2023 Citroen C5 Aircross review: sharper looks hide new tech and spec and upgraded comfort
Midlife update brings even better comfort plus new specification levels and improved hybrid performance for this flexible family SUV
Throughout its 100-year-plus history, Citroen has been famous for two things - quirky design and supreme comfort.
Sometimes those characteristics have come at the expense of things like driveability and practicality and sometimes the French brand has veered too far the other way, producing bland fare like the old C5 hatchback. But recently it seems to have hit its stride with cars that maintain its core identity while being thoroughly modern and sensible. Cars like the C5 Aircross which in 2019 replaced the dull C5 hatch with a chunky, funky SUV packed with new technology focused on passenger comfort.
The squishy looking Aircross was a welcome alternative to the sea of boxy family SUVs, standing out thanks to its curvy shape. But that was four years ago, an age in car design, so in 2022 the C5 Aircross underwent a bit of an update.
Visually the facelift is the predictable combination of new lights front and rear, a revised version of the double chevron grille plus a sharper lower bumper design, all of which add up to a marginally less cartoony look without totally robbing the C5 Aircross of its identity. Elsewhere there’s some new tech and a new choice of trims.
Compared with some of the wild designs Citroen has come up with in the past, the Aircross’s interior feels fairly sensible. Controls are mostly where you’d expect them, there are plenty of handy storage areas and a calm ambience dominated by the trademark rounded rectangle motif on almost everything. This updated model brings a new 10-inch touchscreen set higher in the dashboard and featuring an upgraded operating system for easier use, which is just as well since pretty much everything is controlled through it.
The fit and finish is a major improvement on Citroens of old but the stars of the interior are the seats. The Advanced Comfort seats were already some of the best in the business but 2022’s model refresh brought an updated version. The multi-layer design uses a high-density foam core and a 15mm layer of memory foam on top to offer just the right balance of cushioning and support. It means even long distance drives don’t become uncomfortable or tiring, helped by some of the best noise insulation in its class.
Playing an equally large role in the soothing feel is the Advanced Comfort Suspension, which is carried over unchanged. This clever approach uses Citroen’s unique progressive hydraulic cushions to soak up lumps and bumps with a refinement that cars twice the price fail to match. On our crumbling roads it’s a welcomingly wafty companion but it does, inevitably, mean that you won’t be chucking it down any B roads with enthusiasm, especially not with the superlight steering offering little in the way of communication.
While front seat comfort and space is almost a given in this segment, the C5 Aircross stands out thanks to the rear layout. Three individual rear seats offer a proper pew for every passenger. You can even fit three child seats in safely. The chairs also slide, recline and fold independently, offering nearly unrivalled flexibility. With the demise of the C4 Grand SpaceTourer last year, this is about as close as you’ll get to a proper MPV these days. Sadly, while there’s plenty of scope for manoeuvring and lots of head and shoulder room, the C5 is outclassed by rivals like the Nissan Qashqai or Honda CR-V when it comes to rear legroom.
Part of the reason for that shortage of legroom is that the C5 Aircross’s boot is a cavernous 580 litres, putting virtually all of its competitors in the shade when it comes to load space. You can even extend this to 720 litres by sliding the rear seats forward.
Beneath the aesthetic and spec updates, the Aircross’s engine line-up remains the same, spearheaded by the trusty PureTech 130 petrol. On paper this 1.2-litre three-cylinder has no place in a mid-sized family SUV but it impresses with its responsiveness and willingness in most circumstances.
While the 130 Puretech remains an impressively competent engine the C5 Aircross is also available with a torquey 1.5-litre diesel offering 53mpg and a plug-in hybrid that uses a 1.6-litre engine and single electric motor to put out a meaty 222bhp.
The PHEV was updated at the end of last year with a larger battery pack (up from 13.2 to 14.2kWh) which takes its all-electric range up from 38 to 41 miles. More importantly, it moves the PHEV from the 12% BIK tax band to the 8% band.
Last year’s update refined the C5 Aircross trim levels so buyers now have a choice of Sense Plus, Shine or C-Series Edition. All cars get the 10-inch touchscreen, smart 1.3-inch digital instruments, LED lights, parking camera and lane keep assist as standard.
The tested Shine spec gets a dark chrome finish to exterior trim and the famous Airbump inserts to protect against car park dings. It also benefits from upgraded interior materials, including Alcantara and faux leather upholstery and keyless entry and start, plus adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring. Touches such as a panoramic sunroof and powered tailgate, however, are reserved for the top-spec C-Series Edition.
The family SUV marketplace is a packed one but the C5 Aircross does enough to stand out. It’s not as powerful or spacious as some but the flexibility of the rear seats partly makes up for that and its easy going refinement, comfort and quirky touches set it apart from the crowd.
Citroen C5 Aircross Shine PureTech 130
Price: £31,015 (£31,985 as tested); Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 128bhp; Torque: 170lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic; Top speed: 117mph; 0-62mph: 10.3 seconds; Economy: 38.6-46.7mpg; CO2 emissions: 149g/km