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.