By Wayne Gorrett
👍 Takes fresh, buoyant styling cues from Cactus C4 – and does it better.
👎 Busy touchscreen, overly pliant ride, vibrations through steering wheel.
➤ So, what is it?
Originally launched in 2002 to replace the Saxo, the previous iteration of Citroën’s C3 sold more than 3.7 million units. I regarded it as one of Britain’s best kept automotive secrets in my 2014 review and would make an excellent used buy today. However, its styling was bland and librarian and, even as Citroën’s global best seller, it never really took off in the UK against the stronger Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta.
This year, Citroën is taking the brawl to its rivals with the totally new, third-generation Citroën C3 hatchback; this new B-segment pup is bold, riotously colourful and has a more youthful demographic locked firmly in its sights. Thursday’s bridge club shuttle will never be the same again.
➤ The style factory
If there’s one thing the new C3 won’t do, is blend in. It takes front styling cues from the facelifted C4 Picasso & Grand C4 Picasso along with the brand’s new lighting signature, wheel arch extensions and 3D rear light clusters.
More noticeably, it also receives side airbump mouldings from the C4 Cactus (the removal of which is optional at no cost). They contain air-filled capsules and are made from tough polyurethane. They are good to have – not only because they’re cool and funky – but they really do protect bodywork from dents and scuffs – you know, the ones you get when little Farquhar leaps out of the morbidly obese X6 next to you in the supermarket carpark.
Unlike the Corsa and Fiesta, the C3 is only available with five doors as there is no three-door body style.
With personalisation being the current industry buzzword, there are apparently 36 possible colour combinations available on the new C3. On the outside there are nine exterior colours, three roof colours and – here’s an industry first – the option of a body-same colour roof. In other words, your C3 is only going to be in one monotone colour. All over. I know, right?
Other colour bits include fog light surrounds, door mirrors and rear quarter panels. It’s visually busy and won’t appeal to everybody. But I do like it – and not only because it’s different.
➤ The inside story
The C3’s interior is similar to that of the C4 Cactus, but arguably better organised. Citroën says it ‘wanted to create an interior that aims to feel like an extension of the driver’s home’. The perception of space is heightened by the linear dashboard, which runs across the whole width of the vehicle.
The design of the interior trim and the shape of the chrome-finished air vents which are now mounted at face level, combine to enhance the perception of width. The centre console storage is far more practical than on the C4 Cactus and the C3’s seats are a step up from those used in the C4 Cactus, thanks to their two-stage foam padding.
In left-hand-drive models on the Continent, the C3 has a large glovebox but UK cars have a pointlessly small space thanks to the fact the engineers didn’t move the fuse box over during the right-hand-drive conversion process. UK cars do, however, keep the large door bins which Citroën has lined with light grey fabric with the intention that it’ll make objects easier to see compared to black-lined bins.
Quirky details such as the trunk straps on the doors and the fabric on the glovebox help the C3 stand out and the interior is available in a variety of bright colours depending on which model you go for.
Backseat passengers will find things a little tight back there but nevertheless will appreciate a great forward view of the road thanks to front seat backs that are sculpted to improve visibility.
Customers get a choice of cabin finishes and you can also have a panoramic sunroof that fills the cabin with natural light. Out back, there’s a decently-sized 300-litre boot.
➤ Trim grades and prices
The C3 hatch range is generously equipped and is available in three trim grades: Touch, Feel and Flair.
Standard equipment on the entry-level ‘Touch’ trim grade includes; 15-inch steel wheels, height adjustable driver’s seat, split/folding rear seats, DAB digital radio with 4 speakers and AUX socket, Bluetooth phone and media streaming with USB socket, six airbags, lane departure warning system, speed limit recognition and speeding warning, coffee break alert, tyre pressure monitor, remote central locking with deadlocks, manual air conditioning, cruise control and speed limiter, rake and reach adjustable steering wheel. Touch models start at £10,996.
The middle ‘Feel’ trim adds: 16-inch alloy wheels, black roof (white or red available as no cost option), gloss black door mirrors, body colour painted door handles, wheel arch extensions, LED daytime running lights, DAB digital radio with 6 speakers and AUX socket, mirror screen with Apple CarPlay, automatic air conditioning, front and rear electric windows, 7-inch colour touchscreen, steering column controls, electrically adjustable door mirrors. C3 Feel models start at £13,335.
Top-spec ‘Flair’ brings: Black airbump exterior side panels, coloured fog light surround, roof coloured door mirrors, leather steering wheel and gear knob, front fog lights, auto-dimming electro-chrome rear view mirror, ConnectedCAM Citroën, alarm, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, tinted rear windows, ear parking sensors and reversing camera. Prices for the top-range Flair start from £15,085.
➤ ICE and connectivity
It may be a small car but the C3 packs a wind-depleting punch to its rivals when it comes to technology. The C3 comes with MirrorScreen on Feel and Flair trims which includes Apple CarPlay for iPhone users, (with Android Auto coming at a later date).
While there’s nothing new or ground-breaking about featuring a touchscreen infotainment system these days, we are becoming increasingly critical of their use. To be honest, function commands on the C3’s touchscreen are as frustrating and dangerous to use on the move as can possibly be, always requiring you to take your eyes off the road. The new mobile phone laws spring to mind…
While many manufacturers have reverted to placing the heating and ventilation controls back to simple, intuitive knobs, Citroën have not…at least, not yet.
The unique, ‘as-seen-on-TV’ feature of the Citroën C3 is ConnectedCam, a built-in, GPS-enabled screen camera. It’s a £380 option on mid-spec Feel and standard on range-topping Flair. Via its 128 Gb storage capacity, it constantly records what you’re seeing out of the windscreen and, in the event of an accident, it’ll save the preceding 30 seconds and following 60 seconds of footage for use in any criminal proceedings or insurance claim.
A caption burned into the bottom of the clip shows the date, time, GPS position, and the vehicle’s speed (oddly in km/h).
You can also use it for taking instant snaps of events or places on the road ahead, but it needs to be linked to a smartphone to which an App has to be downloaded, then stores photos in the phone’s picture library which can be then shared on social media platforms.
➤ Engines and transmissions
The C3 is available with a choice of three 3-cylinder PureTech petrol engines with outputs of 68, 82 and 110hp (the latter with stop/start technology), plus a pair of four-cylinder BlueHDi turbo diesels in 75 or 100hp states of tune, both with s/s tech.
The manual gearbox available on all models is a five speed unit. In February 2017, Citroën offered a new EAT6 six-speed automatic transmission on the C3 – with limitations. It may only be paired with the 110hp s/s PureTech petrol engine and only available on top-spec Flair models.
We spent a week with the BlueHDi 100 which, despite its modest power output offers useful torque from just 1,500rpm and a willingness to keep things moving along quite nicely. Gearing from the five-speed manual is rather tall and takes some getting used to. A meander through an urban 30mph zone requires 3rd gear to avoid labouring.
➤ On-road cred
On the road, the C3 is dynamically lacking, but drives well enough. The C3 engineering team has not focused on handling agility or out-and-out performance here, but rather have embodied one of its core brand values with the C3: comfort.
Look below the funky exterior and you’ll find lots of the same mechanicals that underpinned the previous generation C3. But this time, Citroën’s technical boffins have tuned its suspension to absorb bumps and sharp undulations as much as possible and worked on elements like rolling refinement to make the car a relaxed place to be when it’s on the move.
The cable-operated five-speed manual gearbox has the same issue as other Citroën manual transmissions in that there’s a fairly long and sloppy throw, which may suit a handful of drivers.
In the majority of conditions the C3’s suspension has enough compliance to soak up undulations and bumps and, while the trade-off for this is some body roll in corners, it never really becomes tiresome. More lateral support on the driver’s furniture would help offset this.
The steering is accurate and reasonably linear, but there’s a bit too much play around the dead ahead and you never really achieve a good line of communication through from the front wheels.
I found the BlueHDi 100 diesel as tested to be noisy under non-aggressive acceleration with some noticeable vibration coming through the steering wheel on the cruise.
The accelerator was a tad ambiguous in that it was never quite sure what to do when cresting a slight rise…you know, that critical transition between accelerating and easing off. It was considerably more noticeable when progressing under cruise control where it would jerk its way confusingly through the transition and become quite irritating after a while. It’s one of those things that, once you’ve notice it…
At higher speeds there’s wind noise around the A-pillars but otherwise this little car doesn’t mind motorway work. In town the suspension is impressively quiet.
➤ Safety and security
The C3 was awarded four out of five stars for safety by Euro NCAP. Crash testing showed the physical protection of occupants to be very good, but the car was marked down for its lack of autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
There’s plenty of standard safety kit, however, including mandatory items like tyre-pressure monitoring, stability control and a plethora of airbags front and back, while a Thatcham-approved alarm is standard across the range.
➤ MPG, running costs and CO2
With kerb weights ranging from only 976 – 1090 kg, the C3 is a lightweight car that should be relatively inexpensive to run.
Citroën’s range of PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel engines have never been so efficient or clean. Official fuel consumption of the PureTech engines range from 60.1 to 61.4 mpg, while the BlueHDi oil-burners really step it up with 76.3 to 80.7 mpg, depending on engine output and wheel size.
CO2 emissions from the PureTech’s vary from 103 to 109 g/km, while the BlueHDi’s offer a credible 93 – 95 g/km. The first-year VED rate across the range is zero, then £140 per year after that. Insurance groups range from 8E to 20A, depending on chosen trim and engine.
Driving the BlueHDi 100 s/s in top-spec Flair trim for a week, I achieved 61.3 mpg* over 377 mixed miles with little conscious effort. This equates to 80.3% of the official 76.3 mpg.
* Update @ 08.03.2017: In a bold move, Citroën UK today released ‘real-world’ fuel consumption figures for all their current range of cars. The C3 in the spec tested returned 61.4 mpg – so I was only 0.1 mpg away!
➤ Warranty, servicing and aftercare
Like all new Citroëns in the UK, the C3 comes with the a three-year unlimited mileage warranty, with the first two years being provided by Citroën UK and the third year by the Citroën retailer. In addition, there is a 12-year anti-perforation warranty and a three-year paint warranty.
For peace of mind, there’s a free 12-month Citroën Assistance package which will bring roadside assistance to you in an emergency. It operates 24 hours a day in all parts of the UK and Europe.
The servicing intervals on the C3 are as conventional as its warranty; it requires maintenance every year or 12,000 miles, whichever is the sooner. Servicing costs are likely to be relatively low, and a fixed-price servicing package will means budgeting for maintenance should be easy.
This third generation C3 is a far more attractive prospect than its outgoing iteration. While it may not be an orthodox choice, its Francophile quirkiness is all part of its appeal.
Diesels are the most efficient choice – if you regularly cover long distances. But to be honest, if you’re frequently covering long distances, you’re unlikely to be in this car. By and large, the less expensive petrol variants will suit most buyers.
Entry-level Touch variants miss out on some key equipment and the C3’s substance remains somewhat disappointing in the key areas of passenger space, the quality of the cabin materials, infotainment usability and ride and handling sophistication.
However, it does sport an abundance of alternative design charm that is evident both inside and out, while feeling equally alternative and not a little charming and authentic to the brand’s heritage.
Overall then, the new C3 is now a strong contender in the supermini marketplace. Best of all, perhaps, it’s a car that is distinctively ‘new’ Citroën. There’s considerably more technology aboard than many of its rivals and the inclusion of a social media-friendly dash cam probably reveals most of what you need to know about the C3’s demographic placement.
While I can’t predict a riot at the local Citroën dealership for the new C3, I’ll wager a safe fiver that a few of Thursday’s bridge club members will be crying in their Horlicks this week.