Variant tested: XTR+ VTi-82 3-cylinder petrol 5-speed manual
By Wayne Gorrett
✔Good interior, great engine choices, quiet, spacious, comfortable. ✖Dull and vague steering, frugal kit on entry level models.
☀ ☀ ☀
With its predecessor being the ubiquitous Saxo, the first Citroën C3 hatchback was produced way back in 2002. The C3 is one of Citroën’s core products in the company’s model range and an impressive 3.6 million C3’s have found homes around the world during the intervening 12 years.
In 2006 it was given a minor facelift and in 2009 the all-new, second-generation Citroën C3 arrived amid much fanfare. It featured a new body design and for the first time was available with a 108-degree field of vision windscreen, similar to the one found on the larger C4 Picasso at the time.
In March 2013, the five-door (there is no three-door model) C3 hatchback underwent a mid-life refresh and featured new exterior and interior enhancements and, thankfully, more efficient engines. This is the model we know today.
The current Citroën C3 is a stylishly modern and cheeky hatchback with a lot going for it. Its looks have been significantly revised, making more use on the higher trim levels of chrome-effect bodywork details to accentuate its lines and character.
Being a five-door-only body reveals the C3’s leanings towards buyers for whom the rear seats are important and, unsurprisingly, it has always been popular with parents of young children.
Citroën has rarely been famed for the quality of its interiors. However, climb inside a latter-day Citroën and you may well wonder why – and the C3 is no exception.
The glove box is smaller than it looks as more than half of its space is taken up with a fuse box – a victim of cost-sensitive right-hand-drive conversions, but there’s better news elsewhere. The larger door bins and other cubbyholes around the cabin mean there are plenty of places for your phone, snacks and wallet. The C3 is only available with five doors, making getting in and out of the back much easier. A relatively tall roof also means rear space is pretty good, with decent headroom for a small car.
The highlight of the C3 is its ‘Zenith’ windscreen, which extends back above the driver’s head and incorporates sliding sun visors. It is not available on the VT, is standard on the Exclusive and is a £300 option on the VTR+ model as tested). It’s a nice feature but many drivers – as did I – are likely to leave the sun blinds covering the extended section down on bright days when natural light can be a tad too intrusive.
The stylish dashboard is well put together and finished with glossy, polished panels. Only the cheap-looking glove box lid lets the side down. At the back of the bus, rear space is a concern and grown-ups and in-betweeners will find it quite cramped. I doubt too many children will thank you at the end of a long journey either.
On the plus side (and significantly so), the C3’s boot space is a useful 300 litres. This is larger than you’ll find in a Ford Fiesta (290 litres), Volkswagen Polo (280 litres) and the new Peugeot 208 (285 litres). In fact, it’s only 16 litres smaller than you’ll find in a Ford Focus. It’s not class-leading as those kudos go to the Honda Jazz which has 379 litres of space behind the rear seats.
You get 60:40 split-folding rear seats as standard, with 1,124 litres of space with the uprights folded forwards. They don’t fold flat, so large items will need to sit at a slight angle. The boot opening itself is rather narrow with a high loading lip. So while being a tad awkward, large boxes and bulky loads may also be a tight squeeze.
Engines & drivetrains
There are two PureTech three-cylinder petrol engines in the range: a 1.0-litre 68hp unit and a 1.2-litre 82hp power plant, as tested. Best pick combination is the 82hp, 1.2-litre coupled to the five-speed manual gearbox. It’s surprisingly refined and offers adequate performance and decent economy at an official 61.4mpg on a combined cycle. Both offer more power with less weight, better fuel economy and significantly lower CO2 emissions compared to Citroën’s previous generation petrol engines. However – and making no attempt at frugality – I averaged 51.3mpg over 259 miles (with the air-con on most of the time). While a little sluggish, it felt quick enough for town driving and the occasional longer trip.
The petrol engine line-up also has a 120hp conventional four-pot 1.6 in the range but this is best avoided as it is made rather redundant by the efficiencies and quite adequate performance of its lesser capacity siblings.
There are also three diesel engines in the line-up: e-HDi70, e-HDi90 and e-HDi115, all offering exemplary economy and good, torquey performance. Fuel consumption ranges from 72 to 83 mpg (claimed combined) but I am unable to comment on those as I have yet to drive a diesel-engined C3. However, all reports by my peers on the diesel range are very favourable and worthy of your consideration.
Transmissions available are the previously mentioned five-speed manual, a 6-speed manual (coupled only to the e-HDi 115 diesel), and an EGS (electronic ‘gear’ system which doesn’t actually HAVE gears and best avoided), plus a proper four-speed automatic.
The toy box
There are three grades in the Citroën C3 line-up: VT, XTR+ and Exclusive. Standard equipment levels on the poverty-spec VT are exactly that, having the basics such as remote central locking, electric front windows and door mirrors, two-way adjustable steering wheel, front airbags, steel wheels with full-face covers and height-adjustable driver’s seat. The starting price of VT specification cars is £10,995 for the three-cylinder 68hp VTi petrol manual.
The XTR+ as driven adds air conditioning, curtain airbags, cruise control with speed limiter, Bluetooth and USB connections, leather steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, height-adjustable front passenger seat and 15in alloy wheels. The starting price of XTR+ specification cars is £12,415 for the same three-cylinder 68hp VTi petrol manual – a step up of £1,418. Options fitted to the test car came to £1,300 and comprised pearl white paint (£730), rear parking sensors (£270) and panoramic Zenith windscreen (£300).
Top of the range Exclusive models add the panoramic Zenith windscreen , climate control, rear electric windows, front fog lamps, alarm, heated side mirrors, 16in alloy wheels, driver’s armrest, interior mood lighting, chrome window trims, velour carpets and a few other cosmetic bits and bobs (a widely-used technical term) not found on the VT and XTR+. The starting price of Exclusive specification cars is £15,170 for the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder VTi 120hp petrol five-speed manual.
On the road
The engineering set-up of the Citroën C3 has clearly focused on providing comfort and refinement as a priority. It rides ‘Pothole UK plc’ better than many and stays nicely settled and controlled on the motorway.
Unfortunately, it’s not a great handler in the twisty bits as the body lurches around and the front tyres ran out of grip quite early during the WWA ’roundabout test’. The steering is dull and vague and the gear shift a little notchy. With such a focus on comfort, the C3 isn’t as fun to drive as the Ford Fiesta, the Volkswagen Polo.
But these same characteristics also make the C3 very easy to drive in town and it’s surprisingly comfortable for longer motorway trips, where it is also very quiet.
Safety & security
This will take a bit of explaining, so bear with…the Citroën C3 currently holds an official four-star Euro NCAP crash test rating for safety. It missed the fifth star solely because electronic stability control was not fitted as standard on the entry-level VT model at the time of the 2009 test. Back then, it was an optional extra on the VT and standard on the XTR+ and Exclusive. However, ESC is now standard across the C3 range but unfortunately for Citroën, the 2009 four-star rating remains intact until it is re-tested, which will be unlikely. Because that one damaging anomaly has been remedied a couple of years ago, Citroën now claim a five-star Euro NCAP rating for the C3. It’s cheeky, but understandable as it affects the insurance group rating significantly.
Entry-level VT cars miss out on curtain airbags, too, but they’re standard across the rest of the range as is basic traction control, ABS and braking aids to ensure a fast, safe stop.
Rear visibility is no problem in the C3 and the boot length is easy to judge to avoid slight bumps, thus, reverse parking is as easy as it can be. No parking assistance systems are fitted as standard on any of the three trim levels, but rear parking sensors can be added optionally for £270. As a city car, the C3 is compact enough to fit into most spaces without drama and the five-door body means the shorter doors can open wider.
The C3 is Citroën’s work-a-day, five-door hatchback, sold alongside the more stylish and performance-oriented DS3. It’s a sober offering, displaying more Wogan-like character than Evans – and that’s a good thing as there’s a lot going for the humble and admirably honest C3.
Genuinely attractive restyling, impressive levels of refinement and quality and comfort throughout are its redeeming factors and ones you would rarely expect from an affordable French hatchback.
It’s practical, sensible and competitively priced. Citroen’s best kept secret?
Fast facts: Citroën C3 VTR+ VTi 82
Model base price: £13,310 (£14,610 as driven) * Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, petrol * Power: 82hp * Torque: 118Nm @ 2,750 rpm * 0-62mph in 12.3 secs * Top speed: 108mph * Economy: 61.4 mpg claimed combined (tested: 51.3mpg over 259 miles) * Fuel tank capacity: 50 litres * CO2: 107g/km * Gearbox: 5-Speed manual * Servicing: Every 16,000 miles * BIK (Benefit in Kind): 14% * Insurance Group: 12E * Spare Wheel: Yes, space-saver * Euro NCAP Safety Rating: Four Stars (2009) * Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles.