Citroen C5 Aircross review – SUV gives it the soft sell

It’s very easy to complain that today’s roads are clogged up with nothing but cookie-cutter SUVs that all look the same, drive the same and have the same equipment.

Certainly, the C-segment SUV market is overflowing with cars badged differently but sharing lots of the same bits, and producing largely the same results.

However, recent weeks with three very different examples of the breed have convinced me that there is still some welcome variety out there.

While the Ford Kuga concentrates on offering a jack-of-all-trades approach and the Cupra Ateca is all big-power sportiness, the Citroen C5 Aircross is all about embracing the French manufacturer’s reputation for quirky, comfortable non-conformist machines.

It’s certainly quirky. The big bubbly detailing and soft edges are a sharp contrast (no pun intended) to the razor-like creases and folds that typify most rivals. The looks fit in with the broader Citroen family but are perhaps less successful than the smaller C3 Aircross, which looks cheeky and appealing where the C5 looks bloated.

Citroen C5 Aircross

Citroen C5 Aircross Flair

Price: £28,430
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Power: 128bhp
Torque: 221lb/ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 11.8 seconds
Economy: 48-56.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 108g/km

The curved squares and chunky bubbles motif works better inside, where it crops up everywhere from the air vents and on-screen graphics to the door pulls and “fat biscuit” upholstery which apes that of cars from the 60s and 70s. It’s a funky and fun alternative to the more staid features of most rivals and more than a match in material quality for most of them.

The interior also shows off the C5 Aircross’s two stand-out features. Firstly, it’s the only car in its class to have three proper individual rear seats. Each slides, reclines and folds separately, allowing all sorts of configurations. From a family point of view, it also allows you to safely and easily fit three child seats in the back, unlike pretty much all its rivals. Sadly, while it wins in the width stakes, the C5 Aircross’s rear legroom is among the worst in its class, robbing it of some family friendliness.

All the seats are designed to meet Citroen’s advanced comfort philosophy – its second party piece. They’re made of multiple types of foam with different densities and are pretty soft – probably be too soft for some. I would prefer firmer cushions but must admit I didn’t feel any twinges or aches after a six-hour motorway stint.

The other main elements of the comfort-driven approach are cabin refinement that is among the best in class for noise and vibration isolation and the progressive hydraulic cushion suspension that aims to replicate the magic carpet ride of the C5’s predecessors.

It’s doesn’t quite float over speed bumps the way a 60s DS or 2CV does but, then, it also doesn’t pitch and wobble like them either.

Citroen C5 Aircross

That’s not to say that there’s no lean. Compared with something like a Ford Kuga or Seat Ateca, the body control is slack and even the soft-riding Qashqai is more composed. But it is better at absorbing road imperfections than any of them.

It proved accomplished at soaking up hour after hour of cruddy motorway and taking the pain out of city-centre routes in a way only the Qashqai can come close to replicating.

Our test car’s 128bhp diesel is another success for the PSA group. It’s not as punchy as the bigger 2.0-litre units in the likes of the Ateca or Kuga but exceeds expectations in terms of willingness, refinement and economy – after several hundred miles with five onboard and a full boot we saw a solid 46mpg.

Among many very similar C-SUVs, the C5 Aircross is another different approach but its appeal will depend on what you want from a car. It is among the very best in its class for comfort and refinement but lacks the space and body control of rivals.

Citroen C5 Aircross rear

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Nissan Qashqai review – leader of the pack has catching up to do

Love them or hate them, you can’t deny that crossovers and SUVs are the current golden child in the automotive world.

Plenty of brands claim to have invented the concept but regardless of who came up with the first one, it was Nissan that kicked started the SUV revolution in earnest with the Qashqai.

Quite what it was that made the Qashqai take off in the way it did is hard to pin down but its success is beyond question. Well in excess of two million examples have been sold since its launch in 2007 and it is a permanent fixture on the list of best-selling models in the UK.

2014 saw the launch of an all-new second generation which was then upgraded quite significantly in 2017.

That update brought big visual changes, new driver assistance technology and interior improvements and was followed in late 2018 by a refresh of the engine line-up.

Nissan Qashqai Tekna 1.3

Price: £26,895
Engine: 1.3-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Power: 138bhp
Torque: 177lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 120mph
0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Economy: 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 130g/km

The engine change was driven by changing emissions rules but it has proved a worthwhile one. Borrowed from some-time partner Daimler, it’s the same 1.3-litre unit that appears in the Mercedes A-Class and does as good a job in the Nissan as it does in the Merc.

It might sound relatively small for a car the size of the Qashqai but modern engine technology is mightily impressive and its 138bhp feels perfectly adequate.

In the Qashqai it offers a smooth, quiet and pretty responsive drive. There’s a lack of low-down torque but keep the revs up and it reacts quickly and feels more lively than the on-paper 0-62mph time of 10 seconds would suggest.

Nissan Qashqai dynamic

In our test car that’s helped by the six-speed manual transmission. It’s not as precise as some rivals’ but I still prefer it to the ponderous seven-speed auto that’s also available.

The official economy figure is around 50mpg, which was reflected in our car’s long-term trip computer, although I saw mid-30s thanks to a series of short, economy-ruining journeys.

While rivals like the Seat Ateca and Ford Kuga pride themselves on their “sporty” road manners, the Qashqai is closer to something like the comfort-focused Citroen C5 Aircross. The ride is very pliant, possibly verging on the too soft but it does a good job of offering consistent comfort over some terrible surfaces.

Nissan Qashqai rear

That smoothness is enhanced by decent cabin refinement and space that’s among the best in class.

Unfortunately, the cabin also exposes the Qashqai’s biggest and longest-lasting problem. In the face of high-tech, high-quality modern, clear designs in rivals the Qashqai is a serious letdown. Even 2017’s update failed to address failings in material quality and layout, with brittle, shiny plastics in abundance and a tiny touchsceen with sluggish performance and terrible graphics.

Nissan Qashqai interior

The Qashqai at least makes up ground again with its standard equipment. Our £27,000 Tekna edition features full-LED lights all around, with an adaptive front lighting system; safety and vision packs that load it with forward and rear collision alerts, lane departure warning, emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, blind spot warning and 360-degree parking cameras and parking assistance. An opening panoramic sunroof, 19-inch alloys, part-leather upholstery and a eight-speaker Bose premium stereo also go some way to softening the pain of the interior.

Fundamentally, the Qashqai is a nice driving, fine-riding car but it’s let down badly by its cheap and nasty interior. Perhaps such things shouldn’t matter as much as economy and refinement but as a driver you spend all your time looking at and using the car’s interior features and so many rivals do a better job here than the Nissan.

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