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Citroen C3 long-term test: have you got a note from your mum?

Published: 05 December 2017

► CAR runs a chic Citroen C3
► Our 1.2-litre C3 Flair PureTech 
► Long-term test review diary

Month 5 running a Citroen C3: the CAR team's thoughts

You’ve listened to me witter on about the Citroën C3 for four months now, but more than a few other members of the CAR team have also recently put miles under its softly sprung wheels, so it seems a timely juncture to let you know what they’ve been saying about it too.

A well-rested Ben Barry praised the C3’s epically comfy seats: ‘There’s something fundamentally French about them; no-one else does seats quite like that. They’re supportive as well as comfortable, and I like the way they’re canted back, with a relatively low driving position.’

Mark Walton liked the soft seats and the softer suspension, too: ‘I think the last time I sat in a car that felt so spongy, with marshmallowy seats, was my dad’s Renault 30, circa 1982. It’s a credit to Citroën’s engineers that the suppleness of the C3 doesn’t cross the line to become uncontrolled or wallowy. Normally I find soft cars a bit vomit-inducing, but I really liked driving the C3.’ 

Ben B too liked the way the C3’s secondary ride agreeably billows with the road surface, but wasn’t so enamoured with the primary ride, suggesting it would benefit from a stiffer structure. As Chris Chilton put it, ‘It’s great to see Citroën embracing the art of the lope.’

Although when the C3 joined our supermini Giant Test, it ceded victory to Suzuki’s more nimble Swift, Chris feeling that for all the C3’s boundless feelgood factor it’s just a bit too lacking in steering precision and body control.

But everyone who’s been in the C3 has admired its idiosyncratic charisma – there isn’t another supermini out there with a character quite like it. Walton likes the way the Citroen ‘carves itself a character without resorting to “sportiness”, like virtually every other manufacturer on the planet.’

‘The C3 is about as sporty as a baguette,’ Mark says, ‘yet the way that three-cylinder engine thrums, it feels like it has a distinct identity that’s very willing, very enthusiastic, cheerful even – without actually trying to be fast.’

Citroen C3 LTT engine

Tim Pollard likes the spirit of the C3, if not the execution. ‘So much about this car is true to Citroën’s heritage: the cuddly style, an impressively soft, cushy ride and its gentle gait. For me, a lot of that goodness is undone by some shonky basics – the baggy gearchange spoils every journey. The shift from first to second measures more than six inches!’

Ben Barry shares a few of the frustrations I’ve encountered: an unresponsive ignition button and the stop-start system conspire to fire the engine up again just as you’re trying to switch it off, the narrow powerband demands concentration to make un-shunty progress, and some of the touchscreen interface’s elements feel wilfully obstructive. 

Nonetheless, as Ben notes, ‘there are a few little bits you could look at and say “I’d have done that differently,” but ultimately it’s one of those cars where its character makes up for all its flaws. It’s not pretentious, it’s not showy, it’s very easy to like. I’d quite happily have one in the household.’

Everyone seems to agree – there’s no shortage of nits to pick, but the C3’s charm outweighs the vast majority of its shortcomings. Which is exactly how I feel about it too.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Citroen C3 Flair S&S PureTech 110 Manual

Engine 1199cc 12v 3-cyl turbo, 108bhp @ 5500rpm, 151lb ft @ 1500rpm  
Transmission 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 9.3sec 0-62mph, 117mph, 103g/km CO2  
Price £16,285
As tested £18,330
Miles this month 587
Total miles 2902
Our mpg 38.8
Official mpg 61.4
Fuel this month £85.71
Extra costs None


Month 4 running a Citroen C3: light and (sort of) airy

Our C3 has the full-length panoramic roof, a £400 option that fills the interior with light like an upmarket loft apartment, and doesn't pinch quite as much headroom.

Although it's designed to let in more light than heat, it still makes the cabin pretty toasty if you forget to slide the blind into place before you leave the car.

Which highlights the C3's ineffectual air-con – no matter how much you play with the controls on the touchscreen, it always feels ever so slightly too hot or too cold. If only Goldilocks was an HVAC engineer.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Citroen C3 Flair S&S PureTech 110 Manual

Engine 1199cc 12v 3-cyl turbo, 108bhp @ 5500rpm, 151lb ft @ 1500rpm  
Transmission 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 9.3sec 0-62mph, 117mph, 103g/km CO2  
Price £16,285
As tested £18,330
Miles this month 676
Total miles 2315
Our mpg 41.9
Official mpg 61.4
Fuel this month £91.80
Extra costs None


Month 3 running a Citroen C3: under the microscope

The C3 has taken a huge leap ahead in the style stakes. But what about the substance?

Perfect squircles

Citroen C3 long-term door inlay

There’s a recurring theme to the C3’s design – everything is a rounded rectangle. Headlights, airbumps, air-con vents, speakers, doorcard indents… Only the Fiat Panda has more squircle-centric cues. I like it. Combining tough plastics with a leather-style doorpull strap, like something from a well-travelled vintage suitcase, is a nice touch. 

Slo-mo screen

Citroen C3 long-term screen

Why do we have touchscreens in cars, aside from sheer modishness? This one’s laggy and takes several prods to acknowledge a command, even when you’re stationary, and on the move it demands too much of your concentration. When you decide it’s safer to pull over and stop to adjust the air-con, something’s not right. 

The power of three

Citroen C3 long-term engine

108bhp is a lot of power from 1.2 litres and three cylinders, isn’t it? The PureTech 110 turbo petrol engine (available on the C3 in the top Flair trim, and in various other PSA cars) is muscular enough to make the C3 genuinely adept at high-speed motorway cruising. It’s one of the laggier current turbo engines, though, and can’t lug from low revs.

Long-distance rowing

Citroen C3 long-term gearleve

Five gears are all you need when they’re this far apart. With a long-throw gate, similarly over-long clutch travel and sky-high bite point, combined with that turbo lag and tall ratios, it actually takes quite a lot of concentration to drive our C3 smoothly. It’s satisfying when you get it right, but other superminis’ gearboxes are more enjoyable to use. 

By James Taylor

Logbook: Citroen C3 Flair S&S PureTech 110 Manual

Engine 1199cc 12v 3-cyl turbo, 108bhp @ 5500rpm, 151lb ft @ 1500rpm  
Transmission 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 9.3sec 0-62mph, 117mph, 103g/km CO2  
Price £16,285
As tested £18,330
Miles this month 500
Total miles 1639
Our mpg 37.9
Official mpg 61.4
Fuel this month £71
Extra costs None


Citroen C3 cupholders

Month 2 running a Citroen C3: cupholders that can't hold cups

I love the Citroen C3’s interior, but it’s not without its fair share of ergonomic SNAFUs.

Not least front cupholders you can’t actually fit cups into. Anything taller than a fizzy drinks can won’t physically fit, because the space above it in the centre console is taken up by the starter button and an alcove that’s the exact shape to hold nothing at all.

The trough-like door bins aren’t much help, either. Presumably the Parisian design team mostly drink espressos…

By James Taylor

Logbook: Citroen C3 Flair S&S PureTech 110 Manual

Engine 1199cc 12v 3-cyl turbo, 108bhp @ 5500rpm, 151lb ft @ 1500rpm  
Transmission 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 9.3sec 0-62mph, 117mph, 103g/km CO2  
Price £16,285
As tested £18,330
Miles this month 726
Total miles 1139
Our mpg 45.0
Official mpg 61.4
Fuel this month £91.85
Extra costs None


CAR magazine's Citroen C3 long-term test review: keeper James Taylor and our 1.2 Flair

Month 1 living with a Citroen C3: a supermini that goes its own way

There’s a word in German, one of those funny ones for which there isn’t quite a direct translation: warmduscher. It means, approximately, someone who is only used to taking warm showers, therefore making them a bit spoilt, and rather too settled inside their comfort zone. And I’ve been worried that the R8 I've been running for the past 8 months might turn me into one.

If anything’s going to spoil someone rotten to the core, having easy access to a V10 supercar will probably do the trick. But I think I’m okay, because my new long-term test car is a three-cylinder supermini, and I’m more than happy about it.

I think the C3 is the most interesting car in its segment today, because it ploughs a furrow all of its own. It doesn’t try to be premium like a VW Polo, or sharp to drive like a Ford Fiesta (its soft, comfort-orientated suspension gives it all the handling properties of a marshmallow, but makes it a similarly comforting experience), and its squircle-themed styling makes it look like nothing else, apart from its C4 Cactus big brother; in fact, most people who’ve asked me about the car so far have assumed it is a Cactus, primarily due to the squidgy plastic Airbumps bubbling from its doors. At some point I should probably try clouting a shopping trolley or another car door into them to find out if they actually work.

Said bumps are fitted as standard only on the top Flair trim, and an option at extra cost on the middle Feel grade. The car looks far plainer without them, and even more so on the entry Touch version, which also lacks the crossover-y plastic wheelarch extensions. We went for the Flair trim, which includes front foglamps, rear parking sensors, and a market first in the shape of Citroën’s in-built ConnectedCAM dashcam, which we've already tested here.

Citroen C3 cars for sale

Citroen C3 long-term test front tracking

A camera mounted in front of the rear-view mirror takes still photos and short videos manually, or they’re recorded automatically in the event of heavy braking, or a bump. Just a curio, or genuinely useful? We’ll find out, I suppose, although I sincerely hope all our C3 snaps are recorded manually.

Engine-wise, I couldn’t stop myself choosing the most powerful option (I am downsizing from 5.2 litres after all), the 108bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine that’s previously impressed with its punch and flexibility in the larger Cactus. It’s only marginally more expensive to buy than the next-rung-down PureTech 82 option, but there’s more than £5k between it and the entry PureTech 62.

Our C3 also includes a glass roof (£400), contrasting white paint for the non-glass bits of the roof and the mirrors (no cost), keyless entry and start (£250), and great-looking 17-inch Black Cross alloys (£300). Together with the £500 sat-nav, £100 blind-spot monitoring and £495 metallic paint, that makes it a really rather luxurious supermini, but a relatively pricey one at £18,330. Clearly I’m not ready to turn the temperature dial all the way down just yet.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Citroen C3 Flair S&S PureTech 110 Manual

Engine 1199cc 3-cyl 12v turbo, 108bhp @ 5500rpm, 151lb ft @ 1500rpm 
Gearbox 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 9.3sec 0-62mph, 117mph, 103g/km CO2  
Price £16,425 
As tested £18,330
Miles this month 242
Total miles 413
Our mpg N/A
Official mpg 61.4
Fuel this month £38.57
Extra costs £0

Get the latest on our long-term test fleet here

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

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