There is an “Oh. Wow!” moment as you emerge from the tunnel of trees that link branches across the narrow road descending into Oribi Gorge. The tunnel gives way to light and a narrow low-water bridge across the river, at which point you realise just how big it really is.
There was a similar moment when I swopped the Citroën C3 Aircross for its bigger sibling, the C5 – a step from comfortable togetherness to genuine spaciousness but still within a tidily regulated external border.
With large 720 mm diameter wheels and its raised ground clearance of 230 mm, the C5 Aircross has the bulk of a nightclub bouncer but with a whole lot less attitude, tending to adopt some of the quirky fun of its smaller brother such as its Airbump inspired lower door, wheel arch protectors and roof bars.
The C5 Aircross SUV is the most comfortable model in its segment, thanks to the Citroën Advanced Comfort programme, Progressive Hydraulic Cushions suspension and Advanced Comfort seats. Hydraulic buffers at either end of the suspension setup have all but eliminated bounce from the car’s drive.
While conventional suspension systems comprise of a shock absorber, a spring and a mechanical stop, the Progressive Hydraulic Cushions system adds two hydraulic stops on either side, one for rebound and the other for compression. In cases of major compression and rebound, they gradually slow down movement to avoid sudden jolts.
This suspension was actually created to keeping Citroën’s rally cars from flying off the road and is still used on the C3 world rally car.
There is advanced soundproofing with reduced road noise and wind noise thanks to double-glazed laminated front windows with an insulated layer and attention was paid to the soundproofing of the engine compartment.
There is space inside for five, with the variable boot size thanks to the three, individual sliding/reclining seats in the rear – it starts at 520 litres and expands to 720 litres. The seats provide the same level of comfort for the three passengers in row two. Adjustable over 150 mm, they can slide back and forth to transform the cabin or boot space according to your needs.
Rear passengers have access to a USB port and with the seats folded down there is a cavernous 1 630 litres of space to play with. Citroën says it has aimed for maximum practicality, building in cubbyholes and stowage spaces around the cabin.
Tech-lovers are well catered for, with a 12,3-inch digital instrument panel behind the steering wheel and an 8-inch touchscreen on the dashboard covering the infotainment functions.
The new, ultra-connected model can be equipped with Wireless Smartphone Charging and ConnectedCAM Citroën on the Shine models.
The layout of the digital display in front of the driver can be varied to taste by using the toggles on the leather-trimmed, multifunction steering wheel.
Standard across the rage are park sensors, coffee break alert, fog lights with static corner function, driver attention assist and hill start assist while the Shine variant – which I drove – gained keyless entry and starting, electric parking brake, reversing camera with rear 180°camera, active safety break, active lane departure warning system and active blind spot monitoring.
The new C5 Aircross is powered by 1,6-litre THP petrol engine offering 121 kW at 6 000 r/min and peak torque of 240 Nm at 1 400 r/min and driving through Citroën’s EAT6 automatic gearbox. Fuel consumption on the test cycle averaged 8,8 l/100 km with acceleration from rest to 100 km/h coming up in 10,6 seconds.
Suffice it to say the C5 Aircross comes up tops as a people carrier and as a tourer – although one minor issue being the fact the luggage space cannot be fully covered with the rear seats folded flat. Because of its funky appearance, it does tend to attract onlookers when stationary in a shopping centre parking lot.
The 4,5-metre length is also not daunting as a driver and the car responds with high levels of agility to all driver inputs making it equally at home around town or out on the open road where it comes into its own and will offer touring consumption down to around 7,2 l/100 km.
It whips up and down the gearbox smoothly and with no significant ‘stepping’ – and the driver has paddle shifts to control the changes when necessary. I found the Sport mode rather unnecessary as it did not make any major difference (except to fuel consumption).
It sits solidly on the road and displays minimal body roll when changing direction even at a brisk pace and this is definitely a plus factor in what is a family car.
Safety specification is also impressive and includes anti-lock braking with EBD and brake assist, electronic stability control with traction control, as well as six crash bags.
At a bit over the R500 000 mark it is more expensive than some of its obvious opposition such as the Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV 4 and Volkswagen Tiguan but the overall fit and finish and standard features do keep it in consideration.