Can Citroen's latest C3 deliver the goods in combination with the marque's strong 1.6-litre diesel engines? Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
As a small family car, Citroen's improved second generation 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 BlueHDi diesel engines suit the C3 down to the ground. Here, we look at the volume 75bhp unit.
The C3 got latest-generation PureTech petrol engines some time ago. Nw Citroen has got around to rejuvenating the diesel line-up too with its latest BlueHDi technology. Otherwise though, much about this car remains the same. We're looking here at the second generation model, originally launched in 2009, then facelifted in 2013. It's benefitted much from technology introduced into its cousin, the Peugeot 208, but offers a more laid-back comfort-orientated approach to small car motoring. If that appeals and you want high frugality too, then read on.
You get the option of a 100bhp BlueHDi diesel unit in top 'Exclusive' trim, but most customers will want the more affordable BlueHDi 75 engine that we look at here. The efficiency changes made haven't done much to change performance: 0-62mph in this lesser diesel variant takes 11.3s en route to 106mph. As for the on-the-road C3 experience, well that hasn't changed much either. Small French cars used to ride beautifully, grip tenaciously and flow from corner to corner with relaxed, unflustered motion. As, by and large, this one does. It may come as news to some motoring journalists but most supermini buyers don't routinely want to throw their cars about as if they were on stage from the RAC Rally. What most of them would prefer is a model that rolls the red carpet over the average appallingly surfaced British road. As this one does. On the open road, you might wish the power steering had a bit more feel, but it comes into its own around town, where you appreciate the light gearbox and clutch as much as the tight 10.2m turning circle that will help owners out of many a tight spot, as will a good field of vision around the car helped by the low window line and, on top models, the clever Panoramic Zenith windscreen we tried.
Design and Build
It's quite smart isn't it, with sleeker looks that were improved by this car's mid-life facelift, an update that brought a bolder front end emphasised by this double chevron grille. Owners of the original second generation version may also notice trendy LED daytime running lights and this body-coloured splitter in the lower air intake. At the rear, there are sleeker tail lights and some neat reflectors fitted to the bumper. As before with this second generation C3, features like the bulbous roof and the low side windowline give the cabin an airy feel that makes it feel bigger than it is, something that'll be further emphasised if you get yourself a car fitted with a clever 'Panoramic Zenith windscreen'. This extends the top of the screen upwards into the roof, increasing the front passengers' field of vision from 28 to 108-degrees. Up front, there are classy analogue instruments - now with smarter white-backlit dials - plus solid expensive-looking plastics, flashes of chrome to liven things up and a neat strip across the dashboard that's available in a selection of colours. Take a seat at the back and as usual with a car in this class, there's space for two adults or three children to sit comfortably. Out back, and rather astonishingly given the tight exterior dimensions, you'll find one of the largest luggage bays in the supermini segment, though there's quite a high loading lip to negotiate before you can access it. At 300-litres in size, it's 10% bigger than a Fiesta's boot and offers nearly as much room as you'd find in a Ford Focus from the next class up.
Market and Model
If you want diesel power n your C3, then you'll have to accept that there'll be quite a premium for it. The least expensive version of the BlueHDi 75 diesel model we've been looking at here costs around £13,500, which is a huge £2,500 more than an equivalently-trimmed PureTech 68bhp petrol model. That's with base 'VT' trim. There are also plusher 'VTR+' and 'Selection' model options. Go for top 'Exclusive' trim and you get the option of the pokier (and curiously more frugal) BlueHDi engine, but that'll mean a spend of close to £17,000. All BlueHDi models get a good quality CD stereo with at least four speakers, steering wheel-mounted controls and an aux-in socket, power front windows and mirrors, split-folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a multi-function trip computer and a 12v socket. You can also expect to find air conditioning, LED daytime running lights and 15" alloy wheels, while inside, you get cruise control with a speed limiter and what Citroen calls 'Connecting Box' technology which gives you Bluetooth and USB connectivity. You'll have to pay extra for the desirable Panoramic Zenith windscreen though, unless you get the very plushest variants. This extends your view upwards, useful at traffic lights. As usual in Citroen models, there's the option of eMyWay satellite navigation, plus I'd want to tick the box for the personalised air freshener option for the cabin which comes with a choice of fragrances. You can also order a reverse parking camera. As for safety, it's disappointing that ESP stability control and curtain airbags aren't fitted as standard to the most affordable variants, though of course, both are available if you tick the right boxes or stretch to a plusher model. However, as you'd expect, twin front and side airbags are standard, as are rear ISOFIX childseat fastenings. You also get an ABS braking system with Emergency Braking Assistance to aid in panic stops advertised to following drivers by automatically activating hazard warning flashers.
Cost of Ownership
Almost every fashionable type of technology has been thrown at this car to drive its running costs down and, as you'd expect, the best returns can be acieved from the BlueHDi diesel models. Go for the entry-level BlueHDi 75 variant we're looking at here and you can expect 80.7mpg on the combined cycle and 90g/km of CO2. if you're able to stretch to the top BlueHDi 100 model, then the fgures are even better - 83.1mpg and 87g/km of CO2. Don't automatically sign on the dotted line for a diesel though, particularly if, like many supermini owners, you don't cover a huge number of annual miles. In the Pure Tech petrol range, the entry-level 68bhp 1.0-litre unit delivers 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2, while even the far pokier 1.2-litre VTi 82bhp unit we tried manages 61.4mpg and 107g/km. Go for the same car with the ETG automatic gearbox and the figures improve to 65.7mpg and 99g/km.
At last, Citroen has a supermini with potentially class-leading diesel efficiency. The latest C3 delivers the goods on comfort, interior space and practicality while still remaining good to drive. On top of that, the BlueHDi 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 question still remains. Has it gone far enough to trouble the leading contenders in the supermini class? If you judge on the efficiency figures alone, it deserves to sell in good numbers. This little Citroen might not be the choice for those prioritising a stylish, sporty supermini but those coming at the market from a practical angle will struggle to do much better.