New Hyundai Bayon vs Citroën C3 Aircross vs Ford Puma

Does Hyundai’s smallest SUV yet have the necessary tools to succeed? We're finding out by pitting it against the facelifted Citroën C3 Aircross and the class-leading Ford Puma...

Hyundai Bayon vs Citroen C3 Aircross vs Ford Puma fronts

NEW Hyundai Bayon 1.0 T-GDi Mild Hybrid 120 Premium

List price £23,245
Target Price £22,179

Based on the i20 small hatchback, the Bayon is an all-new contender in this class and comes with mild hybrid power. We’re testing the most powerful model in mid-range trim


NEW Citroën C3 Aircross Puretech 110 Shine Plus

List price £21,500
Target Price £18,839

Even in range-topping form, Citroën’s recently refreshed small SUV costs less to buy than its rivals here. Can it compete in other areas too?


Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost Hybrid 155 ST-Line

List price £23,745
Target Price £22,277

Our current favourite small SUV is going to be difficult to beat; it’s fun to drive and packs the biggest punch of this trio


It's funny how minor things have a big impact on desirability. Let’s face it: small SUVs are really just small hatchbacks with jacked-up suspension and a few trinkets loosely inspired by what you’d find on a proper 4x4. And yet somehow they’re in a completely different fashion league than their more conventional-looking compatriots.

The Ford Puma – our 2020 Car of the Year – is a case in point. It has sold like hot cakes since its launch, even throughout a certain worldwide pandemic; Ford can’t build enough of them. But could the Puma’s reign at the top of the class be in jeopardy?

Hyundai Bayon 2021 rear

Like the Puma, the new Hyundai Bayon has mild hybrid engine technology to help it sip petrol. And while it's based on the Hyundai i20 hatchback, it’s slightly longer and taller than its sibling, so should have plenty to offer in the practicality stakes.

Our third contender isn’t new, but it has just been given a mid-life refresh. The Citroën C3 Aircross can be had in range-topping trim for considerably less outlay than the others, and although it lacks the clever mild hybrid electrical assistance of its rivals, it does have plenty of other nifty tricks to take the stresses out of life.

Citroen C3 Aircross 2021 rear

Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

If you’re at all interested in accelerating quickly and having fun on a twisty road, there’s no contest; the Puma is the only one with a remotely sporty slant.

You might rightly point out that, in the range-topping 153bhp guise tested, it has a lot more power than its rivals and that the 123bhp version would have been a better fit on performance. But that’s one of the great things about the Puma: the fact that you can have a relatively punchy engine. You don’t even have to compromise on efficiency (as we’ll explain later).

Ford Puma 2021 rear

The Bayon is lined up here in its most powerful form, yet it’s still left for dust by the Puma. The Puma’s 1.0-litre turbo engine can whisk it from 0-60mph in a nippy 8.4sec, and it also pulls really well from low revs in more sedate driving. The Bayon’s 1.0-litre engine is hardly weak, though, getting it to 60mph in 9.9sec, and it’s quieter than the Puma’s when you work it hard.

As for the 1.2-litre C3 Aircross, that's the slowcoach here, taking 11.3sec to hit 60mph. You can get a more powerful version than the Puretech 110 tested, but that’s available exclusively with an automatic gearbox. Still, it’s worth noting that the C3 Aircross pulls just as strongly as the Bayon from low revs and doesn’t feel sluggish in real-world driving. It also has the quietest engine of the bunch.

Hyundai Bayon 2021 front cornering in car park

Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much at high speeds, because your ears are accosted by lots of road and wind noise. The C3 is easily the noisiest of our trio on the motorway, with the Bayon proving quietest at a steady 70mph. It’s hardly a luxury limo, though, with tyre slap and wind noise still quite noticeable inside.

While the Puma and Bayon have technically similar 48-volt stop-start systems, the former’s is more user-friendly. You barely notice when the engine switches itself off and back on again, because it happens so smoothly and quietly. The Bayon can be reluctant to restart if you’re too quick with the clutch when engaging first gear, forcing you to repeat the process with greater deliberation. It’s a small quirk but can prove quite frustrating in traffic.

Citroen C3 Aircross 2021 front cornering in car park

Mind you, so can the C3’s woolly gearbox and vague clutch action. It also suffers from overly grabby brakes, so slowing down smoothly can be tricky. When you’re on the move, you’ll have few complaints about the Bayon’s gearbox, clutch or brakes, although all of these things are more positive and satisfying to use in the Puma.

As we’ve alluded to already, the Puma is easily the most agile and fun to drive, darting into corners with plenty of grip. And you’ll enjoy the process, thanks to steering that’s accurate and streams plenty of feedback to your fingertips.

The lower-riding Bayon actually leans slightly less than the Puma when you’re cornering quickly, but it isn’t as playful or fun, and its steering, while light and easy to twirl at low speeds, fails to provide a real sense of connection with the road when you’re going quickly. But it’s still heaps better than the C3 Aircross, which sways around the most and has overly light steering that doesn’t inspire much confidence at all on twisting roads.

Ford Puma 2021 front cornering in car park

One of the reasons the Puma is so agile is because ST-Line models come with sports suspension, so we’d recommend a test drive if comfort is a top priority. However, we actually prefer the Puma’s firm but controlled ride to the C3’s agitated gait; you’re jostled around annoyingly at all speeds.

By a relatively small margin, the Bayon is the most relaxed and easygoing of our protagonists along bumpy roads – but even it can’t match the smooth, sophisticated ride of other rivals from the wider small SUV class, with the Skoda Kamiq and Volkswagen T-Roc particularly impressive.