Smarter looks and the option of a pair of frugal Pure Tech three cylinder petrol engines have revitalised Citroen's C3 and kept it current in a closely fought supermini segment. Jonathan Crouch tries the VTi 82 petrol variant.
Ten Second Review
Citroen's take on the supermini genre is practical, roomy and smarter in facelifted guise. Most importantly, it gets a pair of efficient Pure Tech three cylinder petrol engines to enhance its eco credibility, with the pokier 82bhp version the one on test here. As before, there's the option of a clever Zenith windscreen with glasswork that sweeps up beyond the heads of front seat passengers. It's all enough to keep this C3 current in the face of more recently introduced rivals.
The C3 supermini is one of Citroen's most important models, with almost 3 million examples sold since its original launch in 2002. Most of those however, were of the original and rather unusually styled egg-shaped model. That car's successor, the second generation version launched in 2009, had less about it that stood out, despite the inclusion of a clever 'Zenith' roof that considerably increased the upward field of vision for front seat passengers. Citroen needed to do more. So they have. We're looking here at the facelifted version that, as well as the expected smarter front end, features wide-ranging changes beneath the bonnet that bring this car right up to date in terms of the latest supermini technology. Citroen's membership of the giant PSA Group means it's able to borrow the clever 1.0 and 1.2-litre three cylinder petrol engines that are such a strong incentive for Peugeot 208 ownership. It's the 1.2-litre 82bhp version we're going to look at here. Enough to make this French challenger worth more than a second look? Let's find out.
It used to be the case that you were much better off choosing a diesel engine in a Citroen C3. The introduction of the 1.0 and 1.2-litre 68 and 82bhp Pure Tech petrol units though, now make the choice more difficult. Free-revving and fun to use, these develop 15% more power than their predecessors and will suit lower mileage customers better. The 1.2-litre 82bhp variant we tried delivers the same distinctive three cylinder thrum as its 1.0-litre counterpart but accompanies it with pokier performance, 62mph from rest taking 12.3s on the way to 108mph. It's a pity you only get a 5-speed manual gearbox though: on the open road, this car would be much more relaxing with a 6th speed. And in terms of the all-round driving experience? Well, 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, especially if you opt for the clever Zenith roof.
Design and Build
As before with the C3, there's an aesthetic combination of soft curves and dynamic taut lines. A restyled front end creates a fresh 'face' with updated chevrons and bumper-mounted LED daytime running lights. There are smarter tail light clusters too, combined with neat reflectors set underneath the rear bumper. Inside, the cabin's a little smarter too with its chrome detailing and thermo-coated soft-touch dashboard. This can be underlined with avant garde dashboard strips in matt black, a warm brown or Moondust grey, which coordinate with the updated upholstery. The instrument cluster is also backlit in white for a contemporary look and easier-to-read driving information. The centre console controls are neat and easy to operate, the steering wheel is well shaped and there are quite a few small storage areas dotted around. Plus although the door-pockets are a little truncated, the glovebox is surprisingly large. Out back, this car boasts one of the biggest boots of any supermini at 300-litres and on the rear bench there's room for four adults. Six-footers will struggle for headroom here but legroom behind the front seats is good for a supermini.
Market and Model
You'll pay just over £13,000 for the C3 VTR+ VTi 82 petrol model we tried, which means a premium of around £900 over a comparably-specced version of the entry-level 68bhp 1.0-litre petrol model. That seems fair enough though it is slightly more than you'd pay for the feebler entry-level 1.4 HDi 70 diesel variant. You have to pay extra to get this car's signature feature - the huge elongated Zenith windscreen that extends in an unbroken sweep right back over the driver's head and 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. Other neat features include an integrated air freshener that gives all occupants a real sense of well-being. And for added user convenience, the car is also available with a reversing camera and parking sensors, together with equipment such as an RD4 MP3 audio system, a 'Connecting Box' (which includes a Bluetooth(r) hands-free kit, jack plug and USB socket), eMyWay navigation and a powerful HiFi System.
Cost of Ownership
The work Citroen designers undertook to keep the C3's weight in check is felt in its low running costs, further aided by the impressively light Pure Tech petrol units. In fact, some 52 patents were filed in the development of these engines to help bring down weight and bulk, optimise combustion and reduce friction with the aim of improving fuel and CO2 efficiency by around 25%. As a result, the VTi 68 and VTi 82 PureTech engines achieve very low fuel consumption. The VTi 82 we tried manages 61.4mpg on the combined cycle and 107g/km of CO2. It all means that at last in a C3, petrol power could make the most sense unless you really do cover a high annual mileage. What else? Well service intervals are every 20,000 miles. Also bear in mind that should you specify the clever extended Panoramic Zenith windscreen, then be unfortunate enough to experience serious stonechip damage, it'll be fearsomely expensive to replace. And residual values? Well they won't be anything to write home about but they'll probably be no worse than those of comparable mainstream brand supermini rivals.
If all you want to do is to get from A to B as comfortably and as cheaply as possible, Citroen's C3 remains appealing, especially in this improved smarter form. It's a supermini that offers sensible, no-nonsense family transport, but with a little design flair too. It's no longer one of the larger cars in its sector but practically-minded buyers will appreciate an economical engine range boosted by the introduction of Pure Tech three cylinder petrol technology. If you're going this way, we'd suggest you first try the pokier 1.2-litre VTi 82 variant on test here. Plus, once you've finished negotiating with your Citroen dealer, you're likely to end up with highly competitive pricing. True, there are more recently introduced choices you could make in this sector. But this C3 should still be somewhere on your supermini shortlist.