Why Citroens first-ever SUV puts style over substance

Citroën's apparent attempt to court female SUV buyers is competent as far as it goes – but little else, reports Arifa Akbar
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The Independent Online

Specifications
Model: C-Crosser 2.2 litre HDi Turbodiesel unit, 5 plus 2 seating
Price: £25,490. On sale from July
Engine: 4 cylinder, 156bhp at 4,000rpm, 280 lb ft at 2,000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox, four-wheel capacity
Performance: 124mph, 0-62 in 9.9 secs, 40mpg on combined cycle
CO2: 191g/km. Ability to run on 30 per cent bio-diesel. Equipped with diesel particulate filter system

Citroë*'s first-ever SUV is billed as an "urban animal", one that doesn't pretend to be for rigorous off-road use. The C-Crosser is, apparently, a 4x4 for city life, with higher visibility and a soft, comely shape that suggests it is aimed at the urban mother – the type of woman who might once have driven a gas-guzzling Chelsea tractor but has since acquired an eco-conscience.

As something of an urban animal myself, with a pathological tendency to hold up traffic with clumsy manoeuvres and only a vague idea of where the clutch should be, the new Citroë*'s self-declaration as a city dweller was music to my ears. I had had visions of driving a cumbersome monstrosity whose gear changes would require a farmhand's forearm. Of course, as a driver whose hand-eye co-ordination has never been a strong point, some cynics might say I was the perfect person to seek recourse in a 4x4, along with all the other inept drivers seen swinging their large-bottomed four-wheel drives down the city's one-way streets on a morning's school run.

Curiously, in spite of its marketed urbanity, I was sent to test-drive the C-Crosser on the spaghetti roads of the Pyrenees in rural France. Perhaps this was to give me a taste of the vehicle's potential as a hybrid sort of urban animal, one that could feel at home in rural terrain – just as long as it didn't get too rough.

En route to the precipitous mountain paths, I did feel a twinge of guilt as I blasted the hallowed town of Lourdes – famed for its health-giving properties and Christian miracles – with engine fumes. But I was somewhat reassured to learn that as 4x4s go, the town could have done a lot worse.

Equipped with a 2.2HDi diesel engine, the C-Crosser emits 191g/km of CO2 and reduces particle emissions further through its diesel particulate filter system. It can also keep fuel usage and CO2 down by travelling in permanent two-wheel drive.

From the outside, it may appear unwieldy to someone used to a nimbler car. But the minute I sank into its leather-seated interior, I felt reassured. It has a smooth, noiseless engine that gives the impression of something far less hulking.

In some ways, however, its success in disarming the driver and generating a sense of smallness can verge on the dangerously deceptive. Tearing around narrow paths and zooming past red-faced cyclists training for the Etape cycling sportif in the Pyrenees, it wasn't easy to immediately gauge the true width of the car. I found myself driving with one side virtually in the ditch. In a city, some drivers might find themselves hogging the road or holding up traffic on narrow, congested streets.

The C-Crosser's advantages lie in its comfort as a city car, its five seats, and a spacious boot that can be adapted into two decent extra seats for the kids.

The model is the result of a joint venture between two major manufacturers, PSA Peugeot Citroë* and Mitsubishi, to build an SUV for the European market. Indeed, once you have got past the Citroë* styling details, it becomes clear that the C-Crosser is very closely related to the Mitsubishi Outlander. There is only a HDi turbodiesel engine available, mated to a transmission offering two- and four-wheel-drive capability, as well as a differential lock for off-road motoring. Citroë* has also given the C-Crosser many of the virtues of the longer-standing members of the SUV class, such as lockable four-wheel drive, a proper tailgate, a flat boot-floor and nearly 1,700 litres of cargo space. In general, Citroë* has designed a competent SUV, but one that offers nothing remarkable.

Its unique selling point, if it has one, is perhaps its deliberately non-aggressive design. Having recognised the current boom in four-wheel drives – 176,000 units a year – Citroë* has been upfront about wanting a piece of the SUV pie. Research suggests that the image of an SUV is particularly popular with women and drivers under 35, so perhaps Citroë* should be commended for dreaming up a curvaceous design that could be construed as feminine. And the company admits that the vehicle was specifically designed not to be "menacing or threatening". If it was meant to appeal to women's supposed eye for detail, then the smaller things about this car count. To name just two: it copies CDs onto a resident hard drive and has a nifty reverse camera attached to its navigation system for manoeuvres.

Having said that, a diesel Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Captiva or even a Land Rover Freelander will cost you less. It all depends on how much a sleek shape and fine design matters to you.

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