Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid 2021 long-term review
Can this new plug-in hybrid fulfil the potential we saw in the initial petrol variants?
*Why we ran it: *To see if there’s more to this funky plug-in SUV than a tax-friendly CO2 rating
-Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Prices and specs-
-Life with a C5 Aircross PHEV: Month 4-
*Would we recommend this family SUV to those looking for a practical PHEV? - 9 June 2021*
There have been a hell of a lot of firsts within the car world in recent years, and the deluge shows no sign of slowing. The C5 Aircross PHEV was one of them, arriving last year as Citroën’s first plug-in hybrid – and already the French firm has followed it up with another: its first mainstream electric car, the ë-C4.
The ë-C4 will probably come to be viewed as much more of a landmark in Citroën’s long history, but I would argue that the C5 PHEV is probably more important through the lens of the typical buyer right now.
That’s because SUVs are the cars in by far the greatest demand, while PHEVs are a more secure stepping stone into the future than EVs. Plus, they incur similarly low VED and BIK tax bills, thanks to their unbelievably high official fuel economy and low CO2 emissions figures.
‘Unbelievably high’ sounds quite strong, but the C5 PHEV officially should achieve as much as 222.3mpg. In its time with ex-road tester Simon Davis and then with me, it returned an average of 64.1mpg. That’s a more realistic figure for most people, because we weren’t able to charge the 13.2kWh battery especially regularly, due to our living circumstances. Mind you, had I been able to charge the battery at home, I reckon I could have chased the ‘unbelievable’ figure, because I only ever drive in town these days – and there are plenty more people who would get much better returns, if not quite 222mpg.
When there was some charge in its battery, I found that the C5 operated slickly as a mock EV, being whisper- quiet and as nippy as some full EVs. Plus, its regenerative braking was very strong in B mode, allowing me to eke out that energy.
Back in the depths of winter, Davis was managing only around 17 miles in EV mode from an official 33, but I estimate that I got into the mid-20s at a minimum in the warmer weeks. That’s decent, although there are more efficient PHEVs, plus some (pricier ones) with bigger batteries and thus longer electric ranges.
If you have to pay £8 to top up the battery streetside, as Davis did in London (no surprise there), it’s probably not even worth it – and that’s troubling. But there are definitely cheaper public plugs to be found, and charging at home (if you can) overnight is a no-brainer.
Aside from the practicalities and economies of the powertrain, I must confess that although I found the C5 PHEV pleasant to drive at first, its shortcomings became ever more noticeable as time went by.
Most significantly, the primary reason why I couldn’t see eye to eye with my C4 Cactus a few years ago hasn’t fully been remedied. Citroën’s main point of brand distinction is meant to be supreme comfort. It even names the hydraulic bump stops in its otherwise regular EMP2-platform suspension ‘Advanced Comfort’. I’m sorry, but that’s a misnomer. The C5 has a very relaxed gait, but at times you feel as though you’re in a boat, and it makes you wince as it shudders across broken asphalt and thumps over potholes. Comments from rear seat passengers certainly weren’t anything about a magic carpet ride.
Of course, the flipside of a focus on ride is usually that the handling isn’t remotely sporty, and so it wasn’t here. The inclusion of a driving mode labelled ‘Sport’ in a car whose tyres squeal if you attack a roundabout at more than 20mph, which tones your abs when cornering and which enthusiastically nods if you brake sharply is an amusing little joke, even if the C5 PHEV can pull off surprisingly rapid acceleration.
And that’s not to mention the fact that the automatic gearbox is often about as quick to pick a gear as the government is to shut our borders when a new Covid variant emerges.
These gripes are unfortunate, because the C5 is otherwise a comfy car. It’s particularly spacious, the seats are large and well padded and there are three of them in the back – no little lump in the middle. The boot is big, too, and it contains a number of smart little containers in its floor for keeping your groceries in place.
The touchscreen proved easy to operate and never once glitched out, in stark contrast to the utterly confounding one in my previous car, a Seat Leon. It’s just a shame that it also makes you adjust the air-con on the screen – even more so when there actually are some physical buttons.
Also of note is the interior: I’m fond of Citroën’s cabin designs, because they don’t chase the zeitgeist. In the C5, the ‘chocolate bar’ appearance of the seats is very welcoming, and the interesting variety of shapes on the dashboard and doors creates interest.
I see quite a few C5s on the roads, and I’d love to know how many of them are PHEVs. Because while I’d pick a petrol, I can see how the hybrid would be ace for certain drivers. Mind you, I imagine that it will be picked primarily from the angle of ‘I want a C5’ rather than ‘I want a tax- buster’, given that there are PHEVs out there that are sharper to drive and/or make greater use of electricity.
It lacks the character of big Citroëns from years gone by and doesn’t quite match their refinement, either, but there’s a rare balance between frugality and luxury appeal in this C5. Were the gearbox less frustrating, the engine a bit quieter and the cabin plusher, it would be hard to pass up.
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*Clean and quiet *I loved being able to drive around town on electricity, for both the silence and my guilty conscience.
*Pleasant interior *The materials may not be the most luxurious around, but the design is unusual and to me looks very suave.
*Potential for frugality *If you have the facilities to keep the battery topped up at home, your running costs could be very low.
*Lethargic gearbox *The eight-speed automatic often felt about as energetic as I do after 15 months of Groundhog Day.
*Hardly cosseting *‘Advanced Comfort’ seems like a misleading name for a ride that was never any better than average.
*Final mileage: 4753*
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*Braking benefits of electrification - 2 June 2021*
One of my favourite things about EVs is regenerative braking, which feels like very strong engine braking. So I was pleased to find this is present in our plug-in hybrid Citroën and have been making use of it regularly (by picking B rather than D) to top up the battery. Even on a local road with a 10% gradient, I therein have to stay on the throttle to maintain speed.
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-Life with a C5 Aircross PHEV: Month 3-
*This PHEV has 222 horses, but it’s better if you hold them - 19 May 2021*
It was anxiously that I received our Citroën C5 Aircross long-termer as a parting gift from Simon Davis.
You see, a few years ago, I ran a C4 Cactus, and we liked one another no better than Donald Trump and Joe Biden. It was a car predicated on comfort, yet there was no payoff for its sloppy chassis or hateful manual gearbox. Even its ride wasn’t good.
So I was delighted to discover that the C5 Aircross drives far better. And interestingly, not because it just feels like the Peugeot 3008. Actually, it’s what can only be called Citroëny – in a mature way, and with far fewer irritations than the old C4 Cactus.
The ride is comfortable, even if it could still do with some finessing over broken surfaces at low speeds, and the body control doesn’t imitate blancmange. The handling is tidy, too. But it does tell you to chill out. Take a roundabout swiftly and the tyres protest loudly; brake sharply and firmly and you’re made to feel like a kestrel that has spied a vole.
This made it very surprising when I f loored it for an uphill slip road, as this languid Citroën can go some. The combined 222bhp of its engine and motor feels quite incongruous; I bet the 296bhp four-wheel-drive version of this powertrain offered by Peugeot would feel ridiculous here.
Mind you, that’s only after the auto ’box has remembered that, yes, it is indeed a gearbox and so, yes, it should select a gear – a thought process that it has to perform annoyingly often if you’re not inclined to plod around.
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*Proper SUV proportions - 5 May 2021*
A couple I know have just upgraded their C4 Picasso to a C5 Aircross, and I can see why. Most cars today are really suitable for only two in the rear, with just a narrow perch flanked by two properly bolstered seats, but this SUV is a rare exception, having three full-sized ‘Advanced Comfort’ chairs. It’s perfect, then, for ferrying around their three daughters.
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*Picky USB ports - 14 April 2021*
I had a bit of trouble connecting my iPhone to the Citroën’s infotainment system the other week. In my Suzuki (and practically every other car I’ve driven), my knock-off Lightning-to- USB cable hooks my iPhone up to Apple CarPlay with no issues. In the C5 Aircross, it just flat out refused to connect. The cable wasn’t faulty, either: it worked straight away when I got back in my Suzuki Across.
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-Life with a C5 Aircross PHEV: Month 2-
*This PHEV needs cheap charging if it’s to make sense - 7 April 2021*
My neighbours might be getting a bit more relaxed about lockdown-related travel restrictions, because many of the cars that have sat stationary on my street for the past few months suddenly seem to have disappeared.
For purely selfish reasons, this is good: it means the two Ubitricity lamp-post chargers are no longer being blocked. So, for the first time I was able to plug our Citroën C5 Aircross PHEV into one of them, rather than the nearby Source London chargers.
The price difference was pretty drastic: whereas I normally pay anywhere between £8 to £13 to top up the PHEV’s battery at the latter (which hardly seemed worth it), it cost just £3 from the lamp-post. I guess that’s the premium you pay to plug into a charger reserved exclusively for EVs.
Anyway, now that the sun is out a bit more, I thought I would see if the Citroën’s electric range had improved from the 16-mile best that I had achieved previously. With the temperature at 16deg C, I was able to extract 28 miles from the battery, which is a decent improvement and much closer to its minimum official range of 33 miles.
For just £3, the value for money doesn’t seem quite so questionable either.
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*Perfectly roomy - 10 March 2021*
The C5 Aircross recently spent a week in the care of Oli, our videographer. His usual long-termer, a comparatively puny Kia Picanto that he runs for Autocar sibling title What Car?, had recently left the fleet, so he was after a car with a big boot to get him and his equipment to that week’s shoots. From the look of it, the Citroën’s 460-litre hold was more than up to the task.
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*Our C5 has its virtues, but plug-in performance isn’t one - 3 March 2021*
Running this plug-in Citroën over the past few months has been an interesting experience, even if a renewed lockdown has limited my time behind the wheel.
That’s not to say it’s been sat idle this whole time. On the occasions that I have, you know, actually driven it, the car has definitely had its moments.
With a soft ride and occasionally spongy-feeling controls – the brake pedal is particularly cake-like – the C5 comes across as more of a bean bag on wheels than anything else, which makes it a comfy thing to point down a motorway. Bump absorption at low speeds is decent, too, but every so often it drops the ball. The suspension doesn’t like craters and potholes too much, and even more gently scarred, porous stretches of road will see the wheels drop out from underneath you with a thump.
The steering is also really light and devoid of feel. That makes it easy to operate at low speeds, but you won’t feel inspired to grab it by the scruff of the neck and throw it down your favourite B-road.
All of which is fine, I guess. I’m happy enough to mooch about, and this car is mostly pretty good at that. Run on battery power and you’ll find it’s both quiet and punchy enough to keep pace with urban traffic, and when the petrol engine does step in, it does so in a very discreet fashion.
That said, I do have one really rather big gripe with this car, and that’s the 13.2kWh battery’s paucity of electric range. I wrote in my introductory report that I’ve only been getting 16 or 17 miles from a full charge when I should – so the WLTP claim goes – be seeing closer to 30 miles. Obviously the cold weather won’t be helping here, but I was recording that sub-claimed range long before the recent cold snap, and it didn’t exactly improve with that.
With no access to a home charger at my rented flat, I’m currently paying about £8 to top the battery up, which, frankly, is terrible value for the pitiful range I’ve been seeing. I could spend £5 on petrol and go further in a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ.
Of course, you could argue that a plug-in hybrid simply doesn’t suit my current living situation, and I would agree with you. If you don’t have access to off-street parking and a government-subsidised home-charging wallbox that can feed cheap electricity back into its battery, then you should steer clear.
But what about those company car buyers who might be in a similar living situation to me, but have bought a PHEV simply to slash their benefit-in-kind obligations? The savings would mean someone in the 40% tax bracket could potentially make up the approximately £5500 list-price difference between this car and a range-topping petrol in about two years, so those people must exist.
Somehow, I can’t see them bothering to seek out a public-access point before paying a premium to top their batteries up, all so they can keep their green credentials intact.
So that’s my main beef with this car, although it’s a moan that could apply to any PHEV. Otherwise, I quite like it. I just hope I’ll start seeing a bit more range as the weather warms up.
*Welcoming vibe *Relaxing, chilled-out sense of dynamic character makes this a largely comfortable car in which to spend time.
*Electric range *Cold weather nukes the electric range. Pricey to top up at public chargers in urban environments where cars like this should appeal.
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-Life with a C5 Aircross PHEV: Month 1-
*Why no plug socket indicator standards? - 3 February 2021*
I got caught out the first time I tried to charge up the C5. The battery symbol is positioned on the right- hand side of the digital instrument screen, but the arrow that indicates where the charge port actually is on the car points left. I parked up, started a charge session, then realised the car was facing the wrong way and the cable wouldn’t reach.
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*Welcoming the C5 Aircross to the fleet - 20 January 2020*
It might seem weird that a Citroën C5 Aircross is joining the Autocar long- term fleet roughly two years after the car was launched, but there’s logic here, I promise.
You see, this chunky, funky family SUV was originally available only with a selection of oh-so-very-20th- century three- and four-cylinder petrol engines, plus a couple of four-pot diesels. We road tested the range-topping oil-burner at the time and liked its snazzy interior and laid-back, cruisy demeanour enough to award it three and a half stars.
This one, however, is the new plug-in hybrid version, which arrived in the UK last summer.
It’s effectively Citroën’s first proper step towards electrification (not countingthelikesofthesmall-batch AX Electrique and C-Zero from way back when), and it arrives in the context of a far larger and more serious shift towards battery power across the wider PSA Group and the car industry as a whole.
This is our chance to find out just how versatile this new C5 Aircross is compared with a conventionally powered SUV and discover exactly what the real-world benefits of running a PHEV actually are – past the obvious company car tax breaks that primarily drive people into cars like this, of course. It should give us plenty of opportunity to ponder the wider question of electrification, too.
But first, some details. KP70 VSX arrives in the poshest Flair Plus specification, with a list price of £36,845 before options. That makes it nearly £5500 more than the top-rung diesel and over £6000 more than the flagship petrol. Private buyers who won’tgainfromits10%benefit-in- kind rating might already think that looks like questionable value.
However, standard equipment is decent enough, given that lofty price. There’s a fully loaded infotainment system (with Apple CarPlay, thank heavens), 19in alloys, part-leather upholstery, wireless phone charging, dual-zone climate control and an arsenal of active safety systems, among other things. There aren’t any heated seats, though, so my other half is already saying she doesn’t like the C5 Aircross. But in her book, heated seats are the only difference between a good car and a bad one, so I’m not too worried by her initial verdict.
And for what it’s worth, you can get them – along with nappa leather upholstery – as a £1770 option. Speaking of options, our car doesn’t have many. There’s Pearl White pearlescent paint (£720) and a Black Exterior Pack (£300), which gets those alloys, the roof and the wing mirror housings painted, well, black. That’s it. I think it looks pretty neat.
Beneath the quirky but rather charming exterior is the same EMP2 platform that underpins everything from the DS 7 Crossback to the Vauxhall Vivaro. Its suspension is, on the face of it, pretty conventional, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Slightly less conventional are the so-called Progressive Hydraulic Cushions – a pair of hydraulic bump stops fitted to each strut that supposedly mitigate the effect of rebound and allow for a softer suspension tune. We’ll evaluate how effective they are in due course.
The powertrain, meanwhile, is shared with the Peugeot 508 Hybrid. It features a 1.6-litre, 178bhp four- cylinder turbo petrol engine and a 107bhp electric motor that’s housed within the eight-speed gearbox, which combine to endow the big Citroën with a system output of 222bhp. Of greater significance, however, is the lithium ion drive battery because, you know, that’s effectively what lends this model its attractive on-paper eco credentials.
It has a 13.2kWh gross capacity and provides a claimed range of between 33 and 40 miles, according to WLTP test procedures. Plug it into a 7kW charger and it will be topped up in less than two hours. It results in the promise of fantastical fuel consumption figures, too: officially, you can expect as much as 222.3mpg, but you’re likely to see Covid-19 completely disappear before hitting those sorts of heady heights.
While my west London flat does have off-street parking, I don’t have access to a home-charging wallbox. And because I rent, I won’t be forking out to install one, either. There are, however, two lamp-post chargers on my road and another couple of public chargers within a five-minute walk, so I should be able to plug the car in pretty easily and reliably.
What will be interesting to discover over the course of this long- term test, however, is whether or not the fuel savings that come from being able to run around on electricity will be worth the cost of plugging in. I’m not entirely sure they will be.
I’ve yet to actually use the engine. And on the very short trip I have done since taking possession, the car informed me that a full battery was worth about 16 miles of range – less than half the official figure. I’m putting this down to the winter weather for now, but this will need to drastically improve if the car is to stand a chance of proving its value.
We will see, but I reckon this is shaping up to be a fascinating experiment in the financial viability of running a plug-in car and charging it almost exclusively at public-access points. I’ll be sure to report back on my progress over the coming months.
All those ovals and lozenges make the C5’s cabin look a tad gimmicky, but I’d rather that than the chintz of the DS 7. A bit more differentiation for the PHEV wouldn’t go amiss, but it’s plush, quirky and, in EV mode, quiet enough to evoke big Citroëns of old. I would have liked a bit more DS-esque floatiness, though.
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-Citroen C5 Aircross PHEV Puretech 180 Flair Plus specification-
*Prices: List price new* £36,845 *List price now* £35,850 (Shine Plus trim) *Price as tested* £37,865
*Options:*Pearl White pearlescent paint £720, Black Exterior Pack £300
*Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy* 157.2-222.3mpg *Fuel tank* 43 litres *Test average* 64.1mpg *Test best* 138.9mpg *Test worst* 30.0mpg *Real-world range* 606 miles
*Tech highlights: 0-62mph* 8.7sec *Top speed* 140mph *Engine* 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbo, petrol, plus electric motor *Max power* 225bhp at 6000rpm *Max torque* 184lb ft at 1650rpm *Transmission* 8-speed automatic *Boot capacity* 460-600/1510 litres *Wheels* 19in, alloy *Tyres* Michelin Primacy 3, 205/55 R19 *Kerb weight* 1770kg
*Service and running costs: Contract hire rate* £429 (Shine Plus trim) *CO2* 32-41g/km *Service costs* None *Other costs* None *Fuel costs* £213.03 (petrol), £32 (electricity) *Running costs inc fuel* £246.04 *Cost per mile* 11 pence *Faults* Adaptive cruise control unavailable on one drive
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