JOHANNESBURG - Only a few weeks ago, Peugeot South Africa launched the new 108 hatchback and re-launched 5008 crossover in South Africa, looking for a piece of the new vehicle sales pie that’s growing year-on-year, as more and more motorists say goodbye to their three-box sedan lifestyles.
SUVs and crossovers (and compact hatchbacks) seem to hit a real sweet spot among buyers and, to this end, Peugeot sees a captive audience - people who are looking for funky, alternative vehicles to the mainstream models that you’d normally head to a dealership to test drive.
Two new French cars aren’t enough, though, as Peugeot SA’s managing director Xavier Gobille explained at the launch of Citroen in South Africa last week. Yes, that’s right, the chevron-badged cars are back and there are three new models to choose from.
Citroen and Peugeot have arguably suffered in the past due to shoddy after-sales support, however, the man in charge says he’s on a mission to change the narrative around Peugeot and Citroen in South Africa by introducing models that “talk to South Africans”. He’s also revitalising both brands’ dealer networks, already shutting down a number of Peugeot outlets that did not pass the company’s latest quality standards.
Gobille said that within the next two years, there would be a strategic approach to engaging with customers, past, present and future, to ensure that they buy with peace of mind, and that they are confident that should they want to trade in their vehicles, they would receive decent trade-in values. Some of the key concerns and challenges that Citroen customers have (they send emails and call the motoring desk from time to time to tell us) include the parts and service capability, as well as the trade-in value debacle they experience when trying to upgrade to a larger or newer vehicle.
“We’re fully aware of what’s happened in the past, however, I’m confident that the cars we have can satisfy the customer, which leaves everything on the back-end up to us, to ensure that the customer never ever feels alone,” Gobille said.
He explained that when Citroen left South Africa a few years ago, many customers didn’t even know that the brand had closed up shop here.
“We’ve had to work very hard to get to where we are in re-launching this brand in South Africa. We’ve had clinics on all the models and we’ve talked to people about their after-sales expectations, and we’ve priced and packaged vehicles that are suited to South Africans’ needs and budgets.
Gobille explained that part of the relaunch of Citroen in SA included the launch of Citroen 5erenity – a comprehensive five-year mechanical warranty and engine service programme aimed at reducing running costs and improving resale values.
“Servicing and maintenance can become quite a challenge for customers when the economy is not performing as well as it should. We want to reassure customers that we have the parts, we have the specialist technicians and we have the technologies to keep them going,” he added.
In fact, if you buy one of these new Citroen cars and they can’t get it back to you within two days under a warranty claim or after a scheduled service, they will give you a courtesy car to use until your vehicle is sorted out.
Okay, so Citroen is making its assault on the market known with not one, but three new models, at the same time, all aimed at similar, yet different, people. Let’s call them “quirky”.
Citroen C3 hatchback - a funky Polo alternative
First off, if you’re in the market for something small, and city-friendly, but still able to hit the highway to the coast or up to the Big Smoke for the holidays without breaking a sweat, then you’ll be interested in the Polo and Fiesta fighter – the Citroen C3 hatchback.
We didn’t get to drive the new C3 hatch, as the day was too short, but the C3 is basically based on the current generation Peugeot 208, but naturally sporting a more in-your-face design, similar to the C4 Cactus that was launched here a few years ago.
There are only two variants to choose from in the C3 hatch range, the Feel and the Shine.
The 1.2 Feel is naturally-aspirated and sells for a respectable R239 900, while the 1.2 Shine is turbocharged, retailing for R289 900.
Both models are well appointed in terms of bells and whistles, including most of the features you’ll find in an equivalent Polo or Fiesta.
The Feel model, however, does not offer electric windows at the rear, which means you can’t electronically lock them to prevent kids from opening the rear door windows.
The C3 Feel offers 60kW and 118Nm (and comes with a five-speed manual gearbox only), while the Shine offers 81kW and 205Nm, and it’s only available with a six-speed automatic.
As mentioned earlier, you won’t want for creature comforts, as the Feel boasts automatic air conditioning as standard, as well as cruise control, and an 18cm touch-screen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. You also get a multi-function steering wheel, six airbags and ESP stability control.
The higher spec Shine model gains rear park assist and rear electric windows, while upgrading from 16-inch to 17-inch alloy rims. Oh, and the Shine is the one that comes with Citroen’s Airbump technology (those bubble inserts on the doors and bumpers).
C3 Aircross - Citroen's answer to the EcoSport
Moving up a rung, the C3 Aircross takes what you get in the standard C3 hatchback and literally raises it. Consider it the high-rider version of the C3, similar to your Ford Ecosports and Renault Capturs of this world.
There’s no all-wheel drive, but there are Venetian blinds, if that’s your thing.
Seriously though, the C3 Aircross is actually 158mm lengthier and 163mm higher, while it also offers a bigger boot – with a capacity of 410 litres, versus 300 in the standard C3 model.
The C3 Aircross’s exterior body panels might look very different to the “normal” car, but the crossover does share its funky design cues, both inside and out. The C3 Aircross is only available with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine, with 81kW and 205Nm, and a six-speed automatic gearbox is also standard here. Only two derivatives are available at launch, again dubbed Feel and Shine. The Feel model will set you back R339 900 and the higher spec Shine will cost you R359 900.
Both come with the same 18cm touch-screen infotainment system as the C3, and you get cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, rear parking sensors and more.
The Shine basically gains auto climate control and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as a sliding rear seat bench, an electrochromatic rear-view mirror and a rain sensor for lights and wipers.
The 16-inch wheels are standard across the C3 Aircross range, but you can go bigger with a 17-inch wheel option at the dealer.
C5 Aircross - the show-stopper
Finally, the show-stopper of the Citroen line-up is the new C5 Aircross. It’s packed with technology and it features some really nifty engineering features; however, it’s the price of the vehicle that’s truly astonishing.
So, what do you get in the C5 Aircross? Well, it’s significantly longer, taller and wider (and arguably less quirky-looking) than its latest C3 siblings. This is the car that Citroen hopes to attract the most sales with. Consider it the quintessential Tiguan, Sportage and Rav4 rival. Again only two spec levels are available, which seems to be the way Citroen will be doing it in SA. The entry-level Feel will set you back R469 900 and the high-spec Shine sells for R509 000.
Both models are powered by PSA Group’s 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which is rated at 121kW and 240Nm in this application.
The C5 Aircross also stands apart from its rivals thanks to a trick suspension system, with hydraulic buffers, aimed at eliminating suspension bounce. Citroen’s always been known for weird and wonderful suspension systems, as fitted to the 2CV and the DS.
The C5 Aircross won’t raise or lower itself, however, it does soak up bumps with extreme suppleness.
Combined with an exceptionally quiet engine, very little wind and road noise, and hardly any NVH to ripple an Americano, it’s really a sublime vehicle in which to take long journeys.
There’s also a nice high-tech character to the vehicle, without it feeling too tech-infused.
You get a 20cm touch-screen infotainment system, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a digital instrument cluster (similar to Virtual Cockpit in the latest Audis), a dual-zone climate control system, ambient lighting to set the right mood in the cabin, automatic sensors for lights and wipers, a rear parking sensor system, six airbags, ESP and 18-inch alloy wheels. And this is the entry-level Feel model.
The C5 Aircross Shine gains a panoramic glass roof, key-less entry and start system, wireless phone charging pad in the centre console, partial leather seat trim, an Active City Brake system, Blind Spot Monitoring function, additional front parking sensors and a reverse camera.
Should you buy one?
Look, there’s no way around the fact that Citroen has its work cut out for it if wants to gain trust in the market again and, if you currently own a Citroen, you already know that these new cars are going to suit your needs perfectly.
It really comes down to the keen pricing of the C5 Aircross Shine that makes it a good buy in my books. When looking at this increasingly competitive segment of the market, it really is a tough choice, but the additional five-year/100 000km warranty should give you peace of mind for the next half-decade at least.
If you’d like to test drive one of these cars, but you aren’t sure of where to find a dealership, visit the Citroen South Africa website to send an email request for a test drive.
If you are too far away from a dealership, they’ll fly you in to a major hub to experience the vehicles (granted, after they screen you to gauge your seriousness as a buyer).
Overall, if I were in the market for something a little different to what we see in traffic everyday, the C5 Aircross would certainly be high up on my shopping list. I’m just waiting for an electric version, with 200kW and AWD, which they’re denying is being developed.