Citroen rediscovers its design flair, applying it to the new C3 while incorporating its renowned comfort traits. Is the new C3 a small car star?
Citroën’s styling efforts have been hit and miss affairs over the past decade or so. They rolled out some interesting but quirky designs in the mid 2000s, before things went oddly conservative. But the French firm’s latest offerings have managed to be engaging without being eccentric. Even the Grand Picasso people mover looked alright, but it was the C4 Cactus which set a likeable theme, one which the new C3 follows cunningly. The look of this little urbanite will be the big draw of what is otherwise a conventional five-door hatch. Up front it sports Citroën’s triple stack of lights, the brand-identifying double chevrons extending stylistically to the LED daytime runners, the latter giving the C3 a piercing gaze. There’s just one model variant for our market and that comes complete with those airbump panels and, along with the plastic-clad wheel arches, there’s a hint of crossover to the look, which can’t hurt its prospects in an SUV-mad market. Not that it’s an SUV, mind.
The C3 uses a development of its predecessor’s chassis and it’s now a little longer, wider and lower overall. A stretched wheelbase is said to lend it a roomier cabin with added width and more rear legroom. The cabin design reminds of the C4 Cactus, though the C3 is more conventional and better for it. There are still a few novelties like the luggage strap-inspired door pulls and the stylised air vents on the textured dash. These design flourishes help distract the eye from the abundance of hard plastics in use elsewhere. There’s a modern vibe with its central dash-mounted display screen acting as the ‘vehicle control centre’. Buttons are scarce, the touchscreen taking control of everything. It means some functions require a few taps on the screen to set things to your liking, but it’s at least responsive and the buttons are big enough to hit easily while you’re on the go. So there’s no inbuilt nav, but you can plug your phone in with both CarPlay and Android supported. Storage is scarce, the cup holders fairly useless, and so too the glovebox.
Comfort is what Citroën wants to immerse you in with the C3, and so the seats resemble mini-couches. These are wide, inviting and soft, though a little more lower back support wouldn’t go astray. They are set high for ease of entry, and there’s good adjustment at the seat and wheel to enable a comfortable driving position.
Furthering the comfort theme, the C3 has a ride optimised for smooth city travel. It’s soft in the springs, making for a cushy ride on city streets. Add to the mix lightweight steering and a turbocharged triple bursting with low-end torque, and C3 makes for an easygoing commuter. There’s the usual compact turning circle, and short dimensions make for easy parking. While there are no parking sensors their assistance is not really missed. Nor is there any blind spot monitoring, but set the side mirrors appropriately and there’s not much to worry about there either. Outward vision is fairly sound, only the chunky C pillar impairs your rear three-quarter view but the reverse camera has a sufficiently wide angle to help when reversing out of car parks.
The engine is a 1.2-litre boosted three, with 81kW and a tenacious 205Nm from 1500rpm. Unlike most Citroëns of the past few years, it isn’t lumped with some silly automated single-clutch jerk-o-matic or a doggy old four-speeder slush box but rather there’s a smart six-speed auto in charge. There are a few off-beat tingles from the engine at idle, and while the stop/start is both overly keen to kill the engine and occasionally slow to refire, you can switch it out. The triple is otherwise a stroppy little powertrain, responsive and up for a few revs but also happy to lug along in taller gears, where there’s genuine pull from just 1500rpm.
The flip side? It’s a smoothy on city streets for sure but the simplicity of the suspension, especially the torsion beam rear end, sees it struggle when encountering a sharp edge in town, or a series of bumps further afield. The softly-softly nature of the suspension leads to more roll in corners, and the relaxed bushings in the torsion beam means there’s more rear end roll too. The steering response is dulled because of this, and so if you’re inclined to make the stretch for the transmission’s Sport mode button (located awkwardly under the dash), the powertrain is up for it, but the chassis’s just not that keen. Get a bit too eager and it’s like the front and rear ends have had a big barney and are now refusing to work together. Best then to step it back a notch, enjoy the fact this C3 has been blessed with a good powertrain and stick to the main highways for your intercity travels. The turbo triple revs lustily when you need to overtake but more importantly has plenty of useful Newton metres lingering throughout the rev range to make both open road cruising and commuting that much easier. There’s no need for the auto to shift like crazy, and the C3 will even accelerate up mild inclines in top gear. Fuel consumption on test wasn’t fabulous, the average of 7.9L/100km up on the 4.9L/100km quoted mean, but the test unit was virginal with delivery miles only, so it should improve with time.
While the C3 is said to have added rear passenger accommodations, the entry is a bit of a squeeze via the narrow doors, and the legroom is only average for the class. The boot is sizeable though; 300L is not bad for a small car and, aside from a high load lip, the hold is deep and wide and the seat is folded easily, though doesn’t lie flat. There’s a full-sized spare sited under the floor.
As for safety, there’s no active cruise, nor any AEB but you get a lane departure warning system via a forward facing camera, which can also read signs to let you know the speed limit. An incorporated function allows you quickly to adjust your cruise control setting using this information.
The lone model is priced at $26,990 and standard is a grey mica cloth interior (this test car came fitted with the cost extra red colour scheme), and there are six airbags, ESP, a smart key and 17-inch alloys. On the options list is Citroën’s ConnectedCam, a forward-facing camera to record your adventures on the go and then sharing on your ‘socials’. More useful perhaps is its ability to record footage in the event of an accident.
There’s also the opportunity to add your flavour to the C3, with nine body colour options and three for the roof for you to mix and match. You can add further styling highlights with an optional bi-tone or panoramic roof, or colour-coding the mirror caps and airbumps and fog light surrounds.
While it can’t match the value offered by the Swift or the focused dynamics of the Fabia, the C3 has plenty of character, likeable styling and a decent powertrain to make it more than just another quirky Citroën.
|Engine||1199cc, IL3, T/DI, 81kW/205Nm||Drivetrain||6-speed auto, front-wheel drive|
|Fuel Use||4.9L/100km||C02 Output||110g/km|
|Engine||1199cc, IL3, T/DI, 81kW/205Nm|