The gloves are off at last. You get the feeling that Citroën, Peugeot and Toyota have all had quite enough of being polite to one another over the past three years, while conceiving their pretty, shared city car in a new factory in the Czech Republic, variously badged C1, 107 and Aygo.
They have all donned the boxing gloves with relish, and are about to enjoy beating one another in the marketplace.
Citroën, whose C1 starts selling here next month, is ostensibly in the best position. It has a tradition of pricing its cars unusually keenly in the UK, and on past performance could be expected to undercut both Toyota and Peugeot, the family foe. However, it may not work out quite like that.
Local Citroën MD Alain Favey agrees that he intends to price the C1 decisively below the firm’s two other small-car offerings, the C2 and C3, and intends to position the car as ‘a car for people who have more to do with their money than buy cars.’ But he points out that he will have only about 2000 cars to sell for the rest of this year, so he may hold the customarily aggressive pricing strategy until 2006, when more like 10,000 cars should be available for the UK.
At present, Citroën will only say that the more basic of its two versions, the Vibe (two airbags, no tacho but with a radio/CD as standard) will hit the market at ‘under £7000.’
The ritzier model, called Rhythm, should be £300-£400 more expensive. Since Toyota’s cheapest Aygo is also set to slide under the £7000 barrier, the C1 may not have the usual price advantage.
Apart from some clear frontal differences, and a slightly different bodyside from the Toyota (shared with Peugeot), the C1 is identical to the Aygo: same engine, same mechanical spec, identical gearing, weight and suspension rates. Only the Michelin tyres are different.
Like its fellows, the car has an ultra-frugal Toyota-designed 68bhp three-cylinder engine and it drives through a fluent five-speed gearbox. A 55bhp four-cylinder diesel and an automated manual gearbox called SensoDrive are both coming. The suspension is by MacPherson struts in front, and a twist-beam axle at the rear. Brakes are discs front, drums rear.
Since we have tested the Aygo already, our drive in the C1 was mostly a chance to see how the little Czech-built car improves as it is run in, since our test car this time had been hard driven over 3000 miles. We were impressed.
The engine spins with amazing smoothness, and has useful thrust from below 2000rpm to the 6500 red line. The gearchange starts life faintly notchy, but was smooth as butter on this test, and the brakes had a power and ease of modulation that belied their modest specification.
Altogether, this is a brilliant small car, certain to make life hard for the Fiat Panda, and very hard for the Ford Ka. Frankly, I’m tipping it to be the new class leader.
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