When it reaches European showrooms early in 2019, Citroen’s C5 Aircross C-SUV will be new to this market but not new to the world – as we note in our PLDB database, it’s actually been in production in China since the second half of last year, having made its global debut at the Shanghai show in April 2017. In China, with 40,000 sales to date, it supplemented the C5 sedan, over here it replaces the C5 (sedan and estate car) completely, tipping the established nameplate out of the non-premium D-segment pack and into the competitive C-SUV segment into which tout le monde de l’automobile is piling. On first look, it’s very competitive.

Chinese C5s are built at the DPCA, Wuhan 2, Hubei plant while the European factory, Rennes-la-Janais, has started output to build launch stock and is now up to 85 vehicles per day on its way to, insiders said, “over 400 a day”. The car currently is “64% French” sourced. A number of well established C5 Aircross suppliers are shipping the balance of required components from China to France though ongoing localisation of supply is planned as Rennes production ramps up. The Europe built car alone will be on sale in 93 markets by mid-2019.

The key difference between Chinese and French C5 is the rear seat, or rather seats. The former has a conventional, one-piece folding bench; the latter three separate chairs which can recline, move fore and aft and fold fully. At first glance the C5 Aircross looks like the C3 Aircross (80,000 sales since launch) on steroids and that’s exactly the idea – it has the latest distinctive Citroen snout seen across all the brand’s recent launches and shares drivetrains and tech, such as ICE, driver aids and HVAC, with PSA sibling’s rival 3008/5008. The seating change was part of a European design concept to create a car that “looks like an SUV outside but like an MPV inside”. The aim, Citroen told us, was to create “the most comfortable and modular SUV”.

It could be argued Peugeot already did that with its excellent rival 3008 five-seater and the longer 5008 with its seven chairs – there are no plans for a seven-seat Citroen variant, we were told. The C5 does, however, have its own distinctive Citroen styling touches inside and out, its own look ‘n’ feel to the shared digital cockpit displays, ICE and HVAC controls and a different ‘more SUV’ look to the dashboard and very comfortable seats. The 4.5m long body, with styling Citroen describes as “robust and muscular, powerful but free of arrogance”, has the distinctive C4 Cactus-style Airbump side protector mouldings (with a highlight insert in a choice of colours), sits on large, 720mm wheels, has a ground clearance of 230mm (it coped admirably with atrocious uneven ‘roads’ in Moroccan mountains on the launch test route) and distinctive roof bars with a trim strip in a choice of colours to match the buyer’s chosen airbump and foglamp surround highlights.

Thirty shade combinations are available for the exterior, with seven body colours, a black two-tone roof and three colour packs comprising those coloured inserts on the front bumper, the airbump and roof bars. These can be combined with five interior combinations mixing materials – cloth and leather – and colours as previously seen in the C4 Cactus and C3 Aircross.

Suspension

Built on the PSA EMP2 modular platform, the C5 Aircross also has Citroen’s latest suspension with the innovative Progressive Hydraulic Cushions combined with Advanced Comfort Seats – both launched in Europe early this year in the updated C4 Cactus. Using technology from Citroen’s experience in motorsport, by providing improved clearance, the hydraulic cushions absorb impacts better, particularly after jumps. While conventional suspension systems comprise a shock absorber, a spring and a mechanical stop, the Progressive Hydraulic Cushions system adds two hydraulic stops on either side, one for compression the other for decompression. The suspension works in two stages to match how the car is used. For light compression and decompression, the spring and shock absorber control vertical movements together without needing assistance from the hydraulic stops. During major impacts, the spring and shock absorber work together with the hydraulic compression or decompression stops which gradually slow the movement to avoid jerks at the end of the range. Unlike a traditional mechanical stop, which absorbs energy but transmits some in, the hydraulic stop absorbs and dissipates this energy. This means there is no bouncing. The system certainly worked well on the very rough rural and mountain roads in Morocco Citroen chose specially to demonstrate its now well proven suspension – the C5 is a very comfortable long-distance conveyance.

The latest Advanced Comfort Seats in the C5 Aircross have 15 mm thick foam with overstitching and graphic components similar to those in the C3 Aircross and C4 Cactus. Ride comfort is strengthened by thicker structured foam on the surface combined with a high density layer in the centre of the seat. The new high density foam also ensures optimal comfort over time by preventing any subsidence after long hours at the wheel as well as the ageing of the seat after several years of use. I stepped out after two three-hour drives with no aches and pains I could blame on anything but my own ageing; these really are good seats which require minimal adjustment before getting comfortable. The seats are adjustable for height while the headrests have both height and reach adjustment, as does the steering column. Depending on model, the driver’s seat can be equipped with eight electrical settings with memory positions. Front seats can be heated and also ordered with a multipoint massage system based on eight pneumatic pockets located in the seat back. The driver and front passenger can select one of five programmes combining lumbar, back and shoulder massages.

Behind those three individual sliding, reclining and folding rear seats is, Citroen claims, record boot volume of 580 to 720 litres under the luggage shelf with the second row seats in place, and up to 1,630 litres under the ceiling with the second row seats folded down – giving the C5 Aircross SUV the largest boot in the segment. A hands-free tailgate, if you can get it oblige, opens electrically after a foot is waved under the bumper.

Driver aids

Up to 20 driver aid/safety systems can be specified, depending on model and options, and we found the radar cruise control (with stop and go in queues) and attendant active lane departure/lane keeping systems worked quite well on rather erractically marked main roads around Marrakech. The traffic sign spotter also worked quite well on speed limit signs in Morocco but missed the few and far between ‘no overtaking’ signs and more rare cancellation notices of same; it should work much better in more uniformly signposted Europe.

The C5 Aircross has an eight inch touch screen for vehicle settings, multimedia, telephone, air conditioning and navigation. The Mirror Screen Function is compatible with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink and the familiar Connect Nav comes with connected services such as TomTom Traffic, for real time traffic info, service station and car park localisation and prices, weather information, and a local point of interest search function.

There is also wireless smartphone charging and ConnectedCAM Citroen, a camera system built in to the stem of the interior rearview mirror, independent of the car’s multimedia system and using full HD GPS technology. The integrated 16GB memory card can be used to store photos and, via the WiFi connection, data recorded by the camera can be transferred to a smartphone. The camera can be used to take a photo or video of items in front of the vehicle and the content can then be downloaded via email or on the social networks. It also works continuously as a dashcam and saves video which can be downloaded.

Drivelines

Drivelines are familiar PSA diesel and petrol fare. The Euro 6.2-compliant engines come with six-speed manual or the Aisin-Warner eight-speed EAT8-branded automatic gearbox also used in the DS7 and Peugeot’s 3008/5008 and other new PSA models as it replaces an earlier six-speed unit.

Launch petrol engines are the PureTech 130 Stop & Start manual and PureTech 180 S&S auto while the three diesels are BlueHDi 130 manual, BlueHDi 130 S&S auto and BlueHDi 180 S&S auto. In late 2019 comes a two wheel drive, petrol, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) drivetrain with CO2 emissions of less than 50g and an EV range of 50km (30 miles). As with the B-SUV C3 Aircross, the C5 Aircross on some models has PSA’s clever Grip Control with Hill Assist Descent which uses advanced grip control (built into the ESP calculator), which manages the grip of the front drive wheels and switchable modes that can adapt to different terrain.

UK prices will start at GBP23,225 with three trim levels available – Feel, Flair and Flair Plus. Official on sale date is 4 February 2019 with order books opening on 3 December. Citroen UK predicts a 50/50 petrol/diesel split with mid-range Flair trim dominating (17% of sales) when combined with the 130PS petrol and diesel engines with manual transmission. overall, with all drivetrain options, the expected trim split is Flair 52%, Flair Plus 38% and base Feel just 10%.

Brexit notwithstanding, Citroen UK is reckoning on a strong car market in 2019, noting that sales this year to date are up 6.5% in a market off 3%.

Worldwide, Citroen YTD sales are up 5% overall (6% for passenger cars). In France, the C5 Aircross will be price positioned below its VW, Hyundai and Peugeot rivals but above the Nissan and Ford contenders. After 300km in petrol and diesel automatic versions, we reckon it’ll more than hold its own in a segment its maker reckons now accounts for 36% of global passenger car sales a year.