REVIEW DATE: 03 Oct 2007
The Citroen C3 represents a stylish way into the supermini club. The 1.4-litre petrol versions are some of the most cost-effective entry Points. Andy Enright reports.
At first we were all a little confused by Citroen's C3. Very nice. Big face. Five doors. But where was the three-door version, the sporty one that would take over the mantle from the much-loved Saxo? It seems Citroen had other plans and slotted the C3 betwixt Saxo (now replaced by the C2) and Xsara (now replaced by the C4), billing it as their 'little big car'. Aside from the grim tweeness of that title, the C3 has a lot going for it and the 1.4-litre petrol versions represent a cost effective way into club C3.
In making the C3 subtly different to what we'd come to expect as a blueprint supermini, Citroen have created a car that's more faithful to their old tradition as manufacturers of supreme lateral thinking. They claim that it's a very different take on the supermini concept: three-door versions for example, will never be made. Instead, that niche is being covered by the sporty C2 citycar. The C3 will offer spacious family motoring for those that aren't particularly interested in lift-off oversteer or any such lairy antics. The car has been sharpened up dynamically but the tauter suspension and enhanced steering feel stop well shy of the sportiness threshold.
The 1.4-litre petrol versions of the C3 are priced aggressively, exemplars of Citroen's success at tapping into the psychology of the UK market probably better than any other car manufacturer of late. Their formula has been to catch 'em young, tempting buyers with a credible badge that, with cashback, discounts and free insurance policies, make the cars as affordable as bargain basement Koreans. This tactic has been spectacularly effective, twenty something C2 buyers often maturing into not-so-young C4 buyers and so on. The 1.4-litre range opens at £10,195 for the 75bhp 1.4i Vibe, and if you needed any further illustration as to the sheer scale of Citroen's financial assault, the fact that this is over £1,000 less than an equivalent Volkswagen Polo should suffice.
"It's too friendly to frighten."
Pay £11,195 and you could be driving the 90bhp 16-valve version with standard SensoDrive gearbox in economical Stop & Start form. The automatic is interesting, being a four-speed sequential 'box. This system boasts advanced electronics that attempt to learn different driving styles whilst a flick of the lever allows the driver to make 'manual' changes without the need for a clutch pedal. Three different programs (Normal, Sport & Snow) are selectable as well as a fully automatic mode. Yes, it saps performance a little, but the C3 1.4 was never about serious oomph. It's too friendly to frighten. The SensoDrive performs a similar clutchless function but adds steering column-mounted paddles to do the shifting. On the current car these feel sturdier than before and the shift lever slots into place like a conventional auto 'box rather than centring itself after a mode has been selected.
With 75bhp on tap the 8v C3 1.4's performance can best be described as unhurried, reaching 62mph in 12.4 seconds and a top speed of 104mph. The average fuel economy figure of 45mpg is above average in class. The SensoDrive gearbox slows the 90bhp 16-valve engine to a 13s 0-62mph time but the 112mph top speed is more respectable and the economy improved to 47mpg. Many customers will feel tempted by the 67mpg 1.4 HDi diesel version. All things considered, it looks to be the more astute purchase. Still there are still many who don't like diesel and if you count yourself amongst them, you won't feel hard done by a petrol model.
Like all C3 models the interior is adventurously styled - which makes a change from all the other makers who seem to be slavishly aping VW Group products. As a result, instead of a dull Teutonic cabin, we've got one that goes its own way, light and airy with low window lines and bold, sweeping curves. More importantly, there are enough bins, cubbies and boxes to make locating a carelessly stowed bunch of keys the work of several minutes. Citroen's Moduboard system is a load bay dividing system that helps protect soft items from hard, clean from grubby and prevent bulky objects from racing across the load bay during spirited driving. Clever safety-conscious electronic features have been borrowed from the larger C5 - things such as speed-sensitive intermittent wipers with rain sensing activation, hazard lights that deploy automatically under severe braking as well as side airbags, ABS with EBD, Emergency Brake Assist and comprehensive pedestrian safety features.
Given that the bulk of Citroen's profitability is accounted for by aggressively priced budget models, the C3 1.4-litre petrol derivatives look competitive on paper. In the cold light of day however, you may see things as not quite so clear-cut. With more modern rivals reigning supreme over this end of the market, the 1.4-litre petrol models are more difficult to make a case for than the diesels or the upspec 1.6-litre versions. Having said that, I never tipped Citroen to be the big postmillennial success story they are. You pays your money.
The results below show the top C3 deals on buyacar
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|For C3 1.4 RANGE|
|OVERALL||6.8 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||8|
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