It’s very easy to complain that today’s roads are clogged up with nothing but cookie-cutter SUVs that all look the same, drive the same and have the same equipment.
Certainly, the C-segment SUV market is overflowing with cars badged differently but sharing lots of the same bits, and producing largely the same results.
However, recent weeks with three very different examples of the breed have convinced me that there is still some welcome variety out there.
While the Ford Kuga concentrates on offering a jack-of-all-trades approach and the Cupra Ateca is all big-power sportiness, the Citroen C5 Aircross is all about embracing the French manufacturer’s reputation for quirky, comfortable non-conformist machines.
It’s certainly quirky. The big bubbly detailing and soft edges are a sharp contrast (no pun intended) to the razor-like creases and folds that typify most rivals. The looks fit in with the broader Citroen family but are perhaps less successful than the smaller C3 Aircross, which looks cheeky and appealing where the C5 looks bloated.
Citroen C5 Aircross Flair
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 11.8 seconds
CO2 emissions: 108g/km
The curved squares and chunky bubbles motif works better inside, where it crops up everywhere from the air vents and on-screen graphics to the door pulls and “fat biscuit” upholstery which apes that of cars from the 60s and 70s. It’s a funky and fun alternative to the more staid features of most rivals and more than a match in material quality for most of them.
The interior also shows off the C5 Aircross’s two stand-out features. Firstly, it’s the only car in its class to have three proper individual rear seats. Each slides, reclines and folds separately, allowing all sorts of configurations. From a family point of view, it also allows you to safely and easily fit three child seats in the back, unlike pretty much all its rivals. Sadly, while it wins in the width stakes, the C5 Aircross’s rear legroom is among the worst in its class, robbing it of some family friendliness.
All the seats are designed to meet Citroen’s advanced comfort philosophy – its second party piece. They’re made of multiple types of foam with different densities and are pretty soft – probably be too soft for some. I would prefer firmer cushions but must admit I didn’t feel any twinges or aches after a six-hour motorway stint.
The other main elements of the comfort-driven approach are cabin refinement that is among the best in class for noise and vibration isolation and the progressive hydraulic cushion suspension that aims to replicate the magic carpet ride of the C5’s predecessors.
It’s doesn’t quite float over speed bumps the way a 60s DS or 2CV does but, then, it also doesn’t pitch and wobble like them either.
That’s not to say that there’s no lean. Compared with something like a Ford Kuga or Seat Ateca, the body control is slack and even the soft-riding Qashqai is more composed. But it is better at absorbing road imperfections than any of them.
It proved accomplished at soaking up hour after hour of cruddy motorway and taking the pain out of city-centre routes in a way only the Qashqai can come close to replicating.
Our test car’s 128bhp diesel is another success for the PSA group. It’s not as punchy as the bigger 2.0-litre units in the likes of the Ateca or Kuga but exceeds expectations in terms of willingness, refinement and economy – after several hundred miles with five onboard and a full boot we saw a solid 46mpg.
Among many very similar C-SUVs, the C5 Aircross is another different approach but its appeal will depend on what you want from a car. It is among the very best in its class for comfort and refinement but lacks the space and body control of rivals.