Love them or loathe them, there’s no stopping the rise of SUVs.
They’ve gone from taking 2.4% of all European vehicle sales a decade ago to four times that proportion last year. And there’s no sign of a slow down; the January to June 2007 total by volume across the continent is up 19% on the same period last year.
The latest SUV to hit the UK is from a carmaker that’s never had one before. The C-Crosser is Citroën’s first foray into the market, part of a joint venture with PSA stablemate Peugeot. Its version, the 4007, goes on sale imminently, and bar the badging and different front and rear-end designs, they are the same.
They join the Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander, Chevrolet Captiva, Vauxhall Antara, and the forthcoming Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-7, Volkswagen Tiguan and Renault Koleos.
But the usually monogamous partners have formed a ménage à trois this time. PSA lacked the 4x4 platform on which to build its SUVs and wanted to minimise development costs and risk of entering a new market sector, so it opened the corporate wallet to Mitsubishi.
The Outlander, which went on sale earlier in the year, is the Japanese firm’s model. Everything that’s clever about the C-Crosser – and there’s quite a lot that is – has been designed by the Japanese and bought by the French.
So to the innovations. The C-Crosser is a seven-seat compact SUV, and the second row chairs slide and tilt for comfort. But the clever bit is they also fold and tumble electronically at the touch of a button located in the boot. It will be very handy if you’ve got a large flat-packed item from Ikea and need the extra space quickly.
There’s also the split tailgate, which opens initially like a hatchback but then offers a second lower portion which can drop down if required. It’s the sort of feature you’d see on top-end SUVs like the Range Rover, and is technology that most popular compact SUVs – the likes of the Land Rover Freelander, Honda’s CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 – don’t have.
The C-Crosser is also a practical car. As a five-seater the boot is 510 litres, but with the second row out of the way it’s an impressive 1,686 litres. There are 22 storage bins, a multi-position parcel shelf and aluminium rails in the boot so luggage can be strapped down if necessary. Options include Bluetooth compatibility, a sat-nav system with a seven-inch colour screen, and a top-end audio system with 30-gigabyte hard drive.
At launch there will be just one engine, Citroën’s acclaimed 2.2-litre HDi diesel, developing 160bhp and 280lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm. Mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, the car returns 38mpg with CO2 emissions of 191g/km on 16-inch wheels (194g/km on 18-inch ones).
The car’s environmental credentials are boosted by PSA’s particulate filter which is fitted as standard, and an ability to run on up to 30% biodiesel. Neither a petrol engine nor an automatic transmission will be available until early next year, when Mitsubishi’s 2.4-litre unit will be fitted to the C-Crosser. With 85% of European SUVs being diesel, bosses think they can manage until then.
Citroën anticipates about a third of C-Crosser sales – around 35% – will be to fleets. There is an expectation it will appeal to small businesses where some off-road ability might be useful, such as architects or gardeners.
Sales targets are not high but that is an issue of supply rather than lack of demand. Only 500 to 800 cars will be available before the end of the year, and every one has already been snapped up by dealers convinced they’ve got customers crying out for a Citroën SUV.
Another 1,500 to 2,000 cars are expected next year. The car costs £22,790 for the entry-level VTR+ and £25,490 for the Exclusive.
Behind the wheel
The best thing about driving the C-Crosser is the diesel engine. Despite not being originally engineered for use in an SUV, the 2.2-litre unit really seems to suit it.
It’s smooth, very quiet and much more refined than the 2.0-litre in the Mitsubishi Outlander. There is masses of low-down torque, too, and on uphill sections of our test route, dawdling behind traffic in third gear at under 2,000rpm, there was plenty of instant acceleration when the opportunity to overtake appeared. The ride is very accomplished, and the steering is nicely weighted, too.
The C-Crosser is not a proper off-roader, but will cope competently with muddy paths, gravel tracks and a bit more. The electronic 4x4 system is controlled by a dashboard knob with 2WD, 4WD and 4WD Lock modes for the driver to choose from, and it can be operated on the move. The seating position is very comfortable, and there is excellent adjustability on the driver’s seat, despite the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel. The second row seats are roomy, and the tilt and slide function means most people will be able to get comfortable.
The only real disappointment with the car – and it’s the same on the Outlander and the 4007 – is the third-row seats. They are a bit fiddly to get in and out of the boot floor, and feel pretty flimsy once in place. They’re definitely for occasional use only, and then only for children. The best advice is leave them hidden unless they’re needed and make use of the massive boot.
At the C-Crosser launch, Citroën executives were keen to stress the car brings features to the compact SUV segment that rivals don’t. True enough, but there are two challengers – one from Mitsubishi already on sale, another from Peugeot on the way – that have absolutely the same qualities.
Model: 2.2 HDi Max power (bhp/rpm): 160/2,000 Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 280 Max speed (mph): 125 0-62mph (secs): 9.9 Fuel consumption (mpg): 38.0 CO2 emissions (g/km): 191 On sale: Now
Prices (OTR): £22,790-£25,490