What is it?
If Citroën’s C4 Cactus represents the French brand’s reinvention for a laterally thinking, post-premium world, then the new C3 writes the next sentence. Both models major on bluff-nosed, ‘urban capsule’ looks which, with their bash-proof Airbumps, are recognisably different from the opposition, and both woo a tech-savvy clientèle with the use of touchscreen controls, a coolly minimalist dashboard design and proper co-ordination with everyone’s hand-held devices.
As well as aiming to do things differently from other manufacturers by returning to its past specialities of original thinking and ensuring its cars are properly recognisable as Citroëns, the company cites the likes of IKEA and John Lewis as examples of the brand values it is chasing. The C3 is intended to offer something not found in rival small cars, and amid all the marketing brainstorming is one very solid attribute: the promise of a car more comfortable than any rival.
The new C3 has a longer wheelbase (by 75mm) than the last one, despite being based on broadly the same PF1 platform, but its overhangs are shorter. Bigger wheels and black plastic wheel arches help give it a slightly SUV look even though the new C3 is slightly wider and lower than its predecessors. It weighs almost exactly the same as before. Optional two-tone paint emphasises the ‘floating’ roof separated from the main body colour by black windscreen pillars, but the vast panoramic windscreen option of the previous C3 isn’t available on this one.
All three petrol engines offered have three cylinders. The 81bhp and turbocharged 108bhp units, both of 1.2 litres, are available from launch, with the 1.0-litre, 67bhp motor arriving later along with the option of a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. The two 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesels give 74bhp or 99bhp.
What’s it like?
We’re driving a C3 fitted with the most powerful engine option, known as PureTech 110, and presented in the highest Flair trim level (Touch is the lowest of the three; Feel sits in the middle.) It was further endowed with the Urban Red interior pack, in which a red stripe surrounds the wide, flat dashboard and red stitching decorates soft-touch coverings.
The round-cornered rectilinear look of this red stripe is echoed all over the C3, inside on the door trims and vent surrounds, and outside on the Airbumps, the foglight surrounds and the centres of the tail-lights. There’s a rectangular depression in the roof pressing, too, unless your C3 has the optional panoramic glass roof.
You sit quite high in the C3, crossover-fashion, but ahead of you is not the digital dash of a C4 Cactus but a pair of conventional, easily read, cowled dials. The steering wheel is adjustable for both height and reach. A large central screen handles audio (including DAB), sat-nav and phone-mirroring functions (Mirror Link and Apple Car Play feature, plus Android Auto from next year), plus air-con controls which would be more easily accessed via conventional buttons.
There’s also a built-in camera, like a dashcam but located behind the interior mirror, which links to a phone app and lets you send photographs and videos. More practically, the ConnectedCAM Citroën also records video in the background, a feature which could be useful following an incident or accident.
Rear passengers sit high enough to get a good view out, and thanks to the longer wheelbase they have plenty of leg room given the C3’s compactness. Boot space is a decent 300 litres, extendable by folding the rear seats which otherwise neither slide nor recline. Oddments space includes door pockets with pale grey linings so you can find their contents when light is poor, while the door pulls continue the luggage-handle look featured in the Cactus. The door trims’ outer surfaces and the dash top are of hard plastic, but despite that the cabin looks and feels well enough crafted to fill that high street brand name role of trustworthy quality and classlessness to which Citroën aspires.
We like this PureTech 110 engine in other PSA Group products and it suits the C3 very well. It’s smooth and punchy, with little lag and a deep, tuneful note. Its ample torque enables it to pull quite long-legged gearing in the highest of five forward ratios, but the springy gearchange is more functional attribute than tactile delight. Claimed top speed is 117mph, with 62mph arriving 9.3sec after a full-bore standing start.
And of comfort, Citroën’s intended new USP? The seats are yielding but supportive, road and wind noise are low and the suspension proves pleasingly calm and supple given the C3’s low roll angles and its alert response to the electrically assisted steering’s inputs. It’s an easy, restful travelling companion, with all its control efforts well matched and with enough verve to give the driver a good time.
Should I buy one?
It needs to have this turbocharged petrol engine to give its best, but the official 61.4mpg and 103g/km CO2 figures suggest you won’t pay too dearly for that pleasure, and those claims make this car more frugal than the non-turbo 1.2. You’ll also have to choose your trim level, noting that only the Flair has Airbumps as standard and that as well as the Urban Red pack you can also rev up the cabin with something called Hype Colorado (bronze, basically) if the standard Grey Mica trim doesn’t appeal.
Pricing is fair, but the recast Citroën image is not intended to reprise the brand’s former mania for discounts. The range starts at £10,995 and stops at £17,095, with our test Flair model, less options, costing £15,995. Two things, however, make the C3 a very appealing choice. One is that it really is very comfortable, and the other is its strong personality absent in most of its forgettable-looking rivals. The C3 somehow transcends the premium/not-premium fixation, and you’ve got to love it for that.
Citroën C3 PureTech 110
Location Gloucestershire; On sale January 2017; Price £15,995; Engine 3 cyls, 1199cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 108bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 151lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 980kg; 0-62mph 9.3sec; Top speed 117mph; Economy 61.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 103g/km, 17%. Rivals Ford Fiesta 1.0T Zetec, Mini Cooper
What is it?