What is it?
This is Citroën's C3 supermini, here fitted with Peugeot-Citroën’s all-new three-cylinder petrol engine, which made its debut in the 208. PSA engineers say that the engine has been awarded 52 patents, 17 of them related to the cylinder head design alone.
The engine block is cast from aluminium alloys and is a complex design that incorporates the engine mounting points and the exhaust ducts. The cylinder head gets four valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust valves. The company says that, compared to the current four-cylinder engines, internal friction levels have been reduced by 30 per cent.
Only this, more powerful 80bhp version of the three-pot engine gets a balancer shaft. The entry-level, 67bhp version does not on cost grounds, but Citroën is not currently planning to offer this engine in the UK. Cost considerations also ruled out a start-stop system.
There are a few neat engineering features: the engine’s cambelt is lubricated from an oil spay in the sump and is designed to last the life of the car. The belt-driven alternator can also be de-clutched when the car is accelerating, reducing the load on the engine. Interestingly, an engineering source told Autocar that PSA had no plans to build a turbocharged version of this engine, despite the success of Ford's 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged unit.
To go along with the new engine, Citroën has modified the C3 chassis, increasing the anti-roll rates by around 15 per cent and the damping rates by around 20 per cent.
What is it like?
At its best, the C3 ias light, easy, smooth-running and luminous place to sit. At its worst, it's vague, un-engaging and unsettled by very poor road surfaces. The new engine is quiet and only emits the most subtle thrum when being extended on the motorway. Even though it feels like it could use a six-speed gearbox, the engine is game enough for motorway traffic and remains calm when spinning at 3300rpm – an indicated 70mph.
If it can deliver anything like a diesel's economy, this engine is also an interesting long-term ownership proposition because it is more refined than an oil burner and mechanically much simpler.
Cruising along in an undemanding way, the C3 is certainly pleasant and refined, and the high-set seat (too high for taller people, possibly) and large windows make it an airy place to sit, even with the adjustable header rail blanking out the top section of the panoramic windscreen.
Unfortunately, the C3 was let down by the remarkably disconnected steering which, in the straight-ahead position and for the first quarter of a turn, completely lacked any sense of bite and was very light and feel-free at the rim. Also disappointing was the rather sticky shift action, which suffers a mid-gate obstruction at slower speeds. Finally, the newly tweaked damping seemed to come off second best on badly broken roads, although the noise transmission into the cabin was probably worse than the jolts themselves.
Should I buy one?
In the UK, the engine comes with the VTR+ trim and is pretty well-specced for the sticker price of £13,650 and private-buyer discounts are a certainty. And I’d say that this 80bhp engine is rather nicer and more special-feeling than the 80bhp four-pot in the rival Fiesta. But, for anybody who appreciates a well-honed driving machine, the Fiesta is far superior. I can entirely see why some people might buy this effortless and completely undemanding car but it won’t be an enthusiastic driver. Citroen C3 VTi 82 VTR+Price: £13,640; 0-62mph: 14.2sec; Top speed: 108mph; Economy: 62.8mpg; Co2: 107g/km; Kerb weight: 975kg; Engine type: 3 cyls, 1199cc, petrol; Power: 80.5bhp at 5750rpm; Torque: 87lb ft at 2750rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual