Review of the new Citroen C3 1.6 HDI Range



star rating 7.4 out of 10 (7.4 out of 10)

REVIEW DATE: 29 Oct 2009

Can Citroen's latest C3 deliver the goods in combination with the marque's strong 1.6-litre diesel engines? Steve Walker takes a look.

Citroen C3


As a small family car, Citroen's C3 takes some beating. It's not the most dynamically accomplished or the most solidly constructed of today's superminis but it runs the class leaders close enough while excelling on practicality and comfort. As a result, the economical 1.6-litre HDi diesel engines suit the C3 down to the ground.

If there was one thing that didn't need improving where the original Citroen C3 was concerned, it was the diesel engines. Citroen did and does have some top draw diesel technology to call upon: it was just a shame that the MK1 C3 failed to make the most of it. This opinion may well have been prevalent inside the company itself because today's second generation C3 is major advance on its rickety forbear in every respect, but the 1.6-litre HDi diesel engines remain.

Despite some major shortcomings compared to the class leaders, 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. In a similar fashion, 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 and practical is what diesel does best.

The C3 is set up to come down on the side of comfort and the suspension is a little softer than on the superminis which prioritise cornering speeds over getting your eggs home in one piece. That said, the car still turns in a fine performance on the road, taking bends without much lean and displaying high levels of grip. With a slicker manual gearbox, it would be significantly improved but the C3 is as good through the twisty stuff as most buyers will need.

Around town, it's even better. The ride is very good over the assorted annoyances that town councils and utility companies spend their time installing in the road surface. The upright driving position and large glass area contribute to a wide field of vision for the driver and a tight 10.2m turning circle is a boon when parking. It's also here that the diesel engines come into their own with the powerful surge of torque from low in the rev range giving the car a lively feel off the line. Refinement is as good as you'll find in a supermini at the moment, the engine staying hushed around town and settling into a low drone at motorway speeds where the wind around the A-pillars is the most prominent sound in the cabin.

"Those coming at the conventional supermini market from a practical angle will struggle to do much better.."

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 generous for a car in this class.

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.

There's a 1.4-litre HDi diesel at the base of the C3 line-up but we're concentrating on the 1.6-litre HDi models which are available in 90 or 110bhp forms. In the absence of any high performance petrol engines, these are the C3's flagship powerplants and pricing reflects this. These diesel options, however, only command a £600 premium over the 1.6-litre petrol engine - a unit which can't compete with the flexibility of the oil-burners, despite its 120bhp output.

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 in all but the dimmest conditions.

Keeping the C3's size and weight under control has helped this Citroen keep its running costs manageable. In standard form, the 90bhp and 110bhp 1.6 HDi engines can generate economy of 66mpg and 64mpg respectively on the combined cycle with emissions of 110g/km and 115g/km.

That's not bad at all but to really keep the fuel bills down, buyers will want the Airdream+ model which combines the 90bhp engine with various modifications to achieve emissions of 99g/km. Like the 110bhp HDi engine, the Airdream also features Citroen's FAP particulate filter which cleans up the C3's act further.

At last, Citroen has a supermini to do justice to its strong range of compact diesel engines. The latest C3 delivers the goods on comfort, interior space and practicality while still remaining good to drive. The range-topping 1.6-litre HDi oil-burners produce ample performance and strong economy, making the car an ideal choice for family buyers.

Despite the massive improvement that the Citroen C3 has made in its second generation guise, the burning question still remains. Has it gone far enough to trouble the leading contenders in the supermini class? The 1.6-litre HDi diesel is the car's most impressive engine and while those on a tighter budget may be drawn to the more affordable 1.4-litre units, it deserves to sell in good numbers. The C3 might not be the choice for those prioritising a stylish, sporty supermini but those coming at the conventional end of the market from a practical angle will struggle to do much better.


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For C3 1.6 HDI
Performance star rating 7 out of 10 7
Comfort star rating 9 out of 10 9
Handling star rating 7 out of 10 7
Economy star rating 8 out of 10 8
Space / Versatility star rating 6 out of 10 6
Styling star rating 7 out of 10 7
Equipment star rating 8 out of 10 8
Build star rating 7 out of 10 7
Depreciation star rating 7 out of 10 7
Insurance star rating 8 out of 10 8
Value star rating 7 out of 10 7
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