For a snapshot of the mass-market approach to building small family cars in 2018, look no further than the general proportions of Citroën’s jacked-up version of the C3 supermini, the C3 Aircross. But look also at the car it replaces, the cleverly packaged and much-admired C3 Picasso. The cars share the same platform, have very similar drivetrains and broadly similar proportions, but the silhouette has not-so-subtly shifted from traditional MPV to SUV. Sound familiar?

It’s a major trend, this one, so much of what you see on the road today is either a sports utility vehicle or has elements of the genre in evidence, and an entire class has sprung up to accommodate society’s frightening appetite for pocket-sized exponents. It means this Citroën has an inordinate number of rivals, including cars from Seat, Hyundai, Peugeot, Mazda, Renault, Kia, Nissan, Ford and Vauxhall.

As we’ve discovered, there’s nary a chassis to lure a keen driver among the lot of them, but the best cars here manage to combine strong fuel economy and decent agility with a perception of space and refinement that overlaps with the class above. For success in this segment, all of those attributes and more must be in evidence if you want to compete for class honours.

In the case of the C3 Aircross, that ‘more’ comes in the form of charm, of which there is a distinct dearth among its rivals. Even the class leader, Seat’s Arona, suffers from a shortage of discernible visual character, having been designed instead in the pursuit of ruthless – and generally excellent – box-ticking all-round completeness.

Bright colours (there are 90 exterior combinations), buoyant bodywork and an interior that could only be French make the C3 Aircross the antithesis of anything with a German, or German-owned, badge on its nose. And as one road tester noted on the car’s launch last year, despite its lack of four-wheel drive, there’s a whiff of the much-loved Fiat Panda 4x4 about this new car. High praise indeed.

It’s instantly likeable, then, but whether the C3 Aircross is a car you can also buy with a level head is what we’ll discover here.

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