp is delivered to the front wheels, which is enough to propel the fairly weighty C5 to a top speed of around 130mph, despatching the 0-60mph dash in approximately 7.7s. Brake energy regeneration helps to top-up the battery during normal motoring and it also uses an in-built 7kW charging system that reduces plug-in recharging to a mere two hours using a matched domestic, or publicly accessible charging post.
Naturally, the driver can monitor power usage on the 12.3-inch programmable dashboard display, including energy flow, remaining charge and other parameters that include hybrid management and an ‘e-save’ facility that aids overall efficiency, to maximise the frugality of the hybrid drivetrain. The centre stack is topped by a ‘floating’ large format screen that provides access to all electrical and electronic functions in the car, including its sound system. Connectivity is a vital aspect of the installation and owners will be encouraged to download the My Citroen app, which can also control the vehicle remotely, for heating, warm-up and security. The in-built sat-nav is optimised with all recharging points being noted and a graphic that provides a practical operational radius to make the most use of plug-in points and maintain a ‘zero emissions’ status, as much as its system will allow.
The driving position in the new C5 is much higher than in some SUVs but the cabin is exceptionally comfortable for up to five adults, with copious adjustability of the driver’s seat and steering column. An already exceptional 600-litres of boot space can be augmented to van-like capacity with the folding and removable rear seats, which are produced from lightweight but sturdy materials to enhance the car’s overall practicality.
The C5 drives imperiously but with pleasantly weighted controls that afford a relaxing and leggy gait. If there is but one minor issue, it lies in its suspension, which is not damped as well as you might expect a Citroen to be, despite the inclusion of its ‘air cushion’ bump-stops. It manages to conduct itself comfortably; just do not push it too hard. It does seem as though Citroen has not only been very thoughtful about its colourfully different SUV but also determined to demonstrate that it is capable of moving on the game, even though it was a relative latecomer to the party.
Conclusion: Handsome and capable, Citroen’s big crossover model addresses today’s driving needs to perfection. Its hybrid tech can be a conscience saver but, combined with petrol engineering, it remains practical and convenient.