► All-new Citroen C3 tested
► 0-62mph in 9.3sec, 61.4mpg
► Takes on the Fiesta and Corsa
Citroen has been marooned on the naughty step having a good, hard think about itself since launching the C4 Cactus. And said perch was clearly extremely unforgiving and buttock-numbing, because in that two-year hiatus of introspection, the company has come up with a new product strategy centred on – you’ve guessed it – comfort.
The first car defined by this eureka moment is the third-generation C3 supermini, which is on UK sale now from £10,995. It’s not just about comfort: distinctive design and smart technology have also shaped the new hatchback.
C3: SUV or supermini?
Don’t let your eyes deceive you: despite the high, bluff nose and plastic arches which suggest ‘SUV’, the rest of the package is pretty close to a five-door Mini’s (apart from being a bit wider to boost interior space). And the Mini is the inspiration behind the extensive personalisation options, from black, white or red roof on the tier two trim Feel (from £13,045), to coloured mirror caps and foglight surrounds on the top-spec Flair. This trim also deploys Airbumps for their second tour of duty – they’re effectively bubble wrap to protect your Citroen during car park skirmishes.
Inside, the interior’s high-mounted dashboard is simple and unpretentious, though not without flair. The C3 is drowning in Airbump-inspired oblong design cues, from the dash architecture to the air vents, wheel-mounted switch packs, door cards, door handles and so on. (You can play spot the oblong externally too – my favourite is the subtle door handle recess.)
Colourful dash trim inserts range from £150 to £380, and a glass roof costs just £400, though it’s only available with flagship Flair models. The seats are spongy and supportive front and rear – as befits the comfort philosophy – but a six-foot driver will leave limited legroom for a six-foot passenger behind: forgivable given the C3 car is a shade under four metres long. The boot swallows 300 litres of luggage, eclipsing both the Mini’s and Ford’s Fiesta capacities.
Does it drive like the wheels are oblong too?
Hardly. The C3 makes good on Citroen’s comfort pledge, with its softly sprung ride. I spent my 60-minute test drive on some pretty challenging B-roads driving dementedly at potholes, fearing the C3 might have all the composure of a jelly on a catering trolley. But the Citroen remained sufficiently composed, settling quickly after bumps in a way that recent Citroens have not, and it was devoid of any clonking or clattering from the suspension. The nose bobs under acceleration and there’s some roll in corners, as you might expect, however.
Citroen says its comfort focus extends further than ride quality: creating a calming cockpit environment was a priority. At 60mph, a little wind noise can be heard along the side, but tyre roar is muffled and the solidly built cabin is certainly a civilised place to be. I didn’t gel with the steering though: every input is comically magnified at low speeds to ease manoeuvring, and this unrealistic lightness persists once you’re going. At urban speeds the steering feels sloppy off the dead-ahead and eager to self-centre: it becomes heavier (and better) with speed, though.
The 1.2-litre petrol engine, which features direct injection and turbocharging, is a gem. It makes that invigorating three-cylinder whirr, which becomes more shrill as the revs climb. It’s smooth and peppy, and punchy enough to overtake ambling cars if you wind out the long second gear and (a bit of) third too. The five-speed gearbox has an eternal Citroen bugbear – a long throw across the gate – which can induce a bit of guesswork. Oh, for the precision of a Mazda or Honda ’box…
If the gearbox feels antiquated, what’s the rest of the technology like?
Citroen claims a world first with its connected camera system. The standard forward-facing camera, which endows the C3 with speed limit sign recognition and a lane departure warning system, can be used to take stills or videos for social media addicts to upload.
There’s a secondary, more meaningful benefit: in the event of a collision, the cam will store 30sec of pre-crash footage and a minute of the subsequent road rage incident.
The supermini marketplace has become staid, dominated by Ford’s dynamic but soon to be replaced Fiesta, Volkswagen’s solid but unexciting Polo and the slowly evolving Mini and Vauxhall Corsa.
The C3 feels a little different, with its chunky, characterful and cohesive design, emphasis on comfort, and relevance to youthful customers – from reasonable list and option prices to its community-serving camera and the ability to personalise its cosmetics. If that sounds like your kind of car, then the charming C3 is well worth a look.
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