Citroën C5 Aircross ë-series Hybrid 136 review: New Citroën hybrid doesn't look like much, but there is plenty to admire

​It won’t win many beauty contests, but Citroën connoisseur Fred Manby finds much to admire in the C5 Aircross ë-series Hybrid 136, despite preferring its diesel predecessor.

Diesel sales continue to fall but in France I have been driving a reminder of why we used to love them — or in my case still do. It was a Citroën C5 2.2-litre automatic, one owner since new in 2011, running sweetly and smoothly and quietly after 100,000 kms.

It has had an easy life in the Pays Basque foothills of the Pyrenees and should be good for many years to come. It lives outdoors in sun and rain and snow and its paint still sparkled. The 200 horse power engine gave it a 0-60mph time of eight seconds and around 48 miles a gallon.​

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Its Basque owner likes Citroëns. So do I. They are my favourite French car. Part of this is nostalgia, part admiration for their history and some other “parts” scattered in my memory. I have owned only four, including the seminal Traction Avant.

Citroën C5 Aircross ë-series Hybrid 136Citroën C5 Aircross ë-series Hybrid 136
Citroën C5 Aircross ë-series Hybrid 136

​So, should I be full of love for this week’s drive, a successor in name but not style to that C5 driven in France? It is called C5 Aircross, this denoting SUV in Citroën’s catalogue. It has better-selling peers in the UK’s Top Ten, of which the higher placed are the imported Kia Sportage and Sunderland’s Nissan Qashqai, a trail-blazer for the family-friendly SUV.

The Aircross is not pretty. It is a bumble bee to the honey bee, bulbous and fat, round rather than sleek. It does have presence though. The latest robust face sacrifices the delicacy of the hatchback version to the imperative to look like an SUV. The body’s skirts and arches are protected by black stuff. Vestigial blimps recall the “airbump” side panels on the Citroën Cactus which started the idea. Minor off-road adventures are protected by an aluminium skid plate under the decorative grilles. There are LED lights front and back.

There’s a lot of SUV shouty stuff going on here but mostly it’s just a well-stuffed hatchback, handsome maybe. The cabin has the flat but very comfy Citroën seating, now with a memory foam topper, furnished in our poshest ë-series model in light grey Alcantara suedette with white fabric banding across the shoulders. There are large bins in all four doors, a mix of soft and scratchy black panels and some harsh edges, patches of shiny black here and there for glitz. Fist-sized door grips with silvery inserts are stout enough to hold fast securely in a gust of wind.

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The controls are a familiar mix of touch-screen and manual tabs, with voice control for hands-free management. The tab shifter for selecting the automatic gears is familiar in other Citroëns and Peugeots, as is the mild hybrid 1.2 litre, three-cylinder petrol turbo engine we tested. Diesel power is still an option and there is a tax-reducing and powerful plug-in rechargeable petrol hybrid for the company driver.

The valid message from Citroën is that this is a very roomy, affordable and cosseting car. Prices start at a tempting £24,280 for the 128bhp petrol model with manual gears in Plus specification and £26,880 for diesel with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, right up to £39,135 for the PHEV in top ë-series specification.

Citroën sent us the ë-series Hybrid 136 eDSC6 automatic, a six speeder with a dual clutch electrified gear change, cost £34,080. You can get it in middle MAX trim for £31,490. The mild hybrid battery assistance adds six horse power to the base engine. On a very light throttle you may achieve moments of silent, clean electric power.

All have satellite navigation and ride on Citroën’s patented progressive hydraulically damped suspension which absorbs the worst shocks of bad roads.

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The lower-riding hatchback does a better job of this and there was more road noise than expected through the 205/55 Michelins on 18-inch alloys. From recent memory that 2011 C5 was quieter — albeit driven on different roads.

The opening under the tailgate is wide and high, inviting plenty of luggage. Under the floor is room for a spare wheel for those who want more than the sealer-inflator repair system which can still leave you immobile.

There are three full-sized rear seats, which as well as folding flat can slide to mix and match loads and passenger space. Oddly for this revamped model there are only the large USB ports, plus a 12 volt socket.

It is an eager mover, fast enough for these times and very practical. For example, a beautiful metallic puce fully electric Porsche in front made not much more progress and wouldn’t have carried several bags of rocks to the local tip.

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Porsche’s electric Taycan is a hot ticket for those with brass. Overall, sales of everyday electric cars to you and me are faltering. Only bulk orders by company fleets are sustaining the market, driven by tax incentives for the users. Private buyers are losing interest.

The reasons include price, says the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders. It suggests a halving of VAT. It also wants more public charging hubs — currently no more per car than two years ago. In France buyers can get a €4,000 grant plus an extra €3,000 for those on lower incomes.

We are buying more new cars though, with the market expected to nudge 1.9 million this year, of which a tenth will be electric — below the 22 per cent demanded by the Government.

Pure petrol cars look like retaining around 55 per cent of sales. So what is the private motorist buying? Ford’s Puma is the nation’s favourite car, using a mild hybrid petrol engine and is a practical runabout which is easy to re-fuel. To that accolade I would add the C5 Aircross, bigger but cheaper than the Ford.

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Citroën C5 Aircross ë-series Hybrid 136. Price: £35,275 as tested. Engine: 1.2-litre turbo petrol. Power: 134bhp. Torque: 171lb/ft. Transmission: six-speed automatic. Top speed: 124mph. 0-62mph: 10.2 seconds. Economy: 45 to 53mpg. Tank: 11.6 gallons. CO 2 emissions:13g/km. Length: 177 inches. Braked towing limit: 1250kg. More:

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