Citroën is back and I could not be happier

I would have thought that the whole of South Africa cried a little tear the day Citroën left the country back in 2016, but as it turns out, according to Citroën’s MD, Xavier Gobille, most customers didn’t actually notice.

This might come down to the fact that Citroën has not done particularly well in this country, which is astounding seeing as it occupies 18% of the market share in Europe. Together with Peugeot, Citroën occupies just 1% in SA.

But Citroën is back and I could not be happier. If anything because it is an off-the-wall brand that will be a breath of fresh air amongst its somewhat mundane competitors. Not to mention its 100-year legacy that we need to be a part of.

What is the Citroën line up?

Citroën has hit the ground running with the introduction of three new models. We have the Polo/Fiesta-competing C3, the T-Cross/Captur-competing C3 Aircross, and the Tiguan/Sportage-competing C5 Aircross. I hopped over to a rather brown Gauteng to sample all of these models. But I am going to chat about the C3 Aircross because I know it will be one that generates a lot of interest. Also, having just driven the newly-launched Volkswagen T-Cross, I thought it appropriate.

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Citroën C3 Aircross

If quirky and funky appeal to you, then just look at this car:

There isn’t anything quite like it on the market. And this is exactly the way Citroën wants it. This is a brand that, unlike most of its competitors, has not set out to please everybody.

It’s all about being different and feeling good. Citroën doesn’t want to offer a mainstream car and unlike its competitors, I can confidently say they have succeeded in making a car that truly stands out.

The choice is not yours

As much as I love the look of this car, there is one part of it I am not sold on. It is the Spicy Orange pack which you don’t have a choice but to opt for. The orange accents aren’t my favourite, but what I truly dislike are the orange ‘venetian blinds’ on the small back windows. Not only do they block your view as a driver, but as a passenger, you’ll feel as if you’re wearing a pair of Kanye West Shutter glasses from the 80s.

Citroën isn’t phased by this lack of choice. In fact, it is was a decision they didn’t take lightly. The bottom line is that if you want to drive a Citroën, whether it be the C3, C3 Aircross or C5 Aircross, you best get on board the two-tone red roof and the Spicy Orange pack. It is a tad confusing for me. For a brand that wants its customers to be different and stand out, they are asking them to conform to a certain degree. No customisation here folks.

Making up for it

So you have to love orange to buy this car, so what? I can look past it when I climb inside (if I just overlook the orange accents inside). The cabin is uncluttered and simple. It feels and looks well-built. Although, traveling on a gravel road highlighted a number of rattles, but I would argue that most cars in this segment would experience the same.

Citroën C3 Aircross

The seats are incredibly comfortable. They are probably some of the softest car seats I have ever sat on. My bum approves. When it comes to space, Citroën has given this a lot of thought. The rear bench, like on T-Cross, slides forward. But what the C3 Aircross has over its competitors, is that the 60/40 split seats can slide and fold independently of each other. This is only available on the Shine model. Which if you have and you slide the seats forward, you will get a whopping 520-litres of boot space. The Feel model gives you 410-litres.

Engine of choice

You don’t have a choice here either, but that helps with keeping things simple. Under the bonnet of the C3 Aircross is the award-winning 1.2 PureTech 81 kW turbopetrol engine. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. As much as I want to say that this is a fantastic little engine, it does suffer up in the JHB altitude and so overtaking can be really tricky. One seriously needs to prepare for such a manoeuvre. But then again, the performance numbers (81 kW and 205 Nm) are on par with some of its rivals. This isn’t, after all, a segment that boasts performance.

The bells and whistles

Citroën is throwing it all at you with these two models in the hope you’ll look past some of its tough competitors. The entry-level Feel sees all the usual features plus some goodies such as a seven-inch touchscreen radio, rear park sensors, Driver Attention Alert and six airbags. But it is the Shine model that will, um, shine. This gets all the bells and whistles such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Smart Entry and Keyless Start, Navigation, Auto Rain Sensors, and Climate Control.

Should you buy one?

I say, “Hell yes!” Because not only will get a great product that does everything it can to stand out from the crowd, but Citroën needs to be prove itself and Gobille himself assured us motoring media that this is exactly what they are going to do. With the standard Citroën Serenity, you will get five-years/100 000 km warranty and service plan. Gobille also assures that every Peugeot dealer has been trained to service a Citroën so you won’t need to wait too long for your repairs. If your car is going to take longer than 48 hours to repair, you will get a courtesy car.

And the most assured I have ever been made to feel by any head of any manufacturer, is when Gobille told us that he is doing everything he can to ensure his customers only experience the best service. So much so that if his dealers don’t take care of these customers, he will take money away from them. One thing is for sure, I don’t think we need to worry about Citroën leaving the country again, not with Gobille at the helm.

Pricing

C3 Aircross 1.2 81 kW PureTech Feel: R339 900
C3 Aircross 1.2 81 kW PureTech Shine: R359 900