What is it? The new Citroën C3 is the third generation of the French supermini.
Key features: Distinctive looks, lots of space, much personalisation.
Our view: The new C3 adds a distinctive option to the supermini market, but not at the expense of practicality with many plusses and few minuses.
Type of review: First UK drive
Citroën has been on a mission for a while now – a bold campaign to redefine itself as a mainstream brand with cars that stand out from the rest, but not for the wrong reasons. Once known for its style the brand is seeking to establish that image once more – “Our ambition is to make Citroën an aspirational brand for customers and a truly iconic brand once again,” says spokesman John Handcock, introducing the new Citroën C3.
With such goals, it is no surprise that in producing the third-generation of the brand’s best-seller, Citroën has not stuck with the practical and reasonably safe formula that has produced 3.6 million sales globally, 200,000 in the UK, since the original C3 went on sale in 2002.
No, the new Citroën C3 showcases the brand’s latest design language and on first viewing is instantly recognisable as a smaller sister to the mould-breaking C4 Cactus introduced in 2014.
Style inside and out
Obvious styling pointers are the two-tier headlamp layout, the double chrome strips running from the grille to the pencil-thin daytime running lamps, and most obviously the ‘airbump’ moulded panels on the doors. Added for both style and we are told protection, these were derided by some when the Cactus launched with them, but you do see quite a few C4s on the roads these days… However in the case of the C3 a customer can buy an entry-level version without airbumps should they prefer.
The new C3 has a high stance, which together with the muscular wheelarch extensions gives it the look of a crossover. Yet it also has a roofline 40mm lower than its admittedly somewhat bulbous predecessor.
Despite its reduced height, the C3 immediately feels spacious when one gets inside. Some of this is due to practical measures, such as the more comfortable seats, with 2cm more shoulder width, installed under the ‘Advanced Comfort’ programme that Citroën is presenting as a priority. But much is also due to perception – the full width dashboard for example, another feature evolved from the C4, immediately gives an impression of a very wide car, while the interior also feels light and airy, the result of carefully selected materials and particularly emphasised if one chooses the optional panoramic sunroof.
It is practical – the rear seats have plenty of room for young travellers and enough to transport adults, and are easy to access thanks to the five-door layout. And at 300 litres, the boot space is larger than either the C3’s best-selling competitor, the Ford Fiesta, or its in-house rival the Peugeot 208.
Fit and finish, meanwhile is excellent, definitely at the top of the mainstream market, while there are some delightful details – this reviewer’s favourite being the interior door pulls that are apparently ‘inspired by travel’ and look just like suitcase straps.
Personalisation is also a major feature of the C3 – nine exterior colours are combined with three roof options, and the interior can be specified too, with the dash edges in particular picked out in one of three colours.
Citroën C3 powertrains
The C3 launches with engines already familiar in the PSA range. The three petrol options are all versions of the 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech petrol unit, with either 68, 82 or 110hp and all evolved from the winner of the ‘Engine of the Year’ title two years running. A pair of diesels are both four-cylinder 1.6-litre BlueHDi units with either 75 or 100 horses.
Currently all are matched to a five-speed manual gearbox, which is unusual in a market increasingly settling on six speeds. The EAT6 auto unit will be available in the range, but not until February 2017. And the largest petrol and both diesels also feature start-stop technology, which has the odd effect of allowing the 110hp petrol engine to outdo both its smaller siblings in economy and emissions, shaving the latter to a very creditable 103g/km.
On the launch event The Car Expert tried this petrol engine, and the 100hp diesel. We know the engines from previous Citroën, Peugeot and DS models and they did not surprise with their refinement or enthusiasm. In this environment the 110 feels quite sporty in fact.
Citroën is not currently saying whether there will be more engine options – though we would expect some. With the C3 the focus of the brand’s return to the World Rally Championship, a hot hatch version would seem to be a given.
That Advanced Comfort programme has been employed in redesigning the suspension and the result is a pretty comfortable ride in most situations. However it is naturally tuned to the soft side and at higher speeds hitting potholes or the like will transmit the resultant crash and bump through to the cabin.
In corners the C3 remains poised and upright, and goes where it is pointed. There are cars in the segment with better handling dynamics, but far more that can’t match the C3 for its prowess in the bendy bits.
Niggles? Just a couple. The clutch pedal seems to be placed quite close to the centre console tunnel and we found ourselves regularly catching our feet on it, while the gear shift on our models felt a touch notchy rather than slick.
Specifications and options
The Citroën C3 launches with a choice of three trim levels, Touch, Feel and the Flair which formed the specification of all the launch event models. Lots of technology has been added to the model, apparently as demanded by customers, and it is good to see that much of the safety tech is standard equipment, such as hill-start assist, lane departure warning and traffic sign alerts.
To get much of the ‘nice to have’ tech, you will have to spend more than the £10,995 that buys the entry-level Touch model. Rear parking sensors and a camera only come with Flair trim, and while on the entry versions you do get a DAB radio with Bluetooth, to include hands-free operation, the seven-inch touchscreen, Mirror Link and Apple CarPlay phone compatibility will require buying from Feel upwards. And while Citroën offers its impressive Connect navigation system, with live traffic alert and features such as accident blackspot highlighting, it’s a £500 option, even on Flair versions.
Summing up the new Citroën C3 is an impressive launch – possibly the most effective supermini that the brand has offered for some time, and certainly a car that will turn the heads of those who traditionally buy its rivals.
Citroën C3 – key specification
Models Tested: Citroën C3 Puretech 110 Flair, BlueHDi 100 Flair
On Sale: January 2017
Range price: £10,995-£17,095
Insurance groups: 8E-20A
Engines: Petrol 1.2 x 3, Diesel 1.6 x 2.
Power (hp): 68/82/110. 75/100.
Torque (Nm): 106/118/205. 233/254.
0-62mph (sec): 14.0/12.8/9.3. 13.7/10.6.
Top speed (mph): 107/107/117. 106/115.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 60.1/60.1/61.4. 80.7/76.3.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 108/108/103. 92/95.
Key rivals: Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Peugeot 208
Test Date: December 2016.