Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid Flair: Living with it

We see how the Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid's promises of practicality, efficiency and ease of use stand up in the real world

On fleet since:February 2021
List price new:£35,370
Options:Volcano Red paint (£545), White Anodised Colour pack (£0)
Mileage to date: 3,597
Efficiency to date:33.6mpg
Problems?None so far

Report 1: Introducing our Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid

In these days of mergers and 'platform sharing', there's hardly a car on the market that doesn't use the same underpinnings as several other offerings from 'sister brands' within the same group. So does that mean the occasionally-heard criticism that "all cars are the same these days" holds true?

Not necessarily. With the hefty cost of developing the complicated mechanical bits shared across a group, individual brands – should they want to – have the freedom to take a few more risks with the parts of their cars drivers actually see and feel every day: the exterior design, the interior layout and the on-board technology.

The Citroen C5 Aircross – which has been available in plug-in hybrid form for several months now – is a prime example. Its chassis and drivetrain also underpin the DS 7 Crossback E-TENSE, the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid and the Vauxhall Grandland Hybrid – all products of the vast Stellantis Group empire. But it has more than a few quirks of its own, which I've been enjoying during my time with the car so far. The styling is a refreshing change from the family SUV norm, for one, while the two-tone paintwork looks bold and the funky interior is a breath of fresh air compared to the drab layouts of some rivals.

And all for a pretty reasonable asking price of around £35,000 – less than you'll pay for the closely related DS 7 and Peugeot 3008 mentioned above. My car is in Flair trim (which, since I took delivery, has been renamed Shine) and it packs a decent roster of kit. There's the City Camera Pack, a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument screen, pedestrian-detecting emergency braking and traffic-sign recognition. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, too, which is a good thing, as I prefer using my phone apps to the Citroen's slightly confusing and hesitant interface.

In addition to bells and whistles like that, the Aircross also scores well for the more prosaic (but arguably more important) features that family SUV buyers are likely to prioritise. There are buttons to disable the rear electric-window controls and turn on the child locks, for example; a better solution than flicking fiddly switches in the door jambs. There's also a healthy amount of storage: wide door bins, cubbies ahead and to the side of the gearlever, plus vast space between the front seats for a large pack of anti-bacterial wipes, bottles of alcohol gel and rubber gloves – items that have come to define the past year-and-a-bit of life.

This is a plug-in hybrid, of course, so we have to talk about charging. And the news is good: you get a 6.6kW on-board charger as standard, so topping up from a typical home wallbox (like my Pod Point unit) will take less than two hours. Citroen says that'll give you enough juice to travel for up to 40 miles without bothering the petrol engine, but I've struggled to hit 25 – albeit in relatively cool weather.

While driving with some charge in the battery, I've been seeing indicated fuel-economy figures in excess of 100mpg, but once the charge has been depleted, it drops down to what you might expect for a small-ish turbocharged petrol engine in a large-ish family SUV: just under 35mpg. One other slight annoyance is that the charging flap is on the passenger-side rear wing (the fuel filler cap is on the driver's side), so I have to execute a slightly tricky reverse parking manoeuvre to line the car up close enough to my wallbox.

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The front side windows are acoustically insulated, so progress is very quiet indeed in electric mode, and even when the petrol engine kicks. Harsh acceleration is the only time you really notice the roar of the engine, so I've not been inclined to try matching the quoted 0-62mph time of 8.7 seconds too often. I was more interested in how effective the regenerative braking system would be, but unfortunately it's not quite strong enough for the true one-pedal driving you can enjoy in many fully electric cars.

In summary, the Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid has so far delighted and frustrated in equal measure. I love its unique looks inside and out, and how painless it is to live with on a day-to-day basis. It's unfortunate the engine-only fuel economy is so poor: I'll spend the next couple of months charging up as much as possible and see how much more electric range I can eke out without radically altering my driving style.

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