First DriveIs the third gen Citroën C3 ‘fresh and different’ enough to take on its supermini rivals? We spend six months with one to find out
First DriveThe Citroen C3 Aircross has got funky looks and a charming interior, but it's another small SUV, and another dynamic miss.
Why we're running it: Charm, usability and simplicity are the C3’s trump cards – we’re finding out how it plays them
Life with a Citroën C3: Month 2
The C3 earning its crust out of town – 01 November 2017
A trip to Crewe to see the new Bentley Continental GT loomed and I toyed with the idea of swapping the C3 for one of the more suitable long-distance cars on our test fleet.
But in the end, I didn’t, deciding that this was an excellent opportunity to see how the C3 fared outside of its urban remit.
It’s fair to say it didn’t have the comfort or refinement of a Bentley grand tourer, but then what do you expect at a fraction of the price?
Nonetheless, Citroën has a sharp focus on offering comfortable cars and the C3 absolutely bears that out. There are very few cars in which I don’t get fidgety or suffer from the common affliction of ‘numb bum’ on a 100-mile-plus journey.
But with the C3, it never happened. I was happy all the way to Crewe and back to London again, via the Cotswolds. Even better, the C3’s bench-like seats, inspired by those in the C4 Cactus, look different from almost every other car makers’ out there. So they’re not only incredibly comfortable but also original in design.
A few weeks later, I headed to the depths of Suffolk for a yoga retreat. From my house, there is not the luxury of a direct motorway route. Instead, I traversed motorways, A-roads and B-roads before a final stretch on the never-ending A143.
The journey had the same result: I was comfortable throughout.
The C3 can also hold its own on higher-speed long journeys. Our car’s 1.2-litre PureTech 110 engine is the most powerful in the range. That equates to a 0-62mph of 9.3sec – not enough to do more than moderately paced motorway cruising, but sufficient.
To get up to speed requires some persistent foot-down driving, but it’s never to the point where you feel that you’re desperately willing the C3 to accelerate more quickly.
The other upside of long-distance journeys in the C3 is also the biggest downside for its natural environment of towns and cities.
The gearbox feels notchy and rough when changing through its lower cogs. This makes stop-start urban journeys less fluid than you’d hope. So, of course, with no low-end gearchanging necessary out of town, this isn’t a factor.
The Citroën also has firm rear suspension, which causes it to crash hard over speed bumps.
That’s unavoidable to an extent on roads like the one on which I live, which have the worst kind of speed bumps, but rival hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta feel better damped. Again, this is much less of a factor on longer journeys outside towns.
So I’ve touched on its long-distance capabilities and my main woes on short journeys.
But as my daily driver, covering 20 miles a day in the suburbs of London, this is a car I’ve become fond of. I’m now used to that less-than-brilliant ride and those not-as-smooth-as-I’d-like gearchanges and I’m enjoying the C3.
It’s also very practical. The boot’s capacity is 300 litres, which is more than the Fiesta’s, and it is cleanly shaped for optimum space.
My Volkswagen Golf-owning mum, on seeing the C3’s boot after a trip to a garden centre, remarked on how spacious it is.
On that same visit, my mum, dad, partner and I piled into the C3 for a short drive for a Sunday roast.
My 6ft 2in partner drove us back home, with my 5ft 4in mum sitting comfortably behind him, demonstrating a respectable amount of space for all occupants.
It has also been very usable for transporting my two-year-old niece in her car seat. And if anyone’s seal of approval counts, it’s hers. She said, on first seeing the C3: “I like your car. Nice wheels.”
Life with a Citroën C3: Month 1
Suffering some audio woes – 11 October 2017
I assure you, I am not mad.
Yet when I listen to the radio in the C3, I find it sporadically repeating itself for 2-3sec. It happens often.
A more tech-savvy person than I suggested that the radio is switching between FM and DAB, which makes sense.
Even so, I’ve not experienced it in any other car and it’s quite unnerving until you get used to it.
Welcoming the Citroën C3 to our fleet – 20 September 2017
But this reincarnation, its third generation, hails a step change, as the French car maker looks to reinvent itself following its split with DS. That is now deemed the premium brand in the PSA Group, while Citroën focuses on being ‘fresh and different’.
We’ve opted for the top of three trims, Flair. It’s a well-specified car that comes with a reversing camera, dark tinted windows and a 7.0in touchscreen.
It is also the only trim that gets those airbumps as standard. Otherwise, they cost £290.
We’ve chosen the most powerful petrol engine to put through its paces, the PureTech 110 S&S (stop start) in five-speed manual guise. The three-cylinder 1.2-litre achieves 0-62mph in 9.3sec and promises fuel economy of 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 103g/km.
For comparison’s sake, the equivalent Ford Fiesta is the 1.0-litre 123bhp Ecoboost engine in Titanium trim, which costs £17,295. That hits 0-62mph in 9.9sec, delivers 67.5mpg and has CO2 emissions of 98g/km. In short, slower but more economical.
So what are my hopes for the C3? Well, I’d genuinely like there to be a new contender for one of the top spots in the supermini sector.
The Fiesta, for all its outright goodness, is pretty dull in my book. I’d like the C3 to not only look attractive but perform attractively too so it can compete.
Citroën loves to harp on about its focus on comfort, so I’m intrigued to see how well the car absorbs the endless speed bumps on my road, plus plenty of uneven road surfaces.
Comfort also plays an important part in the interior – will I become fidgety when I’m stuck on the North Circular in a torturous Sunday afternoon traffic jam?
It’s the first time I’ve lived in London with a supermini, which I’ve always thought the perfect type of car for such a setting. But I’m interested to see if it’s useable in its compactness too.
My beau and I are still busy fitting out our house, so the odd trip to Ikea is inevitable. We also have a lively two-year-old niece to regularly accommodate in the back of the car.
My relationship with PSA Group infotainment systems isn’t the best. A previous Peugeot 308 GTi long-termer had a painful-to-use system. Already, I can see a vast improvement with the revamped version in this C3, so I hope it’s really up to the job.
Other early impressions: it has a great, original interior design; there’s enough power for most types of driving; and there’s work to be done on the over-firm rear suspension.
Alongside lots of inevitable town running, I have a few high-mileage trips coming up, so I’ll be putting the C3 to the test in every sense. I want it to be worthy, but my first instincts are that it won’t quite match up to its key rivals. Will it prove me wrong?
Citroën has always seemed at its best building cars with ‘character’ – and the confident design of the C3 certainly stands out in a crowded small-car market.
Of course, ‘fun’ cars with character can become tiresome to live with long term. Here’s hoping the C3 stays charming over time.
Specs: Price New £16,685; Price as tested £18,280; Options Metallic paint (£495), 7.0in touchscreen and sat nav (£500), keyless entry and start (£250), 17in alloy wheels (£200), red urban ambience (£150)
Test Data: Engine 1199cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 108bhp; Torque 151lb ft; Top speed 117mph; 0-62mph 9.3sec; Claimed fuel economy 61.4mpg; Test fuel economy 44.0mpg; CO2 103g/km; Faults None; Expenses None