Citroen has been through something of a rough patch. With German cars often being the first choice, the French have been fighting to get back some of the verve and passion that they used to possess.
For Citroen, much of the small car amour found itself directed into DS. The DS3 is a wonderful little car, but its "avant garde" design, sitting alongside the old C3, makes Citroen's car look rather boring.
Things have changed gear for the new C3, which was announced in late 2016 and will be tearing onto the roads in 2017. It brings passion and style back to this compact hatch. Make no mistake: this is no longer the option for Grandma, unless she's very cool.
Citroen C3 review: Designed with flair
- AirBumps optional
- Contrast colour roof options
- Gets a crossover makeover
People will joke about small Citroens. There seems to be no way of removing the 2CV or Saxo from public consciousness, but it's from these hugely popular small car models that the C3 springs, many years later.
In terms of design, though, the new C3 owes much the Citroen Cactus. This started life as a concept and became the C4 Cactus, retaining one of the most distinctive exterior features - the AirBump, to avoid bumps and scratches - a love/hate feature that will divide opinion. On one hand it brings something unique to Citroen's cars, rather than just another shaped metal panel, but some see this side bumper as rather ugly.
On the new C3, the AirBump is standard for the top level Flair trim level, but it costs nothing to have it removed, if you don't like the looks. We'd advise against that, because without the AirBump, you take a step back to rather generic looks, from the side at least.
The Flair and Feel models get other exterior options, like the wheel arch extensions, which give this new C3 a rather rugged and urban look. It's almost like a mini crossover, an SUV-lite sort of look.
Sure, the nose is a little large, opting for a high bonnet, again lending sort-of crossover looks. There's no gulping grille and Citroen's recent move to integrate the daytime running lights into the extended sweep of the iconic chevron badge mean things look a little squished, but there's a cute Fiat 500 essence to the whole thing.
The lowest level Touch trim loses some of the features you might want, like body coloured door handles and alloy wheels, so we suspect that many will opt for Feel or Flair; fittingly the Flair looks the best and piles in more options. One of the desirable options, like in the DS3, is a different roof colour: with black, white and red available to let you create something more personal.
This all amounts to a Citroen C3 that's distinctive on the road and we think it's got a lot of style, shifting its attention to appeal to younger drivers.
Citroen C3 review: Interior chic
- Leather touch points on some models
- Cloth options for seats
- Ambiance colour options add a lift
The interior of the C3 is a refreshing design take. There's a fairly heavy use of harder plastics where some models will be pushing soft touch and leather, but it's nicely arranged. There's the option for leather touch points on the steering wheel and gearstick (on top models only) and although there are no leather seat options, the cloth finish has a feel that suggests it will keep its shape and style well.
There are little details that make a difference however. Bringing some of the exterior colour inside with ambiance packs picks up on the sort of thing we've been seeing from Fiat and the red detailing brings a lift to the dash. Then there's the luggage-style doorhandles, again a throwback to the Cactus which adds in something a little more fun again.
On this Flair level the centre of the dash of the C3 is dominated by the touchscreen interface. This results in the removal of a large number of buttons, leaving only front and rear windscreen heating, hazard lights and central locking. The thing we miss the most is climate controls, which find themselves in the touchscreen system, adding a little more fiddle to something you might use fairly often.
Otherwise we're happy with the general layout, but we did find the driver's footwell a little small: the pedals are close together and with a high biting point on the clutch, those with bigger feet might find it needs a little care. That said, there are any number of sports cars that suffer the same problem and it's never too hard to adjust.
Importantly, the interior is comfortable. There's plenty of elbow space and headroom for driver and passenger, although befitting this segment of car, it's a little bit of a squeeze in the rear seats. That's fine for the kids, but bigger rear passengers might knock their head getting in and find knees are a little cramped.
Citroen C3 review: It's all about a comfortable drive
- Choice of 1.2-litre petrols, or 1.6 diesels
- Manual and automatic options
- Setup for comfort
- Very light steering
The C3 has been setup for comfort on the road too. That almost comes as a relief with so many small cars wanting to position themselves as sporty to appeal to the excitable young driver. Feeling the C3's suspension soak away rough suburban roads is rather brilliant - there's no thump like you'll get with firmer suspension.
That's particularly noticeable at the front, with the front wheels soaking up speed bumps happily, although the rear can come down with a bit of a crash. But coasting over rougher roads leads to a relaxing drive overall. Yes, you will notice the car rocking on hard acceleration and on braking and it's not the sharpest in the corners, because there's more body roll.
The manual gearbox is typically French with a long throw that's not the most precise: we found ourselves failing to get it into reverse about 20 per cent of the time, despite managing to trigger the reversing camera. To us that just adds character and we can't complain too much - the good thing about the longer throw to the gearstick is that you feel you're actually driving the car.
The same can't be said of the steering. It's exceptionally light which urban drivers will probably like when conducting those tight manoeuvres into small parking spaces, but it does lack feel. This slight detachment is perhaps our biggest criticism of the drive, especially at low speeds.
There are a range of engines on offer in the C3, from the rather weedy 68bhp option, up to the most spritely 110bhp turbo. All are based on the same 1.2-litre 3-cylinder engine and there are small diesel options too. The diesels reward you with lower CO2 emissions, but it's the PureTech 110 paired with the manual gearbox on test here that gives the most power.
It's not hugely fast on paper - 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds - but the 3-cylinder thrum makes plenty of noise as you put your foot down. This might not be setup to be sporty, but in this configuration there's at least a satisfying roar when you fire it over 3,000rpm. Some might say that's a downside, but we can't help admitting that we enjoyed it and it's certainly nippy enough in traffic to give you an enjoyable drive.
We found ourselves averaging around 48mpg in mixed driving and we suspect with less urban stop/start and a little more attention to timely gear changes you could push that figure higher.
The top Flair model also gets features like automatic headlights and wipers, with convenience features like engaging the rear wiper when reversing in the rain.
Citroen C3 review: A nice tech selection
- Apple AirPlay and Android Auto on higher trim levels
- Standard driving safety features
- Bluetooth and DAB standard
One of the best aspects to the C3 is that you get a range of safety tech as standard. Lane departure, speed warning, sign recognition and cruise control are standard on all models.
You get a DAB radio and Bluetooth on all models, too, which is a great convenience - but it's the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the Flair and Feel models that really takes advantage of the 6-inch touchscreen system provided. Sat nav isn't standard, but if you've got a smartphone, connecting via the USB socket will bring that function to your car.
As we've said, the touchscreen system means there are only four physical buttons (except those on the steering wheel), with the rest being controlled through the display. This is flanked by capacitive buttons for things like music, climate, navigation and phone. There's an additional area for car settings and finally a rather sparse apps area, which only really offers the option to view photos, if you've plugged in a USB with photos on. Why? We're not sure.
Citroen's system doesn't make the best use of the display size at times and there's a general sense that you're looking at a lot of unused dark space at times. This system is also a fan of overlays, for example engaging the automatic wipers will overlap a top banner on the display to confirm that.
That's fair enough, but the worst is the volume control. Like the steering, it feels a little detached from the speaker output. You twist the volume knob and there's a slight delay before you get the on-screen overlay and the resulting volume line moving on the screen, before the speakers seem to change.
There is a six speaker configuration on the Feel and Flair models and they are good enough in general use, but they can't really handle heavier bass. Throw on Kiss Fresh and turn the volume up and you'll find those speakers buzzing in the doors with a hard bassline, which isn't great.
Citroen C3 review: There's an integrated dashcam
- Smartphones connection needed
- Automatically saves "events"
- Instant sharing option
One of the tech treats that jumps into the new C3 is an integrated dashcam, called the ConnectedCam. This is something we've been expecting to see for a number of years and it's finally here.
This dash camera works exactly like third-party cameras, constantly recording as you drive, buffering through the memory and saving clips when it judges that something of note happens by using the integrated motion sensors.
As an integrated unit, control of the camera is through an app on your Android or Apple phone and it's perhaps surprising that there doesn't appear to be any access through the car at all - not even an app in that empty space on the central display.
In operation, ConnectedCam is the same as other cameras then. You can generally ignore it until you want something from it, then you can download the video to your phone. That might be because you've had an accident and want to prove it wasn't you, or that you weren't speeding, and so on. Or it might be because you've seen something funny or amazing and want to share the video.
The app requires a connection to the camera using Wi-Fi and then you can change some settings on the camera, like setup your social accounts to instantly share photos with a touch of the button on the underside of the camera. Again, this is more for fun, as there's no way of editing the text you'll include when you're driving - it just gets thrown out.
The app can be a little slow, especially when it comes to downloading the video onto your phone. We tested both the iPhone and Android with it and both were slow, suggesting the camera is the thing at fault. A little patience, perhaps, and you'll get those videos you want.
The new Citroen C3 comes as something of a surprise. The number of Citroen models we've been less enthusiastic about has outnumbered those that we've liked in recent years, but that balance is shifting and this new C3 is typical of the reinvention of Citroen.
Deservedly, this is a great small car, it has character and a lot to like about it. There's technology, there are interesting design elements, plus it's a comfortable and fun car to live with and drive.
There's fierce competition from the cute Fiat 500 through to the better-driving Ford Fiesta, but if you're looking for a new small hatch, make sure you look at the Citreon C3 as well. Oh la la, you might just be surprised.