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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Citroën C5 Aircross is as French as it gets!

The crossover vehicle that will enter the Indian market next year

brunch Updated: Sep 07, 2019 22:03 IST
Hormazd Sorabjee
Hormazd Sorabjee
Hindustan Times
Pushing the engine hard reveals it’s pretty noisy at high revs, which makes you hold a more relaxed pace
Pushing the engine hard reveals it’s pretty noisy at high revs, which makes you hold a more relaxed pace
         

French. Very French. That’s what the Citroën C5 Aircross is. You might think I’m stating the obvious, but no, you can’t take the lineage of any brand for granted. It’s not uncommon for the badge on a car to have no link with its heritage or nationality. GM India was a past master of the badge engineering game, proudly pinning the Chevrolet bow tie on cars that were more Japanese, Korean and Chinese than American. The MG Hector too wears a British badge but comes from China, whilst closer to home, Citroën’s traditional rival, Renault has never given us cars that are genuinely French. Cars like the Duster and Lodgy are Dacias whilst the little Kwid is actually more Indian than French. Sharing badges, platforms and components isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the result can be a product that’s well suited to the Indian market. But all the mixing and matching can dilute the DNA of the brand.

En vogue

Which is why it was refreshing to discover that the C5 Aircross looks and feels like a proper Citroën. When this funky crossover is launched in India sometime in the second half of 2020, it could well have been plucked off the streets of Paris. Or London, where I’ve just driven it.

Citroën’s debut model for India has the added responsibility of defining the 100-year-old brand. It’s a job the C5, with the unique styling that is typical of this French marque, does rather well. The C5 is more of a crossover than a pukka SUV and size-wise it may be at a disadvantage when it’s examined in the crucial ‘size-versus-price’ context. The trouble is that Indians want a big and bulky-looking vehicle and with an estimated price north of Rs 30 lakh, the C5 may not be perceived as enough metal for the money. The C5 Aircross may not have mass (pardon the pun) appeal, but there’s no doubt its unconventional design will charm a more evolved SUV buyer. 

The C5 Aircross may not have mass appeal, but its unconventional design will charm a more evolved SUV buyer

Cabin quality is good, with enough of feel-good, soft-touch plastics, brushed chrome finishes and slick operating switchgear, but it’s the seats that set the C5 apart, offering a level of comfort I’ve not experienced in a long time. By design, the C5 Aircross is a better five-seater than a four-seater. How so? Citroën has fitted the C5 with three equal-sized seats at the back, all of which can be individually tilted and adjusted for length. This is great if you regularly travel five-up, as the middle passenger no longer has to be the one who’s drawn the short straw. On Indian roads, the superlative ride will be greatly appreciated and, more importantly, establish Citroën’s comfort-oriented heritage, which has long been the selling point of the French brand, rooted in legendary cars like the Traction Avant, 2CV and the DS. 

La belle C5

The cabin quality of the C5 Aircross is good and the car is a better five-seater than a four-seater
The cabin quality of the C5 Aircross is good and the car is a better five-seater than a four-seater

It’s not clear as yet what engine the C5 will bring to India but a likely option is the 1.5 diesel that I’m driving. This engine has decent pulling power and allied to the smooth and fairly responsive 8-speed gearbox, the C5 happily keeps up with traffic. Light controls and good all-round visibility is useful too and a couple of days in London’s city crawl established the urban credentials of this crossover. 

On the motorway, however, the small diesel fails to be impressive. Acceleration is lazy at best and the engine needs to be flogged to get the most out of it. Pushing the engine hard also reveals another of its flaws – it’s pretty noisy at high revs, which makes you back off and hold a more relaxed pace.

Other than the question mark surrounding the choice of engines, Citroën’s first stab at the Indian market holds promise. Easy to use, high on comfort and with a distinctive design that stands out from the cluttered SUV field, the C5 Aircross is refreshingly different. It also has the novelty factor of a new brand, which as MG and Kia have shown, is a massive draw these days. 

Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India

From HT Brunch, September 8, 2019

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First Published: Sep 07, 2019 22:01 IST