If you’ve got ₹40 lakh to spare for comfort and luxury on wheels, which car would you buy? An SUV or a sedan? Or, in this context, the quirky Citroën C5 Aircross or the sublime Skoda Superb?
Got ₹40 lakh burning a hole in your Burberry blazer? Want to own a luxury car without paying the exorbitant prices that luxury cars demand? Well, if that’s the case then the French newcomer in India, Citroën, will have you believe that its latest and only offering in the country – the C5 Aircross – is all that you’ll ever need in life. Now, now, to Citroën’s credit, there’s some truth to it. We’ve already driven the C5, and it definitely offers comfort like no other SUV in its segment. However, there is another side to the story.
You see, if comfort and luxury are your top priority, why limit your options to a high-riding SUV? If you don’t have a strange obsession with SUVs, why not explore other options? Why not take a look at the Skoda Superb? It’s a premium sedan that can give the C5 a run for its money. Need convincing? Well, let me explain how.
Sublime vs Quirky
On the aesthetic front, the Citroën and Skoda take different paths – something that is quite obvious. While the Superb is a mix of sporty and elegant lines, the C5 is all about French quirkiness, as it looks quite unconventional – it’s not brash or in-your-face like other SUVs. Instead, the C5’s design has a calming effect on your senses. The Superb, on the other hand, has the right amount of aggression, and yet, at the same time, it also manages to look subtle and understated. In the L&K trim that we have here, it seems more luxury car-like, thanks to all the chrome detailing.
The Superb is nearly 4.9m long, whereas the Citroën measures 4.5m. With a longer wheelbase than the C5 and a low-slung stance, the Skoda definitely looks posher, too. That said, though, it’s the C5 that will grab more eyeballs, owing to its striking design and double-chevron logo. So, if you want exclusivity, the C5 appears to have an edge over the Superb.
Luxury vs Space
Both vehicles are closely matched in terms of cabin quality and creature comforts. The Superb’s dashboard is neatly laid out and oozes high quality. Upholstery options in the top-of-the-line L&K variant include a stone beige and a black theme (which you see on these pages), while a coffee brown-and-black combo is optional. All the seats are wrapped in leather, and the front ones are ventilated. The two-spoke leather-wrapped steering looks and feels classy, and other elements – like a fully-digital virtual cockpit driver display, a premium Canton 11-speaker sound system, 12-way electrically-adjustable front seats, a 360-degree camera, and adaptive LED headlamps – give the cabin a rich and luxury-car like feel. The Superb’s cabin definitely feels more luxurious.
The C5’s cabin, on the other hand, is more of an acquired taste. There is nothing conventional about it. Just like the exterior, the C5’s cabin is full of funky design elements, but, thankfully, it’s not overdone. I love the part leather and part fabric grey-black upholstery – a nice and classy assault on the commonplace of black, brown, and beige.
Most of the elements inside – whether it’s the instrument cluster, ac vents, steering wheel, or buttons on it – are cube-shaped. It’s quite apparent that these block-like structures are the running theme of the vehicle’s design, both inside and out. The overall quality and fit-and-finish levels are excellent – it feels every bit as well built as the Skoda, if not more.
The touchscreen is crisp, but it isn’t as intuitive as the Skoda’s unit. There’s no home button on it either, albeit it does get quick access for navigation, media, air-conditioning, and more controls via the buttons below the screen. As we’ve already experienced in many other cars, touch controls for AC are a major distraction while driving in the C5 too.
Apart from a few missing features compared to the Superb – such as an electrically-adjustable front passenger seat, an auto-dimming driver’s side outside mirror, a wireless phone charger, and three-zone climate control (the C5 has dual-zone) – the Citroën and Skoda are quite evenly matched in terms of standard features and equipment. In fact, in some areas, the C5 even betters the Superb. For example, unlike the Superb, it has a panoramic sunroof and multiple driving and terrain modes on offer.
Despite being a smaller vehicle, the Citroën feels quite spacious inside. Sure, in the Skoda you can stretch your legs fully, but the upright seating positing of the C5, along with Citroën’s well-padded seats, offer more comfort over long drives. And when it comes to the rear bench space, well, there’s no beating the C5!
With three individual sliding chairs at the back, the C5 is the clear winner here in terms of backseat space and comfort. Sure, the under-thigh support could’ve been better, and tall passengers sitting in either corner will find the curving roof to be a bit close to their heads, but overall, the sense of space and comfort that it offers is unmatched.
The party piece of the Skoda’s rear bench is its luxury quotient – it feels like a big sedan, almost as good as the Audi A6. The seats are spacious and cushiony, with better under-thigh support. There is also an armrest, which is missing in the Citroën, and, unlike the C5, you can change the temperature as per your convenience. The best thing is the ‘Boss buttons’, which can be used by the rear passenger to recline and slide the front passenger seat by using electric controls. Simply clever indeed!
Having said that, I must add that the Superb’s rear seat is good for only two adults. The middle seat is as good as nothing, owing to the prominent transmission tunnel. At 625 litres, the Superb’s boot is big enough for your family luggage and a golf kit. The C5’s boot space of 580 litres is equally impressive.
Win Some, Lose Some
Now, you would expect the C5 to be quite uninvolving to drive, given its seemingly hyperbolic boast of the high levels of comfort, but you couldn’t be more wrong! The C5 is rather brilliant and, dare I say, fun to drive. The star of the show is its 175bhp and 400Nm producing 2.0-litre diesel engine and the 8-speed torque converter. The engine and gearbox work together like bees in a beehive – a fair comparison, I’d say, since the performance is sweet as honey. There’s just a teeny-weeny bit of lag below 1,500rpm, but once past that mark, you’ll struggle to find a gap in this powertrain’s performance.
Overall, the drivetrain offers a smooth yet punchy drive. The cabin insulation and refinement are exemplary, but post 3,500rpm, it gets a bit buzzy and audible. You do get a manual mode and chunky paddle shifters behind the wheel. However, the transmission automatically upshifts around 4,800rpm and doesn’t allow you to rev the hell out of the engine to hit the redline. Honestly, you don’t really have to be anywhere close to the redline, for the C5’s mid-range is phenomenal, and whether you find yourself on an open highway or trying to exploit a lucky gap in traffic, you’ll enjoy riding the wave of torque that it offers.
Despite being a front-wheel-drive SUV, the C5’s handling and grip levels are pretty impressive. Body roll does set in early when pushed around curves, but it doesn’t feel nervous or wayward. Surprisingly, the feedback from the steering is pretty decent too – it really took me by surprise. Its braking performance is good, but the brakes have a grabby feel at low speeds, especially in stop-go traffic. That said, given the kind of ride quality it offers, you’ll happily ignore these small niggles. Now, while the ride quality is stellar, it’s not like a magic carpet. At low speeds, encountering sharp bumps will result in a prominent thud; however, it’s just the noise that is problematic, for the ride remains plush. As the speed builds up, the C5’s ride quality gets increasingly better. Once you’re at cruising speeds, the C5 wafts along like a big luxury vehicle. It offers a pliant ride, with phenomenal high-speed stability and top-class noise insulation, and feels rock steady, without being floaty. The manner in which it dismisses road imperfections at these speeds is simply sublime.
In comparison, the Superb’s ride feels busy and decidedly firm at low speeds, but only if you drive it after enjoying the brilliance of the C5. Take out the C5 from the equation, and you’ll struggle to find flaws with the Superb’s ride quality – it glides over bad roads and undulations without any fuss. In fact, the suspension is less noisy than that of the C5 on an unexpected bump. The only trouble is its low ground clearance of 156mm, which is considerably less than the C5’s 230mm. Not that it scrapes its underbelly easily, but taking it over tricky spots will make you wince.
While the lower ride height of a sedan may seem problematic in the rainy season, it turns out to be a strong suit around corners, especially at high speeds. The Superb is no exception. It may have a suspension that’s softly sprung and tuned for comfort, but the Superb can easily show a clean pair of heels to the C5 when the road starts to twist and turn. There’s a noticeable body roll as you start pushing it hard around turns, but it’s still a sedan, which means that it feels more planted and is dynamically more superior. Even though the steering is light, it’s quite precise. Similarly, at high speeds, it remains supremely planted and rides beautifully – at least as good as the Citroën, if not more.
The Skoda’s 2.0-litre TSI motor is clubbed with a snappy 7-speed gem. Since it’s a petrol motor, it’s peppier, more refined, higher-revving, and more responsive. Turbo lag is more pronounced at lower rpm though, and the dual-clutch auto’s fussy nature at low speeds doesn’t help it either. During our test, part-throttle inputs, in stop-go traffic, confused the gearbox quite often. But otherwise, it’s lightning quick.
Coming back to the engine, with 188bhp and 320Nm on tap, it’s a powerhouse. There’s a solid performance kick once the turbo starts spooling (2,000rpm onwards), and then it can rev all the way to the redline. Unlike the Citroën’s engine, which hates to be revved hard, this engine takes, and offers, pleasure in being thrashed in each gear. The 7-speed DSG gearbox is noticeably quicker, but as I said before, it doesn’t quite have the overall finesse of the 8-speed auto.
The Superb no longer has a diesel engine on offer, which might deter some buyers. However, the same also applies to the diesel-only C5, especially given the fact that the fate of the diesel engine is currently shrouded by clouds of uncertainty.
So, which one? While the answer isn’t that simple this time, it’s the Superb that seems to offer the right balance of comfort and luxury. Not to mention that it offers more thrills of driving. But my problem with the Superb is that it is placed too close to more aspirational German sedans, like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. I know these cars are considerably more expensive, but come year-end deals, and you’ll have discounts ranging from ₹4 – 7 lakh on these luxury offerings. Sure, buying the Superb over an A4 or 3 Series makes a lot more sense if you’re are after comfort and space, but all I am saying is that the temptation of owning a luxury car can sometimes be strong enough to overshadow your needs.
This brings us to the C5. It has an edge over the Superb in terms of space and comfort; however, its cabin lacks that luxury-car like finesse of the Skoda. Yet, the C5 has a strange charm of its own, which somehow is more irresistible. Maybe it’s the quirky looks, or maybe it’s the fact that apart from comfort, it also drives brilliantly. And then there is its biggest USP – the fact that it’s an SUV. But it fails to impress or match the Superb in terms of price. It somehow doesn’t justify or feel like a ₹40-lakh car. Something that the Superb does really well – in fact, it surpasses your expectations. The Citroën surely appeals to the heart more, but it’s the Skoda that makes a more compelling case as an overall package for the mind.
- Citroën C5 Aircross
- Skoda Superb L&K
Engine: 1,997cc / 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 175bhp @ 3,750rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 2,000rpm
Price: ₹38.25 Lakh (On-Road, Delhi)
X-Factor: Quirky, spacious, comfortable, and surprisingly fun-to-drive, the C5 Aircross is a jack of all trades.
• Slightly expensive
Engine: 1,984cc / 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Transmission: 7-Speed DSG / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 188bhp @ 4,200rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1,450 – 4,200rpm
Price: ₹40.38 Lakh (On-Road, Delhi)
X-Factor: If you aren’t badge-obsessed, there’s no beating the Superb, given the kind of luxury & driving pleasure it offers at its price point.
• Ride & handling