Although the Aircross will be sold globally, Citroen's push to create a new SUV is strongly driven by the continuing emergence of SUV sales in Asia. Within the SUV segment, large C-segment vehicles are currently the best-selling cars, but sales of smaller B-segment SUVs are growing faster. Last December in China Citroen launched the C3-XR, a high-riding version of the C3 decked in body cladding, and it is already the firm's biggest-selling model, accounting for 10,000 sales a month. Consequently, Citroen is also investigating launching the C4 Cactus in the region.
"Our core strategy is to reduce the number of silhouettes we offer from 14 to 7, but to focus more clearly on the biggest segments," said Jackson. "The Aircross is a concept that explains some of where we want to go."
Furthermore, with Cactus sales described as encouraging and Citroën eager to establish its own identity among PSA’s DS and Peugeot brands, Jackson confirmed she is keen to accelerate the roll-out of the new look over the next five years.
“We need to go back to what we were always good at: design,” said Jackson, who cited the 2CV, CX and SM as examples of previous daring Citroën creations. “That was complemented by an emphasis on comfort over sportiness, spaciousness and a charisma that made the owner feel at home. We want those qualities back.”
Jackson believes that the move will make Citroëns more instantly recognisable and provoke buyers to either love or hate the cars. “It’s no good being everybody’s third choice. You end up having to use discounts to persuade buyers to choose your vehicles, and at that point you don’t have a sustainable business,” she said.
“It will take time, but it is certain that the next generation of Citroëns will be a leap forward for us. If we want stand-out cars, then we have to be bold.”
The Aircross is powered by a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. An electric motor producing 95bhp and 148lb ft is located on the rear axle and is combined with a front-mounted 1.6-litre petrol engine developing 218bhp and 203lb ft.
The electric motor is fuelled by a lithium ion battery pack that can be recharged in three and a half hours via a domestic socket. The car has a claimed all-electric range of 31 miles for urban routes and switches between the electric motor and internal combustion engine for journeys that call for regular acceleration and deceleration. On the motorway, the petrol engine is used exclusively.
The Aircross also features a boost function that calls on the combined 313bhp of the electric motor and petrol engine when the driver accelerates heavily. This allows a 0-62mph time of 4.5sec. CO2 emissions are rated at 39g/km and fuel economy 166mpg.
Citroën Aircross - key features
Changing faces - As on the Cactus, the thin headlights link to the Citroën logo. The design is described as a hallmark that will appear on every car Citroën makes, but the area below will change according to bodystyle. On the Aircross, the ‘mouth’ of the car is more open than on the Cactus, emphasising its width.
Not just chrome - Citroën is bucking trends set by German premium makers. As a result, there are few chrome accents in the cabin. Materials here include Teflon coating and brushed aluminium, which are durable but tactile. Citroën refers to ‘sofa spirit’, meaning an interior that’s both inviting and comfortable.
Airbumps evolve - Set low to emphasise the car’s bolder SUV stance, the ‘Alloy Bumps’ are made of honeycomb aluminium castings surrounded by hard rubber. Production versions are unlikely to be so intricate or weighty, but they show how the Airbump concept will evolve for different vehicle types.
Production focus - Exaggerated width, wheels and tyres aside, there are likely to be few changes when the car makes production. The ‘Air Signs’ (chrome-finished signatures framing the rear window) and ‘Air Curtains’ (intakes at the front of the car) are both functional devices that enhance aerodynamics.
Q&A with Alexandre Malval, head of Citroën design
What are Citroën’s design philosophies?
“We want to highlight function and show it off. We won’t design anything for show. It must have a real use. We want a simplicity about our cars, but one that brings a feelgood factor to the owner. And, no, simple doesn’t mean budget…”
Is the rounded exterior another Citroën hallmark?
“Yes. We don’t want our cars to be aggressive in any way. The German brands are all about creating a presence by using sharp, angry creases and bold lines. We want a serenity, and that means rounded curves, simple volumes and the confidence to show off technical details rather than try to hide them behind design.”
Can that be extended to all Citroëns?
“If we choose to, why not? We have a history through the CX, SM and more for doing things our own way. It is time to rediscover that self-confidence again. We want our cars to be friendly, quirky and even cosy. Making rounded edges work from every angle, and with all the reflections from natural light, is not easy, but I hope we have achieved it.”
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