Citroen's improved C3 supermini strikes a chord with June Neary
Will It Suit Me?
Citroen's supermini, the C3, is a mass of appealing contradictions. It's compact, yet practical and roomy. It's affordable, yet feels of high quality. It's refined on longer journeys, yet well-suited to the town. Other small cars may be more engaging to drive but in its latest improved form, you could well find this one to be more engaging to own.
Every modern car ought to have a unique selling point but sadly so few of them do. This one's USP is clear, from the moment you look up when seated at the wheel. A 'Zenith' extended windscreen that doesn't stop until it's well above your head. Citroen calls it 'Visiodrive' and this 'touch of glass' is standard on all but entry-level C3s, increasing your normal 28-degree angle of vision to a massive 108-degrees. Practically, it means you don't have to crane your neck up when, for example, you're first in the queue at the traffic lights. Subjectively, it does wonders in increasing the light, airy feeling of the cabin. The extended glass section is progressively tinted so that the top of your head won't be but if you really don't like it, you can pull the sunvisor down to the point where the top of the roof would normally be. This feature gives the car a welcome feeling of spaciousness that isn't borne out by the tape measure. In fact, at under 13 foot, it's one of the shortest superminis out there, yet manages to offer impressive interior space. So at the back, there's 30mm more legroom than the old C3 could offer and impressive headroom thanks to the domed roofline, which means that there's space for two adults or three children to sit comfortably. Behind them, rather astonishingly given the tight exterior dimensions, resides one of the largest boots in the class, at 300-litres, though it's a pity the rear seats don't fold completely flat when you extend it. It's at the wheel that the French designers' efforts to improve the quality of this car are most obvious. Gone is the cheap tackiness of previous small Citroens, with classy analogue instruments, solid expensive-looking plastics and flashes of chrome to liven things up. Everything flows together - nothing looks like an afterthought. So solid does it all feel and so few are the kind of giveaway rattles that often plagued the MK1 model that it's something of a surprise to learn that this C3 is 50kg lighter than previous generation versions.
Behind the Wheel
Small French cars used to ride beautifully, grip tenaciously and flow from corner to corner with relaxed, unflustered motion. As 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 car that rolls the red carpet over the average appallingly surfaced British road. As this one does. The trick, which Citroen hasn't always mastered, is to offer this without inducing the kind of bodyroll and handling woollyness that removes any element of enjoyment from the driving experience altogether. In this respect, this impressively refined C3 is a world away from its predecessor: a Fiesta rolls less and will still offer more fun, but this is the car I'd prefer to live with day-in, day-out, though on longer trips, the seats could do with a little more support. On the open road, you might also 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 the engine front? Well, 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 82PS 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 - but diesel still remains a strong option. The entry-level HDi 70 gets the option of frugal 'e-HDi' technology that's standard on the top e-HDi 115 model. In between sits an HDi 90 model.
Value For Money
List pricing suggests that you'll be paying in the £11,000 to £17,000 bracket for your C3, with diesels from around £13,000, costed at just over £1,000 more than the equivalent petrol models. That's par for the course amongst superminis, but of course Citroen dealers are well renowned for their readiness to sharpen their pencils. From a list price starting point, that's a saving of around £500 over an equivalent Ford Fiesta but broadly, it's around the same as you'd pay for comparable Vauxhall Corsas, Peugeot 208s and Renault Clios, though particular derivatives of those cars might save you £500 here and there over this C3 depending on what you're looking at. Nothing your friendly Citroen dealer couldn't match though. The C3 range isn't unduly complicated. There's a pair of efficient Pure Tech three cylinder petrol engines to enhance its eco credibility - and a frugal e-HDi diesel if you'd rather fuel from the black pump.
Could I Live With One?
As superminis go, the C3 isn't an orthodox one. In time honoured Citroen fashion, it's just that little bit different, with smart, slightly quirky looks and that uniquely clever extended windscreen. Instead of adopting the 'little big car' approach favoured by many rivals and ending up feeling like a scaled down family hatchback, the C3 manages the same thing in a cleverer, more compact package by simply making better use of the space it has to offer. Citroen's MPV expertise doubtless helps here. What it lacks in driving dynamism, it makes up for in quality, refinement and a cosseting ride. Indeed, I can think of few sensibly-sized small cars better suited to urban motoring than this one. Overall then, the C3 is an often-overlooked but strong contender in the supermini marketplace. Best of all perhaps, it's a car that's distinctively Citroen.