► New C3 in BlueHDi Flair form tested
► Cactus’s design language goes mainstream
► A refreshing bias towards comfort
When we tested the new Citroen C3 in 108bhp Puretech guise, we gave it an unreserved thumbs up. It’s a confident, funky-looking car that’s been built by a company with a superb back catalogue – and which has rediscovered some of its mojo, after years of trying.
But we all know that award-winning three-cylinder PureTech petrol is a bit of a gem. It’s eager, economical and great fun if you’re in a hurry. Will the more sensible 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel version of this C4 Cactus in miniature manage to worm its way into our affections in the same way?
Funkiness takes more than air bumps...
You can see why Citroen is keen to associate the C3 with the C4 Cactus. That car has won plenty of plaudits and is selling well. It’s an intelligent design that boasts light construction and Paris-friendly ‘Airbumps’. So, it’s scaled down all the best bits of that car, packaged them into this sub-four metre supermini, and ensured that it’s brimming with space, light and room inside.
As with the Puretech petrol, this 1.6-litre BlueHDi version is comparatively quick and economical. It’s also packed with all of the tech that the younger audience it’s aimed at demand. Standard kit includes Apple CarPlay and a 7.0-inch touchscreen, with all of the infotainment functions you can shake a stick at, for starters. But there’s also a factory-fit dash cam that doubles as a social media show-off tool, so you can share what you can see with the rest of the world. If that’s your bag.
You get a roomy interior that’s appealingly styled and, aside from the appallingly hollow-sounding door trims, it feels solidly built and benefits from a dash of design flair. In a market that’s lacking in diversity, the C3 feels pleasingly left field, majoring on comfort – which, whisper it, makes it just like Citroens of old.
And just like all those 2CVs, GSs and CXs, the cabin’s ergonomics are a bit of a struggle. if you’re not a lover of touchscreens, then grouping so many major controls, such as heating and ventilation, on to it won’t feel like a good idea.
So how does it go in diesel form?
If it weren’t sat alongside the delightful petrol Puretech in its range, we’d wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s quiet and relatively smooth, and delivers bags of punch across the rev range. In terms of fuel consumption, it’s combined average is 76.3mpg – say, 60mpg in day-to-day driving – while its emissions are rated at 95g/km of CO2.
Out of the city, you’re never left feeling short-changed thanks to decent mid-range punch. Forget hanging onto the redline to eke out the most from this car – keep it below 3000rpm, use light throttle openings and higher gears, and it’ll flow along very nicely indeed.
So, why don’t we give it the full five-star treatment? The petrol option is just so much more appealing to drive, and hardly any thirstier. No wonder Citroen expects the diesel version will take just 25 percent of C3 sales.
Dialled in for comfort, you say?
We do – and that’s quite a rarity these days. Citroen has done an admirable job of endowing the C3 with pliable suspension and comfort-oriented damping. On your typical British city street or B-road it floats over imperfections, makes light of potholes and does its best to soothe you. Unlike the German opposition, there’s little in the way of road roar, too, which means the C3 will be less wearing on long journeys.
The steering is a little light and lacking in feel, but most buyers won’t be troubled by this fact. The gear change is light, and the brakes are strong and the pedal meters out plenty of feel, further solidifying the C3’s easygoing on-road credentials.
It could do with a little of its initial steering sensitivity dialling out, though, because if you try and flick it into corners then some undignified lurching can result – due in part to the softer suspension set-up. But acclimatise to this dynamic trait, and it’ll capably flow into bends thanks in a reassuring fashion.
Citroen has done a great job here – the new C3 is comfortable, engaging, roomy and economical. The styling is less divisive than the C4 Cactus, but still manages to stand out from the pack in the esoteric Gallic fashion Citroen is legendary for. We’ll stand by our initial verdict that this is an uncommonly and surprisingly capable supermini, but we wouldn’t recommend this particular version.
Why? The diesel option is overshadowed by the petrol engine in just about every way, and as such, unless you’re buying on purely fiscal reasons, we’d recommend you head that way.
The C3’s other biggest problem is going to be turning around the brand’s reputation for depreciation, poor reliability and flaky build quality. The product is leagues ahead of the perception, but given that supermini buyers tend to play it safe – and head for Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen’s doors – Citroen is likely to have its work cut out getting bums on its comfortable seats.
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