As Citroën reveals the European version of the C5 Aircross CUV, we examine its likely significance within CEO, Linda Jackson’s ‘people-focused’ double chevron reinvention.
Last week, Citroën announced the European debut of its new marque flagship, the C5 Aircross CUV, introduced to the Chinese market last autumn to help arrest the double chevron’s faltering sales performance; PSA citing sales of 40,000 units to the year end. A nice round sum.
The C5 Aircross is significant in three ways to European eyes. Firstly, because it allows us to view Citroën’s styling theme for the first time as a unified whole, rather than as a random collection. Secondly, as the largest car Citroën currently offers, the Aircross must broaden the double chevron’s appeal, attracting more affluent buyers from rival brands, while not cannibalising its Peugeot 3008 sibling. Thirdly, it must also appeal to existing Citroen C5 owners who only have recourse to Sochaux if a saloon from the PSA stable is what they seek.
With its product centre of gravity having become centred on small economy hatchbacks, the new Qashqai-rivalling crossover has the added task of shifting Citroën’s transaction prices up, a matter of no small import for CEO, Linda Jackson.
Now that Citroën has rolled out its current styling theme across the board, we have a better grasp of the brand’s visual identity, so do we like what we see?
Two main themes appear to distinguish Citroën’s anno-2018 visuals from its Lion of Belfort stablemates. Firstly surfacing, which along the flanks is softer and calmer that that of its equivalent Peugeot and secondly in terms of graphics, which by contrast major on visual discordance and surprise.
There are perhaps two reasons for this – firstly to embed the notion of Citroën as the non-conformist offering within the PSA hierarchy and secondly, to distract from the fact that the C5 Aircross remains in essence an entirely conformist shape, little different to its growing cadre of EMP-2 platform-mates.
Taken as a whole, the car is not unappealing, but it does fail to cohere, the jumble of trompe d’oeil styling tricks serving up a slightly fussy and vaguely unsatisfying confection. Citroën rather tellingly describes it as ‘aspirational’, citing ‘customers who do not want to forfeit practicality for image’, which simultaneously says little while revealing a good deal more.
On the surface of things, Citroën’s take on aspiration seems to consist of offering customers a wide choice of exterior customisation options – with some 30 exterior combinations available, encompassing “seven body colours, a black two-tone roof offering and three Color Packs comprising coloured inserts on the front bumper, the Airbump® on the lower part of the front doors, and the roof bars.”
If we accept (as one supposes we must) that the platonic ideal of the Citroën we knew and loved is lost, we can perhaps understand the desire to place some distance between themselves and their Sochaux stablemates, given the restrictions placed upon them both by marque hierarchy and financial stricture, but it remains to be seen whether a combination of visual discord, a more assertive ‘face’ and a ladling of fun-bumps will be enough to get customers through the showroom doors.
Assuming they do however, what will they discover inside? The Aircross continues the horizontal dashboard theme established with the C4 Cactus, but in a more upscale, less minimalist manner. Less polarising in appearance than that of the Peugeot 3008, its IP is also dominated by a large central touchscreen within which most controls, including the HVAC (damningly) are grouped.
More laudatory however is the option of warmer colours (which few will specify) and Citroën’s patented Advanced Comfort Seats, offering five ‘interior ambiances’, whose matching colours and materials, Citroën say, affords “clarity and warmth in a trendy and premium casual chic style.” Ignoring the queasy language, the C5’s cabin at least appears somewhat inviting, if perhaps a little overstyled.
Further to the brand’s Advanced Comfort Programme® is the continued rollout of what they term progressive hydraulic cushions. This system employing an additional assist and rebound spring within the damper assembly has been praised for improving ride comfort, but paradoxically, has also been criticised for prioritising it over handling dynamics.
It is to Citroën’s credit that they are attempting to reset the dial towards passenger comfort, while attempting to carve a USP for themselves, but one has to suspect that up against a juvenile motor press who view ride comfort as an affront to their manhood, the double chevron will likely continue to face an uphill battle to win hearts and minds.
Production at the Rennes-La Janais site will soon begin, with deliveries beginning later this year. At the tail-end of 2019, it will become the first Citroën model to be made available as a plug-in hybrid. Citroën’s Linda Jackson has also pledged to add replacements to the discontinued C4 and C5 saloons within the next two years or so, further expanding the brand’s reach and one assumes, appeal. However, on current form it’s difficult to envisage how this styling language can be successfully stretched to encompass such models.
Moreover, there remains an essential discord and at its heart lies the question of Citroën’s raison d’être in this new-age multi-brand PSA hierarchy. While VW have successfully managed to adopt a workable strategy while sharing large elements of commonality, PSA’s experiments in this arena still seem somewhat muddled.
Because let us be clear – an ill-defined brand is not one with an assured future. It isn’t that the C5 Aircross is necessarily a poor effort, more that it simply doesn’t really add up to anything like enough to be more than most people’s sixth choice.
Sorry Ms. Jackson, but on this basis you may need to get the colouring books out again.
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