What is it?
Citroen has been on a bit of a roll recently, so the new C3 supermini has a lot to live up to. More important, it has to compete in Europe’s biggest and toughest market, up against excellent cars such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo.
Happily, the new C3 looks promising on every level. It’s got the same good looks as the company’s other recent offerings. It promises to be the most spacious car in its class and spec for spec it achieves the rare distinction of being lighter and more efficient than the car it replaces.
What’s it like?
There's no question that the outgoing C3 was - at least at launch - a reasonably stylish alternative to other superminis. But that was all it had on its side.
The new one, however, is miles away in just about every respect. In terms of quality it looks like it has leapt forward more than one generation.
The dash is free from gimmicks and well ordered. More important, it has a feeling of solidity missing from small Citroens up until now. The dash top itself is constructed from the sort of soft-touch plastics that give a feeling of quality. Likewise, the switchgear all operates with a satisfying clunk.
Of course, we can't yet be sure that this is going to translate into something that's going to stay free from squeaks and clunks in the future - but it looks and feels as though it's going to fare a lot better than the outgoing car.
The cabin is also made a better place to be by the huge ‘Zenith’ windscreen, where the glass also forms part of the forward roof structure. Most models will get this, and while it’s got questionable benefits for keeping weight and the centre of gravity low, it does give the cabin a terrific feeling of space and airiness.
Rear space, too, is as good as you can expect from the class; there's adequate space for two adults and a good assortment of places to store things in the cabin.
Citroen is promising that the C3 range will eventually include a variety of ultra-low-CO2 models, including three-cylinder petrol turbos and stop-start across the range by 2011. Next summer a 99g/km special-edition 1.4-litre diesel, dubbed Airdream, will also appear.
For now, however, we have familiar Citroen engines. Petrol engines range from a 60bhp 1.1 to a 120bhp 1.6, while the diesels consist of a 69bhp 1.4 and two 1.6s, one with 89bhp and the other with 113bhp.
We sampled the lower-powered 1.6-litre diesel and were left with the impression that plenty of effort has been put into the C3's refinement. The motor itself is quiet and punchy. More impressive is the authoritative way in which the C3 isolates you from the outside world. Wind noise is apparent at motorway speeds but road noise is impressively smothered, as are road scars; this is a soft and quiet-riding car.
What the C3 is not is as agile as a Ford Fiesta; body control and steering precision are not as accomplished. The gearchange isn't as crisp as it should be, either.
But the C3 is now among the most refined superminis, and that's no bad thing. Plus, the near mechanically identical DS3, being launched next year, is likely to play the role of the sportier offering.