REVIEW DATE: 14 Oct 2009
Citroen is hoping to take the supermini sector by storm with its latest C3. Steve Walker reports.
Citroen's take on the supermini genre is practical and roomy but doesn't rely on expanded dimensions to achieve this. An upright seating position and clever use of interior space allows a big boot and decent rear passenger accommodation. The car handles neatly and the ride is comfortable but there are more engaging superminis from a driver's point of view. Minimal increase in weight over the original C3 helps the car deliver strong economy.
Citroen turned 90 in 2009 but although it may have passed pensionable age and then some, it's desperate to be seen as an innovator, an embracer of technology and a brand in tune with the fickle finger of fashion. It's not alone in that by any means but more than most manufacturers, Citroen has been responsible for some moments of shining innovation, design bravery and unadulterated quirkiness down the years. It's looking for a return to those past glories with the latest C3 supermini.
The original C3 supermini sold two million units, so Citroen is well within its rights to brand the car a success. To complement the smaller, sportier C2, the first C3 adopted a family friendly approach to ensure all possible bases were covered by Citroen's small car range. The current C3 is working in partnership with the DS3, a three-door Citroen supermini targeted overtly at the supermini sector's trendier buyers, so once again, it falls on the five-door C3 to come at things from a more practical angle. Citroen's aim was to achieve this with a little extra style and elegance than the previous generation car managed.
It's in urban areas where the C3 gives the best account itself from a driving perspective. At low speeds, the suspension masks the assorted humps, cracks and potholes with finesse and the engines remain unobtrusive. Citroen's efforts to reduce noise levels in the car with more insulating material in the engine bay and improved joints around the doors pay off. The light steering and 10.2m turning circle will help owners out of many a tight spot, as will a good field of vision around the car. Only the Citroen trademark clunky gearbox and over-sharp brakes let the side down.
"A car that's distinctively Citroen."
On the open road, it's more of a mixed bag. The car feels stable and comfortable at motorway cruising speeds where engine refinement continues to hold up well but the wind rustles around the A-pillars, breaching the peace. Through corners, the C3's soft set-up contributes to more body lean than the best handling superminis. It's not too bad though and the car changes direction sweetly, so it's perfectly possible to have some fun driving it.
On the engine front, the diesels make the most sense. The smooth VTi petrol units are competent but even the 1.6 feels quite lethargic at low revs. You need to work it harder to access the meat of its 120bhp power output and even then, performance is hardly explosive while the engine note gets harsh. The diesels have more shove low down and are generally quite progressive in their power delivery, settling down to a muted drone at motorway speeds.
Many of Citroen's most critically acclaimed efforts of recent times have been MPVs. The French manufacturer understands this area of the market and it's not a shock that elements of these successful people carrier designs have found their way into the C3 supermini. The domed roof line is carried over from the original C3 but efforts have been made to elongate the look of the car and the latest model is a far sleeker and sharper prospect. There's a large glass area for visibility and light in the cabin and the seating position is more upright than in many superminis, simplifying entries and exits.
Unusually for a supermini, the C3 is barely any bigger than the car it replaced. At 3940mm long, it's not one of the larger models in this sector and keeping a tight rein on the exterior dimensions helped the designers to pull the neat trick of actually maintaining C3's weight compared to its forbear. Inside, there's little sign that the car's had its growth stunted. It boasts one of the biggest boots of any supermini at 300 litres and there's room for four adults. Six-footers will struggle for headroom in the back but legroom behind the front seats is good for a supermini.
It's clear that Citroen went out of its way to make the C3 cabin environment feel special. There's a vast range of different textures and finishes around the interior and some engaging design features. The centre console controls are neat and easy to operate, the steering wheel is well shaped and the design of the instruments demonstrates some flair. There are quite a few small storage areas dotted around and although the door-pockets are a little truncated, the glovebox is surprisingly large.
The C3 range isn't unduly complicated. There are VT, VTR+, Airdream+ and Exclusive trim levels that can be matched to the various engine options. The line-up opens with a 61bhp 1.1-litre petrol unit, then there's a 1.4-litre with 75bhp. The VTi variable valve timing petrol engines are 1.4 and 1.6-litres in capacity and have 95 and 110bhp outputs respectively. On the diesel front, the 1.4 HDi comes in 70bhp guise and the 1.6 HDi is available with 90bhp or 110bhp. The price premium needed to get a diesel isn't as great as on many superminis, making them an even more attractive option.
Citroen's usual array of gadgets is available on the C3 including a speed limiter, a built-in air-freshener system, satellite navigation and a high-tech stereo but one gets higher billing than the rest. The huge elongated Zenith windscreen that extends in an unbroken sweep right back over the driver's head allows loads of light in to the car. It gives the C3 cabin an unusual feel but on sunny days, most owners will have to pull the shade forward as the tinted top section lets too much light through.
The advantages for ornithologists, Met Office employees and criminals on the look out for police helicopter surveillance are clear but the Zenith's unrestricted view of the heavens is of questionable benefit to normal motorists. The shade that slides forward to mask the windscreen's overhead section feels rickety and the conventional sun visors attached to it leave gaps at the edges, letting shafts of light through into the driver's eyes.
The work Citroen designers undertook to keep the C3's weight in check is felt in its low running costs. The Airdream+ model is the star performer with CO2 emissions of under 100g/km from its 1.6-litre HDi engine courtesy of its various efficiency modifications but none of the engines are profligate. The 1.4 VTi is the best of the petrols with 134g/km emissions.
As superminis go, the C3 isn't an orthodox one. In time honoured Citroen fashion, it's just a little bit different. Instead of adopting the 'little big car' approach favoured by many rivals and ending up feeling like a scaled down family hatchback, the C3 incorporates many of the design features seen before on Citroen MPVs. Though reasonably compact in size, it makes good use of its interior space and though unlikely to set the world alight, both the styling and build quality are real improvements over the first C3.
The C3 never feels particularly sporty but Citroen has other models to fulfil that role. It handles neatly and achieves a comfortable ride in most situations, proving well suited to urban driving. The Zenith panoramic windscreen won't be everyone's cup of tea but overall, the C3 is a strong contender in the supermini marketplace and a car that's distinctively Citroen.
The results below show the top C3 deals on buyacar
|Citroen C3 1.0 VTi VT 5dr hatchback|
|Price £8,807||Save £2,083|
|Citroen C3 1.4 VTi VTR+ 5dr EGS hatchback|
|Price £11,179||Save £2,761|
|Citroen C3 1.0 VTi VTR+ 5dr hatchback|
|Price £9,701||Save £2,339|
|Citroen C3 1.6 e-HDi Airdream VTR+ 5dr diesel hatchback|
|Price £11,956||Save £2,984|
|Citroen C3 1.6 VTi 16V Exclusive 5dr Auto hatchback|
|Price £12,683||Save £3,142|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT C3 DEALS|
|For C3 RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.4 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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