With a history spanning over 100 years, Citroen finally makes an entry into the Indian market with a long-term plan. Question is, can their first product – the C5 Aircross – appeal to Indian customers? And what does it tell us about Citroen’s future plans for India?
When we talk about automotive history, there are very few brands that have a history as rich and as old as Citroen’s run of manufacturing cars since 1919. For example, two of the world’s biggest automotive manufacturers today – VW and Toyota – came into existence much later than Citroen. But, of course, most Indians are not very aware of the brand, and that’s true for most French automotive brands, with the exception of Renault which has carved a niche in the Indian market. However, no longer able to ignore the growth that India has been witnessing, Citroen has finally made an entry into the Indian market. But, with a quintessentially French approach towards cars which is quite different from what Indian customers are used to, can Citroen’s C5 Aircross strike at the heart of Indian car buyers? Well, let’s find out.
Technological tour de force
A fascinating aspect of Citroen’s history is how much cutting-edge technology has been developed by the brand over the past century. This, of course, begins with the Traction Avant – which, in 1934, was the first mass-produced car to feature a crash-resistant monocoque body, alongside independent front suspension and front-wheel drive. This was followed up by the iconic 2CV which, with its quirky design and suspension designed to deal with lack of good roads in Europe after WW II, became an icon in itself. Of course, for me, the highlight of the Citroen lineup has been the DS. An iconic car that at its launch nearly 50 years ago, was so futuristic in both design and technology, that a critic at the time remarked that the DS looked like it had dropped from the sky.
Of course, with the gap in technology between brands not being as large as it used to be half a century ago, Citroen’s first offering in India is mostly familiar to the technology that we are used to. But it is unique when it comes to its design and the ethos behind the experience that it promises to offer customers.
Not the SUV you’re used to
Now, Citroen refers to the C5 Aircross as an SUV, but one look at it and you can tell that the C5’s styling is not the kind of butch, in-your-face-design that’s commonplace. In fact, I would say that the accurate way of describing the C5 would be that it’s a crossover, rather than a pure SUV. When it comes to design, the front of the C5 is dominated by the large chrome strips which are a part of Citroen’s legendary double-chevron logo. Also interesting are the lights, which are arranged in a three-layered setup that include the DRL’s, headlights and fog lamps.
When viewed in profile, there are a couple of things that work very well for the C5’s design. One, positioned at each corner, the 18-inch wheels shod with 235-section tyres fill the wheel arches of the C5 very well and give the car a broad stance. Another surprising fact about the C5 is that while you can’t tell from its design, it does offer a huge 230mm of ground clearance, which will be very useful on our broken roads. In fact, for our shoot, we did take the C5 off the road and on to a path where there were very deep ruts, but not once did the C5 scrape anywhere.
At the back, the LED taillights of the C5 look fantastic, while the tail gate’s design is well balanced and also features another variation of the brand’s double-chevron logo. Many design highlights of the C5’s exterior also stand out for their attention-to-detail. For example, the plastic body cladding running across the exterior does give the design a bit of a rugged look, while the door cladding, with its contrast-finished surfaces, is an interesting touch. And while it might not be a typical SUV design, I have to say that the C5 is a handsome looking car which will appeal to many customers.
Comfort, practicality and six-packs
Measuring 2.1-metres in width and with a height of 1.7-metres, the C5 is the widest and tallest product in its segment and interior space in the C5 is quite ample. This is evident the minute you sit inside the cabin and marvel at the amount of headroom available. I would think that even people measuring well over six feet will have no problem getting comfortable inside the C5’s cabin. However, despite measuring 4.5-metres in length, the C5 only offers two rows of seating. On the other hand, with a boot space measuring 580-litres with all seats used, and a humongous 1,630-litres with the 2nd row folded, the C5 does offer the largest boot in its class. The availability of space also continues inside the cabin, which has various cubbies to store your belongings, including a humongous storage space under the front armrest, which I can think can alone hold a weekend’s travel gear for a solo traveller like me.
Of course, given Citroen’s focus on human comfort, the interior also offers many design quirks that are designed to provide maximum comfort. The first example of that is the seats, the stitching pattern on which makes them look like the seats are showing off their six-packs! But, to enhance comfort, Citroen has provided the C5’s seats with an extra 15mm of padding, and from the minute to plant yourself in the seats, you can tell that they are extremely comfortable. The rear seat of the C5 is also unique, as it features 3 seats which can be adjusted independently of each other. This means if need be, you can fold 1, 2 or 3 seats, or even adjust them for legroom for all occupants independently. And while the rear seats don’t offer the best-in-class legroom, the VW Tiguan AllSpace trumps it there, the amount of space available is more than adequate. Similarly, the gear lever of the C5 is also a unique design, which is quite ergonomic to hold, and once you get used to its operation, it is something that you begin using intuitively without looking at it.
When it comes to the rest of the interior, the C5 is full of intuitive touches and innovative detailing. The various surfaces are well-finished, and the overall quality feels quite excellent. The instrument cluster is a 12.3-inch touchscreen which offers switchable displays, and the multimedia system is controlled by a centrally mounted 8-inch touchscreen. If I do have an issue with the interior, it has to be the climate control system which can only be controlled via the touchscreen. Now, I’m no fan of touchscreens in cars and adjusting the climate control via a touchscreen while driving is something I constantly abhor. Sure, the close positioning of the C5’s touchscreen makes it somewhat easier, but I think dedicated manual controls are still something that should be made mandatory on all cars.
When it comes to powertrain choices, the C5 will only be available in one engine-gearbox combo with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel producing 175bhp and 400Nm of torque and paired with an 8-speed gearbox. Interestingly Citroen claims that it’s the most efficient engine in its class with a claimed fuel efficiency of 18.6km/l, something that will be interesting to measure in a longer test. Of course, keeping its crossover roots in mind, the C5 will be front-wheel drive only. But, to help those who might take the C5 on adventurous terrain, it does come fitted with Citroen’s Grip Control system which provides modes for different road conditions – Snow, Mud, Sand etc. – and also switchable driving modes such as Eco and Sport.
On the road, the C5’s engine is a refined unit and the NVH levels inside the cabin are well controlled. With 400Nm of torque available from 2,000rpm, the C5 responds to throttle inputs quite urgently and one of the best aspects of the C5’s drivetrain is the 8-speed gearbox that shifts quickly and seamlessly. Combine the fast-shifting gearbox with ample torque and power from the engine, and the C5 is a comfortable mile-muncher. Another aspect that’s remarkable is the isolation inside the cabin from the outside world, with extra sound deadening and treatment to the interior, the C5 does isolate you very well.
With Citroen’s well-known expertise in suspension tech, it’s no surprise that the C5’s ride quality is quite stellar, no matter the kind of road you’re travelling on. Helping enhance the ride quality is Citroen’s expertise in hydraulics, and each shock absorber of the C5 has an added hydraulic stop to it which improves the ride on bad roads. But unlike some cars with terrific ride quality, the C5 also has very good high-speed stability which makes it an excellent highway cruiser. However, being front-wheel drive only, there can be quite a bit of torque steer if you’re pushing the C5 in corners, courtesy it’s 400Nm of torque and that can be a bit annoying. But, when it comes to the ride quality, the C5 does feel superior to the Tiguan AllSpace and the Tucson – which Citroen says are the C5’s arch-rivals.
An exciting era ahead
Having spent a day with the C5, there are aspects of the car that stand out appreciably. For instance, I quite like the design of the C5 – it’s modern, it has a terrific attention to detail, it’s definitely designed by real humans for other real humans and it’s clear the C5 is aimed at a mature set of customers, who value the overall experience rather than the just the butch image of an SUV. Also, after driving the C5 for an extended period, we think the comfort provided by the seats is quite exceptional and that is a major highlight for someone with a weak back, like me. And with 230mm of ground clearance, the C5 handles bad roads, speed breakers and potholes very effectively.
Of course, there are also a few shortcomings. For instance, for a lot of customers, the C5 might just not be stylistically aggressive enough. Two, the diesel-only option will alienate some customers. But the C5 should be viewed more in the aspect of Citroen using the small-scale manufacturing of the C5 as a key tool to set up their presence in India. Already, the C5’s engine and axles are produced in Citroen’s plant and the whole car is assembled in their assembly plant in Tamilnadu with ever-increasing localisation.
Moreover, with an engine and an assembly plant already up and running, the C5 is here not just to introduce customers to the Citroen brand, but also to assure them that the C5 serves not only as a product establishing the Citroen brand but also as a precursor to an extensive product range which will be launched in the Indian market over the next few years. To put it in a more Indian way of saying things, think of the C5 as a trailer to the actual movie that will play out over the next few years. And with Citroen’s focus on comfort, I, for one, am really looking forward to the C5 and Citroen’s upcoming range of products.
- Citroen C5 Aircross
X-Factor: The C5 Aircross might not be your typical butch SUV, but with quality, refinement and comfort, it certainly is an SUV worth watching out for.
• Terrific comfort
• Mature design