That’s not the future of green motoring - it’s just a Citroen C3.
Don’t be so dismissive. The lengthily titled Citroen C3 1.4i 16v Stop & Start SensoDrive five-door, is very much the present of green motoring, as it carries a smart little innovation that will cut your fuel bills. It could significantly improve city-centre air quality if more manufacturers adopt it, too. The technology is simple and has been around for ages. Citroen deserves credit for being the first to add it 18 months ago, and BMW and others are only just getting around to introducing it. If you didn’t fall asleep while reading the full model name, you’ll know what we’re talking about.
I fell asleep.
Very simply, when you come to a halt and keep your foot on the brake, the engine stops. Release the brake and the engine will have restarted before your foot has reached the gas. It’s seamless and smooth. Much of the claimed economy advantages of petrol-electric hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, come from the fact that the engine stops when the car does in traffic. The C3 Stop & Start (and the C2 with the same powertrain) give you some of the advantages of a hybrid in traffic with none of the weight, complexity or cost.
What’s the bottom line: how much extra to buy, and how much will it save in use?
For a £500 premium over the next model down you get an extra 15bhp, an automated manual box and the stop-start system. Great value. You can’t separate out the cost of the stop-start system, but it’s not rocket science and Citroen isn’t taking the mickey. Citroen claims the C3 will cut fuel consumption by 15 per cent in urban driving, which makes for an impressive 49.6mpg. Not bad for a 1.4-litre petrol engine, but it feels like more. You’re aware of how often the system is in operation in town driving, how much petrol is being wasted and pollution needlessly created by the cars alongside you in that jam. It’s worth the extra dough for the feeling of smugness alone. And imagine the difference that could be made if every car in a long queue of traffic had its engine switched off.
But I don’t drive in much stop-start traffic.
Then the C3 Stop & Start isn’t for you. Like any other ‘green’ car, from hybrids to hydrogen, you have to match the advantages and drawbacks of the technology to the kind of driving you do. The Stop & Start system is very simple and has no real drawbacks, but yes, if you’re lucky enough to drive on uncongested roads you won’t see much benefit. And how is the weather in the Outback at this time of year?
But I don’t like the Citroen C3.
The same system is also available in the three-door C2, with its funky slot-racer looks. But there’s plenty to like about the C3. It’s very French with its oddball looks and supple ride, and makes an appealing alternative to dull Fiestas and Polos. Cabin quality is its major failing, though space is good. If you want a Stop & Start for city use you’ll also like the very light, fully-electric steering. The SensoDrive automated manual takes a little getting used to, and can change slightly abruptly and unpredictably in auto mode. But with a sensitive right foot and use of the paddle–shifters it makes town driving less of a chore.
We like it. The C3 Stop & Start offers a solid environmental advantage with no drawbacks and little extra cost. Small improvements like this made to cars that sell in the millions will do more for the environment than headline-grabbing hybrids that sell in small numbers. The stop-start technology is simple and cheap and other car makers ought to be ashamed that they don’t offer it.