From £10,2657
Third-generation supermini doesn’t quite match style with equal substance – although its 1.2 turbo petrol engine is a good one

Our Verdict

Citroën C3

Citroën focuses on design, comfort and infotainment for its new supermini

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What is it?

This might reasonably be described as the half-new Citroën C3. The new half will be immediately obvious: the Ford Fiesta rival has been given the most adventurous styling overhaul in its now-three-generations-old history, bringing it up to speed with the firm’s new family look as pioneered by the C4 Cactus and later taken on by the C1 city car. And, like it or not, you can’t claim the car isn’t now cutting a bit of an alternative dash – as a Citroën should yet as the C3 has thus far singularly failed to do.

The not-so-new half is what’s underneath the car, which is a partly overhauled but mostly inherited version of the ‘PF1’ supermini platform that the PSA Group has been using as the basis of its small cars for more than a decade. Technically, then, the C3 isn’t so new – although there’s an all-new ‘Common Module Platform’ replacement for PF1 currently in the works that will be finished in time for the car’s mid-life facelift.

The C3’s engine range is made up of 1.2-litre petrols of between 67bhp and 108bhp and 1.6-litre diesels of either 74bhp or 99bhp, all driving the front wheels via a choice of five-speed manual, five-speed semi-automatic or six-speed torque converter automatic gearboxes. The car has grown by a couple of inches in length, but now measuring almost exactly four metres at the kerb, it’s still a very typical size for a supermini – and comes in five-door form only.

Our introduction to the car came in a mid-range 81bhp petrol variant on European roads and in left-hand-drive form; now is our chance to test the car in the UK, in right-hand drive, and in range-topping 108bhp turbocharged petrol form.

What's it like?

More striking that pretty to look at, the C3 borrows liberally from ever-so-popular SUV styling language – and yet not so much as to look bulky or incongruous. Plump for a top-of-the-range Flair model such as our test car and you get those Cactus-derived stylised ‘air bump’ bodyside protectors, plastic wheel arch extensions and a contrasting roof ‘floating’ atop blacked-out pillars – all of which could easily have looked ridiculous on a normal five-door shopping car. And yet, to these eyes, the C3 successfully makes them constituent parts of a coherent look.

The car’s interior is every bit as distinctive. Flat seats with inclined bases sit you quite bent-legged at the wheel, but not uncomfortably so – and there’s plenty of steering column adjustment and fairly well-placed pedals. Unlike in the Cactus, the C3 gives you proper analogue speedometer and rev counter dials, while most of its secondary ventilation and systems controls are consolidated onto the central 7.0in touchscreen infotainment screen. The latter approach brings advantages and disadvantages, of course – just as it has to so many current Peugeots and Citroëns. It’s annoying that adjusting the car’s heater temperature often takes several arms-length jabs at a touchscreen and demands more of your attention than you’d like to be diverted from the road ahead.

On the flipside, the reduction in necessary switchgear leaves the fascia looking nicely decluttered – although Citroën doesn’t turn that advantage to the C3’s benefit very effectively, providing only annoyingly small and poorly placed cupholders and little centre console storage. The car’s fascia doesn’t feel as appealing as it looks, either; plastics are uniformly hard, rough in places and quite shiny. And accommodation levels aren’t great; rear seat space is well below par for the supermini class, while boot space is better but not brilliant.

Citroën took the unusual decision, in a modern car market in which manufacturers normally only consider that firmer suspension and ‘sportier’ handling can possibly represent progress, to soften the C3’s suspension for this new version, and also to extend the car’s suspension travel for a more loping, laid-back, old-school-Citroën ride quality. The idea is worth applauding, as would be the execution had it been done with a little more skill and care.

Trouble is, the new C3 only manages to make a virtue of its softness on certain roads and at certain speeds. Its ride is underdamped and poorly isolated when the asphalt turns sharp and choppy and allows too much body movement on country roads for the car to really feel at home on them.

Light, reasonably direct steering makes the C3 an easy car in which to flit around town, where its chassis has the long-wave absorbency to deal with speed bumps particularly well. But at higher speeds there’s too much roll and bounce in the suspension to make the car able to deal assuredly with what a relatively testing British B-road might throw at it. Handling is never insecure, but it feels somewhat imprecise, with over-assisted steering and slow directional responses making your sense of control a bit vague when cornering at the national speed limit.

You can file the shift quality of the C3’s five-speed manual gearbox under ‘vague’, too – as well as baggy and overly long of throw. But the car’s range-topping petrol engine is certainly impressive. It operates with a familiar hint of turbo lag at low revs, although nothing too problematic, and comes up with plenty of torque to motivate what isn't a particularly heavy supermini - hence the sub-10.0sec 0-62mph claim, which feels easily achievable. The three-cylinder motor runs a bit roughly around idle but smooths out nicely and shows off plenty of mechanical charm as it revs. Our testing suggested that a real-world fuel economy claim of better than 50mpg, in mixed urban and extra-urban use, would easily be achievable.

Should I buy one?

In upper-level trim as tested, and with Citroën’s range-topping petrol engine, the C3 may not be the bargain you might have expected it to be. You might think you quite fancy one - but you could have a five-door Mini Cooper for only a couple of hundred pounds more than this particular example, neatly summing up exactly how much you’ll need to like Citroën’s fresh take on urban supermini chic to actually buy one.

Downgrading to a mid-spec Feel model means going without the air bumps, though – as well as cutting out some of the options that add colour and life to the interior. Meanwhile, there can be no doubt that this turbo petrol engine is the pick of the C3 range.

Those who really like the car’s plucky newfound charm and who aren’t discouraged by discovering that the C3 hasn’t quite become a class-leading supermini overnight would be well served by waiting until the rush has abated to open negotiations with their local dealer – and driving their bargain hard. They’ll end up with a car that doesn’t often excel but certainly has its moments, and compensates for its shortcomings with plenty of likeability.

Citroën C3 Puretech 110 Flair 

Location Middlesex; On sale Now; Price £15,995; Engine 3 cyls, 1199cc, turbo, petrol Power 108bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 151lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1050kg; 0-62mph 9.3sec; Top speed 117mph; Economy 61.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 103g/km, 17%; Rivals Ford Fiesta Titanium 1.0T, Mini Cooper

Join the debate

Comments
12

12 December 2016
First, Mr Prior seems to suggest that the PF1 platform will be replaced by the CMP platform at mid-life facelift time, and yet moving to a new platform would suggest something much more dramatic ... so I think that's a bit of a red-herring.

Second, from memory, the PF1 platform also underpins the the C4 Cactus, and so this C3 is now not much smaller than that car, shares its engines, and looks very much like it too, so they seem to be positioned too closely together in the range.

Third, if we are witnessing Citroen's new formula (is it a design language, I am not too sure?), how will it translate on the non-Cactus C4? Does anyone actually choose to buy a C4 any more? And, if they are serious about a larger saloon, will it also be treated to Airbumps given that 'fun' part of the Citroen DNA and this seems to be deemed to equal 'Airbumps'.

In conclusion, I am beginning to think that a degree of design desperation has set in with Citroen - the C4 Cactus was well received critically for the way it looks, had some early sales success, so now it becomes the blueprint for the whole range. It's like they have decided that all the performers in their circus need to look like clowns, even if they are going to walk the high wire or be Ring Master. As a fan of the marque, I'm becoming anxious about its future.

The car-buying public gets what it deserves, unfortunately ...

12 December 2016
"It’s annoying that adjusting the car’s heater temperature often takes several arms-length jabs at a touchscreen, and demands more of your attention than you’d like to be diverted from the road ahead."

I've been driving a C4 Cactus for nearly a year, and couldn't agree with the more.

Overall, the Cactus is a startlingly good car for what it is. The 1.2 turbo is amazing for such a small engine and the cost (and weight) cutting has generally been done in areas where it doesn't matter (eg rear windows) and hasn't hurt where it does (proper size five door, decent boot, plenty of kit - sat nav, aircon, DAB, MP3, bluetooth).

The one area where I think they went too far is in the instrumentation and controls. A touchscreen is not a good method of adjusting heater controls (and perhaps actively bad) and the change-up-arrow instead of a rev-counter is just silly.

David W

12 December 2016
How can it be progress to replace easily operated with barely a glance climate control dials, with a touchscreen which takes your attention away from the road? Too many manufacturers are doing this, in an attempt to get sales from the younger generations who must always have a touch screen to hand. A true case of form over function, with driver ergonomics and safety taking a poor second place.

12 December 2016
catnip wrote:

How can it be progress to replace easily operated with barely a glance climate control dials, with a touchscreen which takes your attention away from the road? Too many manufacturers are doing this, in an attempt to get sales from the younger generations who must always have a touch screen to hand. A true case of form over function, with driver ergonomics and safety taking a poor second place.

I wouldn't go blaming "the younger generations" here. I'm in my 20s and I'm a UX Designer and am well aware that touch screens in cars, particularly those that have important controls (heating) buried inside are not a good idea. But of course they're cheaper for manufacturers to produce - this is, I suspect, a key reason for them being used. Pity so many of them are let down so atrociously by software and overloading of features. The VAG group were doing it well - but even the new Golf seems to have even more touch-screen than buttons.


"Work hard and be nice to people"

13 December 2016
I just don't see an issue when automatic climate control is fitted. I change the temperature setting once in a blue moon and would only really need a button to demist - which I think the C3 has. Why dedicate a large chunk of dash to large controls when there is now no need to constantly juggle temperature, fan and other settings?

13 December 2016
Clarkey wrote:

I just don't see an issue when automatic climate control is fitted. I change the temperature setting once in a blue moon and would only really need a button to demist - which I think the C3 has. Why dedicate a large chunk of dash to large controls when there is now no need to constantly juggle temperature, fan and other settings?

I fully agree! Isn't the whole point of ACC that you can leave it alone, set and forget? And you're right, there are hard buttons for front and rear demist. All journalists seem to wheel this out - maybe they're suffering from hot sweats...

14 December 2016
Clarkey wrote:

I just don't see an issue when automatic climate control is fitted. I change the temperature setting once in a blue moon and would only really need a button to demist - which I think the C3 has. Why dedicate a large chunk of dash to large controls when there is now no need to constantly juggle temperature, fan and other settings?

I'm sure that it is a lot easier if automatic climate control is fitted, but do all the C3 and C4 Cactus models have that feature?

13 December 2016
I have already driven this car, with this engine, in this trim and can only agree on some of the points made. Firstly, Citroen has made a choice (a good one, I feel) to go for a comfortable ride, rather than 'ring busting hot hatch handling, thus leaving that to the guys who do it best (Ford, VW, Mini etc) From where I'm standing, it seems a fruitless quest to try to compete with these others anyway, as Autocar will never place anything above the hallowed Fiesta, regardless of how good it may be in the real world (yawn). Secondly, yes it may be only a couple of hundred pounds cheaper than a 5 door Mini, but (and I haven't checked tbh) I suspect that it is far better equipped, more roomy and, to my eye at least, better looking, coupled with the fact that Citroen offer what they call 'Pack Terms' on new cars, which could bring that price down by several thousand pounds if you don't want the low rate finance.. All in all, I think its a great car and deserves to do well, if not definitively lead the class!

13 December 2016
The "floating" roof no more works on this car than it does on the C1 - on both cars its clearly paint or a sticker and NOT properly designed floating roof, so, on both cars it just looks cheap and stupid. What it very definitely does not do is make the cars look like they actually have floating roofs, it simply makes them look like Citroen has tried to pretend they have them on the cheap and failed miserably.

13 December 2016
I don't think for a moment that Citroen are trying to pass it off as a 'floating roof' as they actually refer to the option as a 'bi-tone' roof on both C1 & C3, as well as C3 Picasso and DS4. It is, essentially a roof painted in a different colour, with a slightly naff black vinyl strip to cover the paint lip. On this occasion, I think its Autocar that have chosen (badly) to use the floating term. Citroen did use the floating roof idea to good effect on the DS3, but this is not anything like that idea.

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