I drove a Citroen Saxo recently, and for the first time ever it made me feel glum. Usually its lightness, fizzy engine, sweet steering and near-desperation to oversteer take me back to my teens. But this time, I realised, was the last time. Crash regulations, corporate handling paranoia and the desire for bigger, heavier cars mean the days of the kart-like hatch are gone.
But just because you’ve seen the word ‘oversteer’ in the first paragraph of this story, don’t think we’re going to misjudge the Saxo’s replacement.Fun is still relevant; a lot of these things are bought by young, keen drivers who know what handling is and want to learn how to use it.
But economy, practicality and value are more important still. The C2 shouldn’t be compared with its predecessor but with the Daihatsu Charade, which, despite its tiny Japanese K-car dimensions and a sub-six grand price tag, manages to provide a decent ride, space for four adults, a three-pot engine with real personality and unbeatable economy.
The C2 has the Charade – and just about everything else in the class – licked for looks. It keeps the slightly bulbous nose of the five-door C3, with which it shares its platform and 60 per cent of its parts. But its vertical headlamps, shorter wheelbase, sharply truncated rear and angled side-glass give it a sharper, more aggressive look than the C3, even in basic trim and on small wheels.
Inside the dash is lifted straight from the C3 and quality has certainly improved; the panel fit isn’t quite bum-tight but is better. It’s no easier to use, though; the heater controls are too low, and while the big digital speedo is easy to read the thin rev-counter which arches over it is anything but.
Like the C3, visibility is good and the driving position excellent, with reach and rake adjustment for the wheel and a huge range of height adjustment for the firm front seats. But the shorter wheelbase is apparent in the back. It’s a strict four-seater too, with two separate rear chairs which can either fold down, tumble forward or be lifted out altogether. Great in theory, but to tumble them you need to move the fronts so far forward as to make them virtually useless.
We drove the 1.6-litre, 110bhp VTR, which at £10,995 heads the range until the VTS arrives. As in the Pluriel, the 1.6 comes only with Citroën’s paddle-shift-operated Sensodrive automated manual, and the VTR justifies its sporting badge with lower, stiffer suspension, thicker anti-roll bars, quicker steering, a bodykit and taller, fatter rubber.
The changes don’t cost the C2 too much of its low-speed manners; the ride is still soft enough to soak up the worst of poor surfaces and the fully electric power steering is absurdly easy and light at low speeds. But does the C2 VTR cut it as a warm hatch? The answer is pretty predictable: it can’t hope to match the responses of the flyweight Saxo, and drives like the C3. Its biggest failing is the steering where the electric assistance kills any feel or feedback.
Once you’ve got used to the steering, the rest of the chassis is pretty good. Grip is strong and body control is tight without harming the ride and roll and pitch are well-contained.
The C2 VTR is fun, but it won’t set your strides on fire. But then neither will its rivals; the Ford SportKa has a better chassis, but is let down by its engine. We’ll probably be more enthusiastic about the other cars in the range.