Citroen C5 Aircross SUV review
"The Citroen C5 Aircross is a funky and relaxing family SUV that offers very little in the way of driver enjoyment"
- Attractive design
- Generous equipment
- Spacious boot
- Disappointing ride
- Unrewarding handling
- Tight rear-seat legroom
Verdict - Is the Citroen C5 Aircross a good car?
The C5 Aircross is a quirkily styled family SUV that’s practical, comfortable and surprisingly cheap to run, thanks to a range of efficient petrol, diesel and hybrid engines. If you’re in the market for a smooth and quiet family mover, it should be possible to find a version that suits your motoring budget. A focus on relaxation means there’s little fun for the driver, but the ownership experience should be drama-free.
Citroen C5 Aircross models, specs and alternatives
The Citroen range expands into more and more niches with each new model introduced. Previously, it was divided up between hatchbacks, MPVs and SUVs; however, because of the rise in popularity of crossovers, all the brand’s models now embrace several SUV-esque design features.
The Citroen C5 Aircross is the brand’s largest SUV and sits alongside the also somewhat crossover-like Citroen C5 X. It shares its underpinnings with the Peugeot 3008 and fights an army of rivals that include the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar, SEAT Ateca, Skoda Karoq, Ford Kuga, Vauxhall Grandland and Kia Sportage.
Given how distinctive the C3 Aircross is, Citroen had the awkward task of making the C5 Aircross sufficiently individual to make it desirable, without building a larger clone of the C3 Aircross. The result is a car that isn’t quite as eye-catching as the C3, with a more formulaic SUV shape. A mid-life update in 2022 gave the softer, funky Citroen a more brutish and rugged look to separate it from its pseudo-SUV siblings. This includes a reworked grille and LED headlight design plus some extra body cladding to create a more imposing appearance.
A further update midway through 2023 introduced a new PureTech 136 model, featuring a 134bhp mild-hybrid petrol engine. It also saw the arrival of a new ‘e-Series’ trim level for this and the plug-in hybrid version of the C5 Aircross. e-Series cars get a host of upgraded safety and interior tech, plus unique exterior touches to differentiate them from other non-electrified models.
As before, there are some neat details, such as sections to the lower front bumper that are highlighted in red, white or silver, and the return of the 'Airbumps' first seen on the Citroen C4 Cactus, although it's a shame these interesting features aren't a little more prominent. The C5 Aircross is good-looking overall, and while it lacks the loveable eccentricity of other Citroens, it won't be lost in a car park full of similarly sized SUVs.
There's arguably more design flair inside, where the C5 Aircross matches the Peugeot 3008 for high-tech style but goes about things in a totally different way. The 2022 update introduced a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster alongside a new separate 10-inch infotainment screen shared with the C5 X, although the latter still runs the older software from the Citroen C4. All models feature Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, as well as built-in Citroen Connect navigation. There aren't any major changes for the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version, but it does get a blue LED light in the windscreen, letting pedestrians see when it's in electric-only mode. A shortcut button gives faster access to hybrid-specific information within the infotainment system.
The dashboard draws your eye with sections of attractive, colour-coded upholstery in a style reminiscent of the luxurious DS 7 from Citroen’s premium DS brand. Unfortunately, the upmarket impression begins to fade when you pass your fingers over the door panels, which – distinctive as they are by reflecting the 'Airbump' theme of the exterior – aren't constructed from materials that match the quality of the dashboard. Citroen also makes a big deal of its 'advanced comfort seats', but we're not entirely convinced; while they're extremely comfortable, they lack support when cornering at higher speeds.
All C5 Aircross cars come fitted with Citroen's 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushion' suspension technology, designed to iron out imperfections in the road. However, our test car was equipped with the biggest 19-inch alloy wheels, which thudded uncomfortably into potholes; this was far from the legendary Citroen smoothness of years gone by. On smaller wheels it's comfortable most of the time, with only the worst road imperfections catching it out.
Sadly, while the C5 Aircross is generally comfortable, it can't match rivals in terms of handling. The Citroen offers little in the way of reward for an enthusiastic driver, with scant feel from its light steering, a reluctance to turn into corners with any zeal, and a tendency to lean if driven with vigour.
The doom and gloom clears somewhat when you find a long, fast, straight road, because cruising at motorway speeds is where the C5 Aircross is most at home. It's very quiet at higher speeds, especially when a petrol or hybrid engine is fitted.
For private buyers, and particularly those often driving in urban settings, the C5 Aircross Hybrid introduced in mid-2023 could be the ideal middle ground. This is priced competitively with the diesel, but 48-volt mild hybrid hardware means it can harvest energy while slowing down, powering a 12bhp electric motor that assists the petrol engine to boost efficiency for claimed economy of up to 53.3mpg.
The efficiency of the PureTech petrols will be enough to impress most owners, while those who cover large annual mileages will find the BlueHDi diesel, capable of up to 54mpg, even more appealing. They're joined by a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), capable of more than 200mpg and low CO2 emissions of just under 30g/km, which should appeal to company-car drivers but has a high list price. The battery pack was updated in late 2022, increasing its range to 41 miles – enough to drop it into a lower BiK band.
Although the rear seats aren't as generous on legroom as you might hope, the C5 Aircross is still a genuine five-seater, and one with a sizeable boot, so it's more than a match for most rivals when it comes to practicality. It's competitively priced – competing directly against the excellent Skoda Karoq – and beats many rivals for standard equipment too.
Citroen doesn't exactly have the best record when it comes to owner satisfaction, but with standard active emergency braking (AEB) and even a built-in dashcam on some models, the C5 Aircross in UK-spec scored the full five-star rating from Euro NCAP.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The C5 Aircross was launched with conventional petrol and diesel engines, but a PHEV also joined the range, followed in 2023 by a mild-hybrid model that’s claimed to improve the petrol’s urban efficiency by almost a third. While running costs will be slightly higher than for a family hatchback or small estate car, the C5 Aircross shouldn’t be as pricey to run as a traditional SUV.
The C5 Aircross offers a choice of petrol, diesel and hybrid engines that will seem familiar if you've ever glanced at a Peugeot 3008 brochure. The most efficient on paper is the 128bhp BlueHDi diesel, which Citroen claims can achieve up to 54.1mpg with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is now the only transmission offered for it. Its CO2 emissions are relatively high at 145g/km, however, which gives it a mid-level Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax rating for company-car users. While it still feels quite well matched to the C5 Aircross, we expect fewer and fewer buyers to pick this option.
Private buyers and those who expect to cover fewer than around 12,000 miles per year will find the PureTech petrol engines appealing, and they're impressively economical in their own right. The 130 version is claimed to return up to 48.9mpg, with CO2 emissions starting from 141g/km when equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox. The PureTech 180 – which is no longer offered in the UK was capable of officially returning around 39mpg.
Arriving in mid-2023, the ‘Hybrid’ badged C5 Aircross forms the new sweet spot in the range, priced similarly to the diesel but featuring a mild-hybrid version of the PureTech petrol engine. The addition of a small battery and 12bhp electric motor means the engine can be shut down more of the time in traffic, with the added benefit of providing assistance under acceleration. This can make it up to 15% more fuel-efficient than the regular petrol version in urban traffic according to CItroen, with a CO2 figure of 129g/km.
The PHEV version of the C5 Aircross combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine and an electric motor to produce 222bhp. Previously, it was capable of up to 38 miles of pure electric running from its 13.2kWh battery pack, but a new 14.2kWh battery was introduced in late 2022, boosting its range to 41 miles. It takes less than two hours to charge from a 7.4kW home wallbox. Citroen claims the PHEV will return fuel economy figures of over 200mpg with CO2 emissions from 29g/km; consequently, Benefit-in-Kind ratings are low, which makes this a good choice for company car buyers.
The BlueHDi 180 diesel was discontinued in 2020. While it offered markedly more performance than the lower powered ‘130’ engine, it was also more expensive to run, with considerably lower fuel economy of around 47mpg.
Regular petrol and diesel versions of the C5 Aircross are liable for the standard VED (tax) rate, with the hybrid models qualifying for the discounted VED rate.
The PureTech petrol Citroen C5 Aircross is the cheapest version to insure, occupying groups 16 to 18, depending on the trim level. The Blue HDi diesel ranges from group 17 to 18 with the range-topping PHEV the most expensive, sitting in group 27. The C5 Aircross runs the Peugeot 3008 close for insurance costs; the 3008 ranges from insurance group 16 for the BlueTech 130 diesel to 24 for the PureTech 180 petrol in range-topping GT-Line trim.
Citroen service intervals can vary depending on the model, with diesel engines often running further between oil changes. You can expect an annual service to be required and Citroen can set up a service contract to cover multiple services in advance, which makes it easier to budget for routine maintenance.
Citroen's warranty covers you for three years or 60,000 miles, whichever occurs first. That's on par with the policy provided by Ford, for example, but lags a long way behind Hyundai's five-year/unlimited mileage warranty and Kia's seven-year/100,000-mile offering.
When your Citroen warranty expires, you can purchase an extended warranty for an additional 12 or 24 months, subject to exclusions.
Engines, drive & performance
The Citroen C5 Aircross is born from the same mechanical platform as the Peugeot 3008, and the two models share engines and gearboxes. One big difference, however, is Citroen's much-vaunted 'Progressive Hydraulic Cushion' suspension. This takes the place of conventional bump stops that ordinarily limit suspension travel, replacing them with small hydraulic dampers.
Citroen claims that rather than experiencing a sudden shock when the suspension ‘bottoms out’ as it fully compresses, which can happen with conventional suspension, the C5’s system cushions these jolts, therefore improving the ride. However, on normal UK roads, with the litany of surface imperfections, a C5 Aircross fitted with large alloy wheels isn’t noticeably less prone to crashing uncomfortably through potholes and rough surfaces. While the car is comfortable on smooth roads, it does struggle to insulate the interior from vibrations on rougher surfaces.
Given that the C5 Aircross is intended to be a comfortable car first and foremost, the ride quality of top versions is a significant disappointment. This lack of smoothness could be overlooked if the driving experience matched that of the best cars to drive in this class, but the car feels somewhat lethargic in corners and doesn’t really like to be driven quickly. The steering is too light and lacks feel, while the car’s high-riding suspension allows body roll through bends and steering into corners feels vague and imprecise.
If you do drive the C5 Aircross with any vigour, passengers are likely to voice their complaints, as the seats lack much in the way of lateral support to hold them in place. The seating design is what Citroen calls ‘advanced comfort,’ which is more focused on making longer journeys more comfortable than offering support during enthusiastic cornering.
Like the Peugeot 3008, the C5 Aircross is front-wheel drive. It may be an SUV, but off-road ability is meagre unless you opt for the 18-inch Mud and Snow tyres. These combine with the optional Grip Control system to give the front wheels a bit more bite on loose or slippery surfaces, but a wet camping field is as far as we'd recommend venturing.
Citroen C5 Aircross petrol engines
Since its launch, the choice of engines for the C5 Aircross has continued to evolve. Buyers can opt for the 1.2-litre PureTech 130 with 128bhp or a mild-hybrid PureTech 136 with 134bhp from mid-2023. A PureTech 180 model with a 177bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine was previously offered, but this was discontinued.
The 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbo PureTech 130 we tried was whisper quiet, only becoming noticeable when you accelerate hard. Even when idling, you might have to glance at the rev counter to realise that the engine’s on and humming away. Despite its small size, an impressive amount of pulling power ensures the C5 Aircross can make relaxed progress. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is at its best when unhurried and left to its own devices, providing reasonably smooth gear changes.
The updated mild-hybrid C5 Aircross Hybrid 136 was even better, forming the best middle-ground for most buyers. Pull away and it’s fairly easy to drive on electric power alone, and Citroen’s claim of up to 50% of urban driving being in zero-emissions mode doesn’t seem too far-fetched. The electric motor helps to smooth gear changes and provide torque at low revs, and the result is a relaxing cruiser that suits the C5 Aircross’s laid-back character.
The more powerful 180 version, which was only available with an automatic gearbox, is impressively quiet at lower speeds, with barely noticeable gear shifts. It’s pleasingly responsive when on the move, with only the occasional hint of engine noise making its way into the interior if you accelerate hard. The Puretech 180 can do 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds, and goes on to a top speed of 134mph.
Plug-in hybrid engine
The petrol and diesel have been joined by a petrol-based PHEV that uses a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, an electric motor and battery pack. Alone, the petrol provides 178bhp but this is bolstered to 222bhp by electric power. All of that power is sent to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 8.7 seconds, which is competitive, if not neck-straining. The gearbox does a good job of shuffling through ratios most of the time but it can be caught out by sudden stabs of the throttle. Refinement is noteworthy, particularly in electric mode, where double-glazed glass and soundproofing help keep noise out of the interior. Even when the petrol engine does kick in, it's barely noticeable.
The C5 Aircross is also offered with a 128bhp BlueHDi 130 engine that was previously available with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox, but now comes with the latter as standard. You could also opt for a 178bhp BlueHDi 180 engine that only came with the eight-speed automatic but this is no longer offered.
When paired with the eight-speed automatic gearbox, the BlueHDi 130 offers a smooth and mostly refined drive, with the familiar diesel grumble only noticeable at higher speeds. Around town, the shifts of the automatic gearbox are imperceptible when driving gently, but like the petrol version, it can be sluggish to react when you press the accelerator hard to kick down a gear. During our test on urban roads and motorways, we achieved around 45mpg.
Interior & comfort
When it comes to comfort, which is one of the areas in which Citroen's family flagship was billed to excel, its disappointing performance on bumpy roads is rather unfortunate. It's a real shame that the brand's 'advanced comfort seats' don't particularly impress, either. Although the C5 Aircross’ fancy Progressive Hydraulic suspension irons out most bumps well, it can be unsettled over deeper potholes or wonky speed bumps. When this happens, the cabin can shudder and upset the relaxed atmosphere.
The seats look great, especially in the range-topping 'Hype Brown Ambiance' finish, and their soft nature makes them comfortable at first, but they lack lateral support when you encounter a corner, doing little to keep you upright. And while they felt supportive beneath our thighs, the same wasn't true of back support, with twinges beginning to surface after a few hours of driving.
If the advanced comfort seats lived up to their name, the C5 Aircross interior would be hard to fault. There's impressively little wind or road noise when cruising, and there's certainly no shortage of standard equipment. Not all of the interior surfaces are great quality, though, and our test car had a few infuriating rattles.
Citroen C5 Aircross dashboard
Enthusiasts of design will find much to like about the C5 Aircross interior. It has a unique and interesting look that expands on the theme seen before with the smaller C3 Aircross, and contrasts starkly against the futuristic Peugeot 3008.
The C5 Aircross presents hi-tech electronics against a backdrop of good-looking, tactile materials and rich colour schemes. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is standard on every model, and an update in 2021 introduced a larger 10-inch infotainment touchscreen on the centre console, which is shared with the C5X but unfortunately still gets the older software from the C4. This can be relatively slow to respond, however, the screen is somewhat sharper than before.
Even more disappointing are the climate controls which are now buried within the touchscreen, stealing real estate from the sat-nav and media. Not only does this mean you’ll be squinting to see whatever’s on the screen, but a touchscreen is inherently more difficult to use when on the move than a physical dial or switch, making something as simple as changing the temperature a hassle.
Also, while the dashboard looks and feels expensive, the door panels are rather less pleasing to the senses, with a cheap feel around the door handles and window switches. Rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan or Hyundai Tucson feel much more premium on the inside.
There are few changes to indicate you’re in the PHEV, but intriguingly, a blue light behind the rear-view mirror lets pedestrians know when the car is in electric-only mode. You can also hit a shortcut button to quickly access new hybrid information screens within the infotainment setup.
Along with the host of visual and tech upgrades for 2022, Citroen also streamlined the C5 Aircross’s trim levels, leaving Sense Plus, Shine and C-Series Edition. In mid-2023 the brand also introduced an e-Series trim for its mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.
Even the entry-level Sense Plus comes generously equipped, with standard kit such as 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, a reversing camera and the aforementioned digital instrument cluster and infotainment setup.
Moving up the range, Shine models benefit from roof rails, electrically folding door mirrors and the Driver Assist pack which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, driver attention monitoring, traffic sign recognition and collision detection.
Top-of-the-range C-Series Edition adds several design flourishes such as a black contrast roof and bronze trim. This trim also receives an electrically operated tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, a wireless phone charging pad and larger, 19-inch alloy wheels.
Citroen introduced an e-Series trim exclusively for its electrified C5 Aircross models in 2023. Based on Shine specification, these also get unique exterior design elements, such as a black roof as standard, black 19-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and chrome trim pieces. On the inside, they get unique ambient lighting, grey Alcantara upholstery, a panoramic roof, heated front seats, plus an upgraded Citroen HiFi system.
A tow bar with an electrical connection and Trailer Stability Control can be added for £650, while a powered tailgate can be added to the Shine trim for around £800. There’s also an interior ‘Ambience’ for the C-Series Edition, bringing Nappa leather, heated front seats, a massaging driver’s seat and wireless smartphone charging for an extra £1,000.
Practicality & boot space
By choosing the SUV format for its flagship model, Citroen is bang on trend. The C5 Aircross is more than just trendy, though, and is a thoroughly useful large family car.
The seats are all mounted quite high, which allows a great view out for all on board. Visibility is particularly impressive for the driver, who also benefits from large exterior mirrors. Manoeuvrability is a strong suit, too – the Aircross has a surprisingly tight turning circle, and the steering is light, making it easy to thread through packed urban streets.
Citroen C5 Aircross interior space & storage
Those in the front of the C5 Aircross enjoy lots of space to stretch out and very generous headroom, and the driver won't feel too hemmed in by the controls. The electrically adjustable driving seat that's standard on some trims makes it easier to find a comfortable driving position.
There's a generous array of storage areas, including a central, chilled bin that's handy for keeping drinks cool on a long journey. There are useful cubby holes distributed throughout the interior.
The decision to fit three identical, individual rear seats appears to make the second row just as inviting as the first, but the default position of these seats leaves surprisingly little legroom. Headroom is restricted when the panoramic glass roof is fitted too.
Good news is that the C5 Aircross really is a genuine five-seater, with a centre rear seat that's unencumbered by a floor hump so occupants have somewhere to put their feet.
With rear legroom a little on the tight side, it seems a little strange that Citroen should provide the option of sliding the rear seats forwards to free up extra boot space. With an already generous 580 litres of luggage capacity available with the seats in their default position, the option to slide the seats backwards would be rather more worthwhile.
Nevertheless, if you do slide the seats fully forward, boot space increases to 780 litres in the regular models and from 460 to 600 litres in the PHEV, which loses some space to its under-floor battery. If you fold the seats down entirely – a somewhat fiddly task – there's 1,630 litres at your disposal. The boot floor is flat and the tailgate opens high, with a wide aperture to make it easy to load heavy items. There’s also a variable-height floor if you don’t mind a more pronounced loading lip and want more storage space, but a lack of hooks to hang items like takeaways and shopping bags seems like an odd omission. Shine Plus models have an electric tailgate that opens when you make a foot-waggling gesture below the rear bumper.
Reliability & safety
In recent years, Citroen has moved up the rankings in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with a better-than-average reliability score. However, this contrasts with a less impressive score for the C5 Aircross specifically. On the other hand, great Euro NCAP scores mean there's certainly no reason to doubt the model when it comes to safety.
Things are looking up for Citroen, as the brand has moved up the rankings in the last two Driver Power satisfaction surveys – the brand came in 11th place in 2023 out of 32 manufacturers compared with its poor position of 28th in 2021. Just 14% of respondents reported a problem with their Citroen in the first year of ownership, with most issues relating to electrical faults.
The C5 Aircross specifically came in 58th place out of 75 cars when owners rated its reliability, suggesting Citroen’s mid-size SUV could be slightly worse than average in this respect.
The Citroen C5 Aircross received two ratings from Euro NCAP to reflect the differences when it's fitted with certain safety equipment and when it's not. Fortunately for UK buyers, all versions of the C5 Aircross sold here have the safety kit required for the five-star rating. In this form, the C5 Aircross scores 89% for adult occupant protection, 86% for child occupant protection and an impressive 82% in the safety assist category.
There's plenty of standard technology that aims to minimise the likelihood of a crash occurring. All models have autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning and active blind spot monitoring, while top trims have traffic sign recognition and Highway Driver Assist – a combination of lane keeping assist and active cruise control that effectively provides semi-autonomous control in motorway traffic conditions.
Some safety kit is optional, however, including the Safety Pack Plus for the entry-level Sense Plus trim, which adds autonomous emergency braking for pedestrians, cyclists and junctions for £350. Highway Driver Assist can also be added to Shine trim models with an automatic gearbox for £500.