For me, Citroen has always been a brand that has done things slightly differently. As a child of the, ahem, the late 70s, I saw it as a firm that erred on the side of quirkiness and went against the norm, rather than following the mainstream.
I grew up in the era of the 2CV, GSA, Visa and CX Safari – I’m giving away my age a bit there – and at some point, all of these cars found a home on our family driveway, and one of the things I loved about them was the weird way they were put together.
I loved the CX Safari for the way the hydropneumatic suspension magically made it go up and down, that the steering wheel had one spoke and how the speedo rotated horizontally rather than being a dial. Likewise, the Visa had what can only be described as a coke can-shaped controller next to the steering wheel which managed the wipers, indicators and lights. You had to twist, click and slide the controllers like a game of Bop It. It was unique, it had character, and, as a kid, I found it pretty cool.
Fast-forward more years than I care to remember and we have a new generation of Citroen, where that weird and whacky has been replaced with playing it safe, with buttons and controls that you’d see in many of its rivals or brand partners. Take the C3 Aircross, my new long-termer for example. It’s designed to be a fun, more active version of Citroen’s dinky supermini, yet I can’t help but feel that there was so much they could have done to make it stand out, make it a bit quirkier, make it more fun. I can’t help but feel Citroen has missed a trick here.
Let’s start with the interior. On the face of it, the cabin is a pretty nice place to be. There’s a decent amount of storage for various odds and ends and there are a lot of hard-wearing materials which should cope with whatever’s thrown at it. There is quite a bit of cheap plastic on show, but that’s to be expected.
In terms of tech, there’s a rather dim-witted infotainment screen that manages the satellite navigation, DAB radio, climate control and general car settings. Now I’m firmly in the camp of it being a bad idea to have everything on one screen. It’s distracting when you want to change the cabin temperature or radio station while you’re trying to follow directions on the sat nav at the same time. What’s wrong with having separate controls for the climate control?
Also, when you get warning messages they dominate the screen for what feels like an eternity. It’s an issue I found while I was using the sat nav and was approaching an exit on the motorway which had several turns off; I went to look at the screen at which point a message flagged up saying I was too close to the car in front. I couldn’t see where I had to turn, missed the junction and spent the next ten minutes cursing the system. The screen also gets blocked when the auto wipers are deactivated, so if you notch the wipers down to clear the screen once, your infotainment screen is blocked by a message too.
The other irritant I’ve found over the last five and a half thousand miles I’ve done over the last month or so is the cupholders. As you can imagine with that mileage, I’ve had my fair share of petrol station coffees, but when I put them in the cupholder, it doesn’t leave enough space for my hand to operate the handbrake and I end up scraping my knuckles on the cup lid. It’s not a major issue – I’ve found another way of using the handbrake – but it’s not exactly graceful.
Now at this point, you may be thinking my opinion is that I’m not a huge fan of the C3 Aircross. That’s not necessarily the case. I can see where it fits in with small families in particular who need a relatively compact on the outside, but spacious on the inside runaround. I drove it around London a few weeks back, and it was perfect for nipping in and out of traffic and parking was an absolute doddle, made even easier thanks to the reversing camera. Plus, the running costs are pretty low thanks to the three-cylinder petrol engine which is really well suited to urban driving.
The next few months will have been spent heading up and down the country so we’ll update on what it’s like on the motorway and how it copes with life as a video support car.