C5 Aircross earmarked for NZ

New Zealand’s best-selling electric car is no longer without a direct rival … but when the new foil arrives is anyone’s guess.

SO, a Citroen that fits seamlessly into the lucrative and ever-strengthening SUV/crossover segment and also conforms to latest environmental expectation, with a fancy plug-in hybrid drivetrain – c'est bon, right?

The C5 Aircross that has just made its global debut at the Shanghai motor show has certainly whet the New Zealand distributor’s appetite.

However, as they say, the devil is always in the detail – and, at this point, in respect to when it will come here, how much for and with what drivetrains … well, those are details that are still beyond the local rep’s reach.

Citroen has signalled that, while the car hits China later this year, it won’t reach Europe until mid-2018 and, presumably, that’s also when right-hand-drive production begins.

Simon Rose, the divisional manager for Sime Darby Automobiles, which locally represents Citroen, its DS adjunct and sister brand Peugeot, can’t help with that, but he is able to confirm that the car is definitely on his radar.

“At this time PSA have not committed to a NZ launch date,” he explained today.

“However, given the on-going growth of the SUV market in NZ, dealers are hoping its sooner rather than later so they can capitalise on what promises to be a fundamental model for the brand in the future.”

It’s a good point. Citroen needs the car in Europe because SUVs and crossovers accounted for 25 percent of the overall home market in 2016. Of course, the penetration is even higher in New Zealand – quasi off-roaders now outsell road-bound cars here – and, with the PSA brands holding a niche presence, this model cannot come soon enough.

Rose is personally excited by the degree to which it embraces the brand’s promise of creative technology.

“Its aggressive style, design and look are in keeping with the Citroen brand ethos … as well as it providing a more compliant and comfortable ride from the suspension set up, more so than most competing SUV product on the market.”

It’s too early to say what drivetrains will be made available, though he does have obvious interest in it being Citroen’s first plug-in hybrid and thus also, due to the format, a direct foil for the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV that presently sets the electric vehicles’ sales pace here.

The provision of a hybrid drivetrain that comprises a 149kW petrol engine and two electric motors, for a output of 223kW, makes it the most powerful Citroen production car to date.

Seeing red, however, is less than the point than being Green. The model will have an all-electric range of 60km, slightly more than the Outlander, Citroen testifes.

The C5 Aircross is the first model in what Citroen chief executive Linda Jackson calls a "SUV offensive.” A smaller companion, the C3 Aircross, is expected to be shown later this year.

Citroen does not mention the Outlander as a rival but instead has cited the Ford Escape and Hyundai Tucson.

In size, the car is similar to the upscale DS7 Crossback earlier this year. Both models are built on the group’s EMP2 platform, as is the Peugeot 3008, which has just started to arrive in New Zealand.

The Aircross is the first C5 not to have Citroen's signature hydropneumatic suspension system, which debuted in the DS sedan in 1955 but is being dropped,

Instead, it will have a less costly suspension that uses springs and dampers, but Citroen has added what it calls Progressive Hydraulic Cushions - two hydraulic bump stops at each corner, one to control rebound and one to control compression. It suggests this will replicate the bonuses of its hydropneumatic set up.

Speaking of air, the car’s exterior design clearly picks up Citroen’s new-look styling cues, including a version of the "Airbumps" first seen on the C4 Cactus and on the new C3 hatchback.

The front lights that wrap into the brand's chevron badging and the C-pillar shape are carried over from the Aircross concept unveiled at the 2015 Shanghai show, as are prominent air scoops on the front fascia.

Inside, the C5 Aircross has a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and an 8-inch touchscreen to control media and navigation functions. Driver aids like adaptive cruise control with stop feature are a step below those planned for the new DS 7 Crossback, which PSA says will be the group’s high-tech flagship.

Chinese buyers will initially be able to choose from 123kW or 149kW petrol engines connected to six-speed automatic transmissions.

Citroen says European versions will have “engines similar to the current Citroen lineup,” including Blue HDi diesels and PureTech petrol units.