Just the same. Only different.
Yet another player has entered the compact SUV segment in the local market, but this time it’s the Frenchies giving this new sector a go. Welcome, then, the new Citroen C4 Aircross to SA shores.
Directly competitive with the Mazda CX-5 which started rolling off of showroom floors just a few days ago, the specifications sheet reads almost like the two companies have been in collusion. Both are powered exclusively by a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol motor, the Citroen producing 110kW and 197Nm while the Mazda can manage 114kW and 200Nm. There’s only a five-speed manual ‘box on the Citroen while the CX-5 enjoys a sixth gear for cruising – both automatic variants have six forward cogs.
Clearly the SKYACTIV kit on the Mazda does pay some dividends, as despite the higher power output it’s the Japanese car that enjoys lower fuel consumption. The Citroen delivers a claimed combined-cycle of 7.5l/100km some 0.7l/100km up on the CX-5, which of course is echoed in the CO2 emissions – 175g/km for the Citroen 158 for the Mazda.
This means that the pricing advantage the entry-level Citroen enjoys will be marginally erased by the higher CO2 tax it attracts. Basic list price including VAT but not this cheat tax on the new C4 Aircross is just R269 900, while the entry-level Mazda weighs in at R271K, but that’s before the hefty addition of VAT comes into play pushing it way, way up to the R310K mark.
I recently criticised the CX-5 quite heavily due to its senseless pricing, and this new C4 drives the point home nicely. R270K for a good-looking but technically fairly humdrum 110kW 2-litre family SUV is comfortably in the sweet spot. At the time I wondered just how well the Mazda would sell at the level it’s been priced, and now that you can get essentially the same thing in a better-looking Citroen for a substantial R40K saving is likely to stall it on showroom floors even more.
Back to the Aircross though, and of course it’s amply specced. All the safety features you need, as well as most of the comfort-boosting bits like automatic climate control and a decent sound system with USB connectivity are in place (on everything bar the absolute entry-level variant, the Attraction Manual, while only the most expensive Mazda gets these), and a comparative glance between the two would have a buyer scratching their heads trying to figure out where the Mazda gets that significant price premium from. All right, it has the SKYACTIV stuff, but in practicality all of that mumbo-jumbo just boils down to what’s likely to be a slightly lighter monthly fuel bill, and I reckon if some cleverer people than I did the maths you’d find that your savings here would amortise the difference in price over oh a couple of decades. Which is of course ludicrous because no-one keeps their cars for that long.
If your pockets are quite a bit deeper, you can even get the new Citroen with an AWD setup for driving across damp fields and the like. Sure you’re looking at more like R369K (incl VAT) for that model, but that is the full-fat exclusive model complete with all the options which can be thrown at it ticked. Again this undercuts the fully-specced CX-5 albeit by a lesser margin, the Mazda weighing in at R390K including VAT and CO2, but there’s no AWD hardware at all even on this range-topping variant. OK you’d have to be able to put up with an abysmal CVT gearbox in the Citroen, but many are quite willing to do that anyway – some people even think they’re superior to regular automatics so that’s down to taste.
My one gripe with the new C4 Aircross comes down to the powerplant, as usual. Yes everyone might be getting a little bored of the 1.6-litre turbo engine as employed by Citroen in the DS model range, but it’s still a superb motor. And would’ve been just as good in this Aircross, so why the move to a wheezy old-school nat-asp 2-litre? Sure put the 2-litre in as an option if you must, but surely including the 1.6 turbo wouldn’t have added to the development costs or anything, so why not have a more performance-oriented version powered by this mill?
Overall though, the new Citroen C4 Aircross looks like it could be a strong contender in this burgeoning segment. It’s well-specced, priced just right, and to my eyes at least pulls off that styling trick the French designers are so good at, adding a frisson of flair to the compact SUV segment without actually redefining anything as such. The C4 in fact sits squarely in between the still quite boxy VW Tiguan and the sportier looks of CX-5 and Kuga, while the chunky stance and upright LED side-lights in the front bumper appeal to the modernist in us all.
Looking forward to test drives in both of the protagonists I’ve spoken about here to see if, on real roads, there’s anything to actually separate them, or if your final decision should be left entirely to your own judgement which, astonishingly for a motoring publication, I actually still believe you possess and are capable of accessing if you’re thinking of paying your own hard-earned cash for a new car in this very popular segment.
Full info available soon on the Citroen SA homepage.
The Citroën Aircross range is covered by a 3-year/100 000km warranty and a 5 year 100 000km service plan with the option to upgrade the warranty to 5-years/100 000km, while FreeDrive, includes the extended warranty and also incorporates a 100 000km maintenance plan.
Pricing: (including VAT but not CO2)
2.0i Man Attraction 2WD R269 900
2.0i Man Seduction 2WD R294 900
2.0i CVT Seduction 2WD R309 900
2.0i CVT Exclusive 4WD R369 900