Why is the restyling of the C3 Aircross so different from that of the C3 ? Because between the two programmes, the design boss changed! The arrival of Pierre Leclercq, while not having an impact on the C4, will have had a slight impact on the C5 X and a lot on this restyling of the C3 Aircross. Behind this simple modified bumper, the Citroën design strategy of tomorrow is emerging with more personality. Let’s talk to Hélène Veilleux, head of materials and colours, Pierre Icard, the exterior designer and Guillaume Lecombe, the project manager (from left to right below)
Pierre Icard: “We started the restyling of the C3 Aircross before Pierre Leclercq arrived. Before his arrival, there was a desire to follow the path of the restyling of the C3 which had just been completed, with a gentle evolution. The same philosophy was used for the C3 Aircross, but Pierre wanted to go further, with the desire to give the front end more character. We started from scratch.”
The blank page, the one that Pierre Icard had just experienced with the project of the Ami One concept car of 2019 (below). “Yes, I had just come out of that project when I went on to work on the restyling of the C3 Aircross.” Without working on the production version of the Ami? “No, it wasn’t the same designers who worked on the concept and the production product…”
When Pierre Leclercq asks for more character in the car, how do you go about it? Pierre Icard: “First of all, we rely on the look. The previous generation was very playful, with a big headlight. Here, we wanted to assert the adventurous side of the car with lower, more dynamic, more tapered headlights thanks to LED technology.” And these small centimetres gained on the height of the headlights change everything! “It changes all the proportions. If you add a centimetre in height, you have to rethink everything because the proportions change profoundly! “
Let’s stop for a moment in front of this Citroën C3 Aircross because this is where the main modifications took place. Pierre Icard explains: “The chrome bars that run from the logos are used to create the new light signature, but you will notice that on the wider lower bar, we have applied stripes in an evolving gradation, to give more richness and precision”
“Just below, we have the vertical grille patterns, which are fake but respond to the large lower grille. For this element, we wanted something other than horizontal lines and the concave movement is not related to what’s behind it. The hard points are more at the beam behind the lower grille.”
This small, dummy grille at the top is a styling effect, it gives the face character and muscle. Underneath, the air intake is generous, with a very structured, more assertive outline and it is framed on the bumper by two “light catcher” areas (below) that will reflect the sun’s rays and thus pose and widen the car.”
The rest of the bodywork is unchanged, only the rear lights are darker and, above all, the C3 Aircross has new “simple but beautiful” wheels. They were designed by Maxime Pille. A restyling is often considered a secondary job. In fact, how long does it take? Two months, two years? “No, not two months, otherwise I would have a lot of holidays!” laughs Pierre Icard. “It’s a bit more than a year’s work with all the research, because the first drawing rarely brings the right solution, and as I said, the arrival of Pierre Leclercq has started the project again with some of the previous work that was put aside.”
Is there still a drawing phase for a restyling when the ‘real’ car already exists? “Yes, there is a drawing period. I started with images and photos of the C3 Aircross and I only redesigned the front. That way, we start on a solid foundation with the right proportions, there’s no question of cheating in this case!”
The limits of the work are strictly defined, as Guillaume Lecombe reminds us: “From the outset, the perimeter is determined with a precise action zone – in this case the front bumper – without being able to touch the rest. We have a budget and we work with customer feedback to define the specifications for this project. The work on board seems to be more ambitious, as Hélène Veilleux points out: “It’s true that this restyling has given us quite a lot of freedom in terms of colours and materials, in particular with three new harmonies, these combinations between the seats, the dashboard band and the door panels.
“At the top of the range with the Hype Grey ambience, we find the same colour as on board the C5 X, and this grey-green colour which looks very statutory, but we have not worked it in the same way, it is for example just at the top of the backrest on the large sedan. The second atmosphere, Metropolitan Graphite, with its light mottled backrests and a wood-effect band, gives an elegant harmony.” Below.
“Finally, the Urban Bleu ambience, plays with a blue-grey hue that confers a different harmony.” Does playing with shades and moods require the use of physical models? “Yes, of course! We make mock-ups of seats (which are now Adanced Comfort) with the appearance of the identity stitching, with the chevron stripe. This vocabulary becomes transversal in our products, there is a real unity in our range.”
The colours and materials are not only experienced on the inside. Hélène Veilleux and her teams have also worked on the body colours (three new ones, including one exclusive to this product, Khaki Grey) and on personalisation. A new feature is that the rear quarter window has two different designs depending on the colour pack chosen. “When you choose the white or orange pack (below), you have a simple decoration on a polycarbonate window…”
“When you choose the blue (below) or black colour pack, you have a different animation consisting of a chrome leaf set in a glass pane. We wanted something more refined here.”
Guillaume Lecombe explains that “for this mid-life, we wanted to go upmarket”. But 70 customisation possibilities, is it more complicated to manage industrially compared to the previous generation? On the contrary, Guillaume explains that “we have calmed things down in terms of colour packs. On the previous generation, we even offered to change the colour of the wheel centres and the roof bars. Now the roof bars are in black. The colour of the roof is independent of the choice of colour pack, “you can have a body-coloured, black or white roof.”
It takes a little over a year to redefine the new atmosphere on board. “We are involved from the very beginning of the project,” explains Hélène Veilleux. “We have to carry out tests with the new materials and fabrics, validate the programme milestones, check each combination of materials, test the fabrics for abrasion, lightfastness, flammability of the foams, etc.”
And we are still a long way from the homologation of new materials that will be available, such as the famous pineapple leather (below) already mentioned on this site! “It’s an exciting challenge to integrate these new materials into the cars of tomorrow with incredible constraints. But it’s our job to find new ways. We’re keeping an eye on it!”
Ah, one last point to emphasize, which has nothing to do with design, but which shows the lightning technological evolution that Citroën experienced between 1948 with the presentation of the 2CV, and 2021 with that of the restyled C3 Aircross: the wooden chocks that the 2CV carried on board to keep it parked on slopes were free of charge, whereas you’ll have to pay €20 to have the chocks necessary to hold the potential spare wheel that you’ll go and buy as an accessory. These chocks are part of the “spare wheel provision” option, which is “essential for fitting a spare wheel and includes a set of chocks for the boot.” I like the next world!