Life would be rubbish if everyone looked and dressed the same. Character counts for a lot and while the entertainment world can be thankful for the likes of Richard Ayoade, Ed Sheeran and Dawn French, Gallic brands including Citroen have saved car buyers from having their aesthetic choices limited to front grilles that gape, snarl or look otherwise aggressive, and rear ends that look formulaic on everything from Korean budget propositions to Italian exotics. Able to attract attention in rear view mirrors like pint-size John Bercow commands the House of Commons, the Citroen C3 Aircross has a presence to be reckoned with, all but the most hard-hearted of people likely to admit that its fusion of modern, cute and rugged works excellently without even a whiff of aggression.

Exterior front 34a - Citroen C3 Aircross compact small SUV crossover road test review 1.2 petrol Flair Oliver Hammond blogger writer journalist Petroleum Vitae

With a short and elevated bonnet, jacked-up pose, sexy alloys, distinctive lights front and rear, suggestive off-road cladding and a healthy array of finishing touches, Citroen’s ‘true SUV’ looks ready for action in the urban jungle or on a rocky trail.

Although the most exciting adventure many C3 Aircross drivers might experience is a family trip to that equally quirky flat-pack furniture store, Citroen’s C3 Picasso replacement will certainly start plenty of conversations thanks to exterior details from the 3D-effect taillights and gloss-black chevrons to Venetian blind-effect C-Pillars – the latter not my cup of tea but it’s a matter of taste, of course.

Whether unashamedly flamboyant or shy and retiring, there’s a C3 Aircross for everybody, Citroen having made it highly customisable with no fewer than 90 colour combinations. Tailoring the compact SUV newcomer to suit your personality and tastes isn’t as intimidating as the figure may sound, though, with a manageable eight body paints, four roof colours and equal number of roof packs to decide between, along with 16” or 17” wheels. If the test car’s Misty Grey isn’t bold enough for anyone with Opal Fruit aspirations, Spicy Orange is the brightest pick and does look pretty darn funky.

Exterior rear Grip Control off road - Citroen C3 Aircross compact small SUV crossover road test review 1.2 petrol Flair Oliver Hammond blogger writer journalist Petroleum Vitae

Modern Gallic quirkiness proudly on display, the new C3 Aircross will surely win over many hearts as far as the exterior goes – but what’s it like on the inside?

French cars have always excelled when it comes to comfort, spaciousness and genuine practicality and the Citroen C3 Aircross performs strongly if not perfectly in all three areas.

A breath of fresh air, the first thing that’s apparent is Citroen’s departure from the norm, once again refusing to be a sheep in the realm of interior design. My test car was adorned with plenty of orange elements, rounded oblong shapes, knobbly textures, quirky features and geometric surfaces. Wider cabin exploration leads to the discovery of plenty of hard plastics but the majority of the car’s main controls fall nicely to hand with the exception of climate control, which is adjusted using the 7-inch touchscreen on Feel and Flair trim models. Compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the screen and its various systems are a doddle to operate, including Flair trim’s integrated sat nav powered by TomTom, which works intuitively but looks dated. Bluetooth synchronisation was very quick to configure, and the Hi-Fi system sounds surprisingly good for a mass-market car.

Interior - Citroen C3 Aircross compact small SUV crossover road test review 1.2 petrol Flair Oliver Hammond blogger writer journalist Petroleum Vitae

Leather is optional and the front seats of the test car were clad in cloth upholstery that feels hard-wearing rather than squidgy and the chairs are surprisingly flat with hardly any side support, the advantage being that people of wider girths won’t find themselves restricted. Despite their relative firmness and lack of precise adjustment, the C3 Aircross’ seats actually prove comfortable on long journeys, while the driver even gets an armrest and the colourful horizontal stripe adds some welcome pizzazz.

In the back, Citroen has opted for a flat bench instead of sculpted outer seats, the C3 Aircross optimised for functionality over cosseting comfort. With adequate rather than remarkable legroom plus an upright seating position, tall adults will find it a squeeze back there, the panoramic root nibbling into headroom. Grownups of average build should be able to get comfy, though, and three kids or teenagers will be fine, enjoying the lofty seating position. The rear seats can be reclined and the upgrade is available on Feel trim for them to slide individually so that either boot space or legroom can be tweaked to suit various situations, the feature coming as standard on range-topping Flair models.

Interior detail dashboard - Citroen C3 Aircross compact small SUV crossover road test review 1.2 petrol Flair Oliver Hammond blogger writer journalist Petroleum Vitae

In terms of storage, the front door bins are a decent size and those in the rear are adequate, the glovebox is fairly small thanks to the fuse box, and it’s a shame there’s no centre storage cubby between the front seats. The C3 Aircross’ boot is impressive, though, its standard capacity of 410 litres comfortably beating the Hyundai Kona with 334 litres, the Kia Stonic with 352 litres and the Vauxhall Mokka X with 365 litres. The facelifted Peugeot 2008 offers a smidgen more at 422 litres, but Citroen has followed several other brands by offering optionally sliding rear seats, enabling luggage space to be increased to 520 litres to accommodate more bumph when not carrying rear passengers. The front passenger seat can also be specified so that it folds flat, further amplifying this MPV-SUV-crossover’s practical abilities, and Citroen has also incorporated some handy storage places for keys, coins and the like.

On the road, after releasing the unconventional handbrake that may conjure thoughts of a cobra’s head, PSA’s tried-and-tested 130bhp 1.2-litre PureTech stalwart petrol engine with its three cylinders is as likeable as ever, quiet and refined most of the time but producing some pleasing growls when it’s stoked. Performance isn’t high up the C3 Aircross’ agenda but this practical and style-focussed compact SUV is no limp lettuce with this engine at its heart and although nobody expects it to excel at overtaking and zesty acceleration, it can hold its own on the motorway, keeping up with traffic in the fast lane. Wind noise can be annoyingly intrusive at times, but this French newcomer is generally fairly well hushed and a pleasant place to be, on all types of roads.

Exterior front 34b - Citroen C3 Aircross compact small SUV crossover road test review 1.2 petrol Flair Oliver Hammond blogger writer journalist Petroleum Vitae

A highlight of the C3 Aircross driving experience has to be the slick 6-speed manual gearbox, which is uncannily joyful to use. The steering, too, is well-judged in its weighted feel and overall responsiveness, again coming as a surprise. The suspension is firmer than on many previous French cars, helping the C3 Aircross’ taller frame to cope with corners more effectively without much roll, and the turning circle is niftily compact for tight urban spots, although the steering at slow speeds can oddly feel a little heavy at times.

Performing and handling surprisingly decently, the C3 Aircross in 1.2-litre petrol guise is also easily capable of achieving an average combined fuel consumption figure of 50mpg, which is a mere 3.3mpg below its official ‘on paper’ credentials. It’s worth noting, though, that most of the week of mixed driving in Citroen’s latest model was with just the driver on board, not weighed down by passengers or luggage. Company car drivers and environmentally conscious private motorists will find this Flair S&S PureTech 130 manual variant of the C3 Aircross about average emissions wise, outputting 119g/km CO2, with the first year’s road tax costing £160.

Safety is catered for impressively on the 5-star-NCAP-rated C3 Aircross, with features like lane departure warning, speed limit recognition, ESC and hill start assist fitted as standard across all trims, but it’s a shame that Active Safety Brake (autonomous emergency braking) is only standard on Flair variants.

The test car came fitted with the optional Grip Control system at £400, which certainly provided added reassurance when yet more white stuff was dumped on the UK courtesy of ‘the Beast from the East’ and will enable Citroen’s compact SUV to venture off the beaten track to a modest degree through helping the front wheels work their most efficiently, along with StabiliGrip all-season tyres. With Standard, Snow, All-terrain and Sand modes plus hill descent control, it’s a handy suite worth specifying. The £600 Park Assist pack was also specified, bringing the total price of the test model to £21,410 – slightly more expensive than a similarly specified Stonic but a touch more competitive than an equivalent Kona, for example.

While Citroen’s new C3 Aircross may not float the boats of compact SUV buyers seeking a premium feel, posh badge and more conventional styling, it’s certainly worthy of shortlisting by anyone else. With funky, individual looks, a comfortable and fairly practical interior and a sweet 1.2-litre engine ideal for anyone who doesn’t munch a zillion miles per year, it’s got a lot to offer in a market segment admittedly swamped with choice.

© Author: Oliver Hammond, published motoring journalist, blogger & freelance writer