What is it?
“You are never wrong to do the right thing,” said Mark Twain. Sure, abstract design can be hit or miss, but here, whichever side of that divide you fall on, you can’t argue that the new Citroën C3’s avant-garde looks add some froth to a sea of samey superminis.
Old and new are literally welded together here, with the funky body sat on the PF1 platform of the previous C3. It’s been modified at the front to be kinder to pedestrians and toughened up around the B-pillars and front seat mountings to be kinder to you in a side impact. This, of course, adds weight, so the rest of the chassis has been lightened where possible, keeping the kerb weight roughly on a par with the outgoing model.
Instead of gunning for the Ford Fiesta’s crown of best-handling supermini, Citroën has gone back to its roots. The springs and dampers have been softened and more suspension travel added to aid ride comfort.
There’s new tech, too. The world’s first OEM dash cam is standard on this top-spec Flair trim, which records 30sec of video before and after an impact. Naturally, where there’s a camera there’s a social media opportunity, so you can also download an app that lets you take pictures and videos of your road trips, then share them with friends.
What’s it like?
Citroën has hinted at giving us a performance version that it will sell off the back of next year’s C3 WRC rally programme, but this isn’t it. For now there are three petrol engines, and this 1.2 Puretech with 81bhp sits in the middle of the line-up.
While it’s perky around town, you do need to rev it hard once you hit faster roads. Without a turbocharger to boost its mid-range, peak torque arrives at just under 3000rpm, and you need at least that dialled up, combined with a heavy right foot, to join motorways with an appropriate degree of vigour. Still, its three cylinders make a plucky noise that’s a pleasure to listen to in short bursts.
Unfortunately, with only five gears to work with, the engine’s constant revving at 70 or 80mph does get a touch wearing after a while. And speaking of the gearbox, its long, loose throw isn’t exactly thrilling either.
Otherwise, the C3’s refinement is good for a supermini. At motorway speeds there’s not much road noise and no more than a flutter of wind noise.
You’d expect a supermini to handle well in town, and the C3’s light steering, allied to its tight turning circle, makes it a handy urban prowler. At low speeds the ride feels good, but the occasional bump on our mainly smooth Spanish test route caught it out, sending a jolt through the seat. As usual, we’ll only really know its true comfort levels when we try it back in the UK.
The intrinsic softness Citroën has engineered in to the suspension makes things mildly amusing at higher speeds. Body roll is pronounced, and thanks to seats that offer next to no side support, you find yourself clinging on to the steering wheel to avoid plunging head first into your passenger’s lap. The faster you corner the more you notice the steering’s numbness, but the system’s gearing is decent, making the C3 easy to place.
If you’re tall you’ll find one of the best driving positions of any supermini, with loads of space in the front and a proper range to the seat and steering column adjustments. The back seats are tight, though, even by Fiesta standards, with head room being the most pressing issue – quite literally, with your head nudging the slopped-back headlining. Still, the boot’s a good size.
The dashboard is best described as spartan, but that’s exactly the look Citroën wanted: think Ikea’s trademark cool simplicity. It creates a cabin that works well, with enough neat touches, such as the leather strap door pulls and classic DS instruments, for you to completely forgive the hard recycled plastics that feel rather bargain-basement.
Flair-spec models, such as our test car, encourage you to express your individuality with mix-and-match roof and body colours, while the Airbump protective side strips are a keep or remove option that can be highlighted with an extra splash of colour.
Citroën’s new infotainment system is standard on this trim, too. It’s much easier to work than PSA’s previous clunky efforts, although the optional £500 sat-nav did have a couple of seizures. Don’t bother adding it, though, and instead use the standard Apple CarPlay/ Android Auto function to mirror your smartphone’s sat-nav on to the 7.0in touchscreen.
Should I buy one?
The new Citroën C3 isn’t as sharp to drive as a Fiesta, as spacious as a Fabia or as plush inside as a Polo. It is different, though, and most people canvassed seem to agree that Citroën has done the right thing with its adventurous styling.
Objectively, the C3 doesn’t top the class, but that doesn’t have to stop you liking it or, indeed, wanting one. While this Puretech 82 is cheap to run and fine around town, anyone regularly venturing farther afield should definitely go for the pricier – but pokier – turbocharged Puretech 110.
Citroën C3 1.2 Puretech 82 Flair
Location Barcelona; On sale January 2017; Price £14,795; Engine 3 cyls, 1199cc, petrol; Power 81bhp at 5750rpm; Torque 87lb ft at 2750rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 980kg; 0-62mph 13.0secs; Top speed 104mph; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 109g/km, 18%; Rivals Ford Fiesta 1.0T Ecoboost 100, VW Polo 1.2 TSI 90
What is it?