JOHANNESBURG - From two hour lunch breaks with escargot starters, to streets with roundabouts at just about every intersection, the French have always insisted on doing things a little differently, and the car brand that has epitomised this the most is Citroen.

Following a three-year hiatus from South Africa, the French brand was reintroduced by its PSA parent company late last year and the good news is that when it comes to the latest batch of products, Citroen is certainly up to its usual quirky shenanigans.

The product that perhaps embodies this the most is the C3 Aircross. Sure, the name is a little daft - sounding more like something you’d put on your feet before a trail run than a device you’re supposed to drive, but the product itself will strike just the right balance for someone who’s seeking something with personality as well as sophistication.

Going up against the Volkswagen T-Cross and Renault Captur, the C3 Aircross stands out from its rivals with its distinctive design, and even more so if you order the ‘Spicy Orange Pack’ that our test car came with, which brightens up the mirrors, roof rails and the ‘Venetian Blind’ polycarbonate accents on the C-pillar, which are another quirky touch. Exterior colour choices are limited to White, Platinum Grey and Soft Sand, however.

The C3 Aircross is offered in two spec grades - Feel and Shine - and both are fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, but if you order the latter then 17-inch diamond-effect rims are an option, and a stylish one at that.

You’ll be even more impressed after stepping aboard the C3 Aircross - here’s a cabin that ticks all the right boxes and does so with the kind of flair that only the French seem to get right. It’s not exactly a feast of luxurious textures, but Citroen has done an excellent job on the materials without being too extravagant, and touches like the orange elements on the air vents and steering wheel (if you ordered that Orange Spicy Pack) lift the mood considerably. It’s both distinctive and stylish.

Equipment is generous in both specification grades, which each pack an 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system, as well as cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, rear parking sensors, six airbags and ESP stability control.

The Shine adds automatic climate control, automatic wipers and lights, a sliding rear seat and electrochromatic rearview mirror, while the infotainment system has been upgraded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and navigation. This control centre is easy to use and boasts modern-looking, crisp graphics, but some will miss the conventional climate controls as everything barring the demisters has been shifted to the touchscreen. Access to the climate system is easy enough, thanks to a shortcut that’s always visible on the screen, but overall it’s still not as user-friendly as old-fashioned controls. That’s the price you pay for a chic-looking, uncluttered dashboard nowadays.

This car’s style is thankfully also met with some substance, as the cabin is fairly spacious for occupants and the 410 litre boot is also decent by class standards. What’s more, the Shine model comes with a sliding rear seat that allows you to expand the boot to 520 litres - as long as your rear seat occupants don’t mind giving up a little legroom.

Since we’re talking comfort, it’s worth mentioning that this car’s softly-sprung suspension delivers an extremely comfortable ride quality. Overall refinement is impressive too, with relatively low noise levels too. In the bends, there is a bit of body roll, however.

Both C3 Aircross variants are powered by a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbopetrol engine that is good for 81kW and 205Nm. It doesn’t feel abundantly powerful, and can be a touch laggy off the mark at altitude, but it’s got enough urge to satisfy the average owner and overtake safely. Also standard is a six-speed automatic gearbox.

VERDICT

At R359 900 for the 1.2T Shine (or R339 900 if you opt for the Feel model), the C3 Aircross is priced in the same ballpark as equivalently specced rivals such as the Ford EcoSport, Peugeot 2008, Hyundai Venue, Mazda CX-3 and Volkswagen T-Cross. 

As you can see, however, this is becoming a rather crowded segment, and while the C3 Aircross might not necessarily appeal to the masses with its quirky styling, it is a very viable, and surprisingly sophisticated option for those wanting some so-called “vive la différence” in their lives.

IOL Motoring