Published on Sunday 24 May 2015 16:01
Ten Second Review
Citroen's C3 supermini has always focused on comfort and value, along with an extra dash of the kind of innovation we expect from this enduring French brand. Now, in tune with the times, it's also very efficient. This revised smarter second generation version gets a clever range of three cylinder 'Pure Tech' engines that transform its petrol proposition, plus a clutch of Airdream micro hybrid diesel models that'll cost just pennies to run. The result still isn't sporty but as before, the ride's great, the interior's smart and the boot's practical. The C3, it seems, has come of age.
Here, we have the lightly revised sleeker-looking version of Citroen's second generation C3 supermini, a car we first saw in facelifted form the Spring of 2013 and a design that, as ever, shares engines and underpinnings with similarly-sized Peugeot models. Which is important to know as it explains why this car's most recent updates really have transformed it. In the Spring of 2012, Peugeot introduced their all-new 208 supermini, completely with a high-tech range of 1.0 and 1.2-litre three cylinder petrol engines. This improved C3 gets all the same technology, which means that at last, it has a credible petrol-engined line-up. Previously, you had to stretch to a pricey HDi diesel if you wanted a really efficient version of this car.
If Citroen can get that message across to potential buyers, it could make all the difference to their sales prospects in this segment. This model is, after all, already rather refreshing in its refusal to prioritise the 'sportiness' that other brands seem to feel is necessary in their small runabouts. The French brand has its more dynamic three-door DS3 line to provide that. Leaving this five-door C3 to create its own distinct, more laid-back market niche as something smartly fashionable that offers higher quality and greater comfort than a Fiesta without the potential priceyness of a Polo. Sounds tempting? Then join us as we put this French contender to the test.
The significant changes to this improved second generation C3 mostly lie beneath the bonnet. Citroen has been able to borrow the light, revy little three cylinder 'Pure Tech' petrol engines that add so much spark to Peugeot's rival 208 supermini and they really transform this car's buying proposition for green pump buyers. First up is a 1.0-litre 68bhp unit that needs to be revved quite hard if you're to get anywhere near the quoted performance figures (rest to 62mph in 14.2s en route to just 101mph). Much better is the 1.2-litre 82bhp version of this unit, the variant we tried. This delivers the same distinctive three cylinder thrum but accompanies it with pokier performance.
Elsewhere in the petrol line-up, we'd ignore the older 1.4 and 1.6-litre VTi units that are mainly there to cater for green pump buyers who want an automatic gearbox option . If you really must have some kind of automatic gearbox in your C3, it's probably better to order it with a diesel engine, but in that case, you'll be limited to the pricier of the two 70bhp 1.4-litre HDi units - the so-called 'e-HDi 70 Airdream EGS' variant. There are also a couple of manual gearbox 1.6-litre HDi diesel variants, developing either 90 or 115bhp.
Design and Build
It's quite smart isn't it, with sleeker looks that were improved by this car's mid-life facelift, an update that brought a bolder front end emphasised by this double chevron grille. Owners of the original second generation version may also notice trendy LED daytime running lights and this body-coloured splitter in the lower air intake. At the rear, there are sleeker tail lights and some neat reflectors fitted to the bumper.
As before with this second generation C3, features like the bulbous roof and the low side windowline give the cabin an airy feel that makes it feel bigger than it is, something that'll be further emphasised if you get yourself a car fitted with a clever 'Panoramic Zenith windscreen'. This extends the top of the screen upwards into the roof, increasing the front passengers' field of vision from 28 to 108-degrees.
Up front, there are classy analogue instruments - now with smarter white-backlit dials - plus solid expensive-looking plastics, flashes of chrome to liven things up and a neat strip across the dashboard that's available in a selection of colours. Take a seat at the back and as usual with a car in this class, there's space for two adults or three children to sit comfortably. Out back, and rather astonishingly given the tight exterior dimensions, you'll find one of the largest luggage bays in the supermini segment, though there's quite a high loading lip to negotiate before you can access it. At 300-litres in size, it's 10% bigger than a Fiesta's boot and offers nearly as much room as you'd find in a Ford Focus from the next class up.
Market and Model
List pricing suggests that you'll be paying somewhere in the £11,000 to £17,000 bracket across the five-door-only C3 line-up. That's par for the course amongst superminis, but of course Citroen dealers are well renowned for their readiness to sharpen their pencils. At the bottom of the range, there's a quite a large £2,000 premium to go from the base 1.0-litre petrol version to the base 1.4-litre HDi diesel, the HDi model coming with a £13,000 price tag that might be better spent on the almost-as-frugal VTi 82 petrol variant I'm trying here. Further up the range, the e-HDi Airdream micro hybrid diesel engines are impressively efficient but choices here don't begin until you get above £15,000. Whichever flavour of pump you choose to fill from, automatic motoring requires a premium of around £1,000 over a comparable manual model.
If, having considered all of this, you conclude that it is a C3 you really want, then you're going to want to know exactly what comes included in the asking price. A reasonable amount is the answer. Whichever model you opt for - 1.0 or 1.2-litre three cylinder petrol, 1.4 or 1.6-litre HDi diesel or even the older 1.4 and 1.6-litre VTi petrol units - you should find this Citroen to be decently equipped. All models get a good quality CD stereo with at least four speakers, steering wheel-mounted controls and an aux-in socket, power front windows and mirrors, split-folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a multi-function trip computer and a 12v socket.
Cost of Ownership
Almost every fashionable type of technology has been thrown at this car to drive its running costs down, but as usual, you won't find all of it across the range. Most of the eco-features are reserved for e-HDi Airdream diesel models, cars like the 1.4-litre e-HDi Airdream EGS variant that manages 83.1mpg on the combined cycle and 87g/km of CO2.
Further up the C3 diesel range, the pokier 1.6-litre e-HDi models are manual-only but even without the efficiency benefits of the EGS auto 'box, they're still pretty frugal. The e-HDi 90 Airdream variant manages 78.5mpg and 95g/km of CO2, whilst thanks to the fitment of an extra sixth speed in the gearbox, the top e-HDi 115 Airdream version isn't far behind, delivering 74.4mpg and 99g/km.
Not that you have to have a diesel to minimise your running costs in this car. That certainly used to be the case when this second generation C3 was first launched. The old 1.4 and 1.6 VTi petrol engines that still continue from that time aren't notably frugal, the 1.6 VTi unit, for example, returning 49.6mpg on the combined cycle and 132g/km of CO2. It's a very different story though if, as we'd suggest, you confine your attention to the 1.0 and 1.2-litre 'Pure Tech' petrol units introduced with the revised version of this model.
The entry-level 68bhp 1.0-litre unit delivers 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2, while even the far pokier 1.2-litre VTi 82bhp unit I'm trying here manages 61.4mpg and 107g/km. It all means that at last in a C3, petrol power could make the most sense unless you really do cover a high annual mileage.
The improved version of this second generation C3 supermini is a far more buyable prospect - and that's mainly due to the fresh options it offers under the bonnet. Most looking at a car of this kind come in search of super-efficient petrol power: previously, this Citroen couldn't offer it but with the clever Pure Tech three cylinder petrol options now on offer, that's been properly put right.
With this technology in place, it's high time small car buyers took a fresh look at what's on offer here. True, as superminis go, this isn't an orthodox choice, but then that's part of its appeal. In time honoured Citroen fashion, a C3 is just that little bit different, with smart, slightly quirky looks and, if specified, that uniquely clever extended windscreen.
What it lacks in driving dynamism, it makes up for in quality, refinement and a cosseting ride. Indeed, I can think of few sensibly-sized small cars better suited to urban motoring than this one. Overall then, the C3 is at last a strong contender in the supermini marketplace. Best of all perhaps, it's a car that's distinctively Citroen.