There are five engines in the C3 range, but so far we’ve only driven three of them: these are the three-cylinder 1.2-litre Puretech petrol engines, in outputs of 81bhp and 109bhp, and the 1.6-litre BlueHDI diesel with 99bhp.
The lower-power version feels fine for pottering around town, but on the motorway it starts to run out of puff. To make any decent progress, you’ll need to rev it very hard. As it doesn’t come with start/stop technology like the 109bhp Puretech, you do feel vibrations through the seat and steering wheel when you’re stationary.
So if you regularly travel the highways and byways outside the city, we’d recommend plumping for the 109bhp model. Although at its core this is basically the same engine as above, a turbocharger adds a bundle of helpful extra pace. Not only is it punchier on all roads, its extra performance is available from much lower revs, making it considerably more relaxing to drive.
As for the diesel, it has plenty of power that makes getting up to speed and staying there easy. It does send quite a lot of vibration though the controls at idle and you’re always aware that it’s a diesel, though. Considering the high purchase price, we’d avoid unless you do an awful lot of miles.
Citroën has gone soft with the C3, giving its wheels plenty of room to move in the wheel arches and making the suspension squidgy. As a result you’d expect it to be pretty compliant, which it is. It lollops over general bumps like a Silver Cross perambulator, but just as baby will know, that’s not as comfortable as it sounds.
Because the body control is so loose, it’s always moving around, even over small undulations. It’s the same story over sleeping policemen, with the suspension absorbing the initial bump well, but subsequently letting the car slam back down in an uncontrolled and uncomfortable way. And all that’s before you’ve even entered a corner, where you and your passengers will be swayed about by the extensive body lean.
Drive a C3 back-to-back with Ford Fiesta, or even the Skoda Fabia, and you’ll immediately feel better body control equals less jiggle, which in turn equals a more comfortable ride.
The C3 doesn’t really 'handle', in the way we’ve come to expect from modern, nimble small cars.
In fact it feels rather more old-fashioned than its sharp looks would suggest, with huge amounts of body roll through corners and very little feedback to let you know what’s going on underneath.
This includes the steering. While it’s relatively accurate, it has precious little consistency in the way it’s weighted. That might not sound important to you, but it means you have to concentrate more on placing the nose of the car in corners, or gauging what grip you have available; on a long drive through the country that gets quite tiring. The best handling cars in the class, such as the Fiesta and Renault Clio, are far less taxing to drive.
The C3’s petrol engines tend to be quite thrummy, but no more so than rivals with three-cylinder engines. It’s not an unpleasant noise, but it’s something you are more aware of in the lower-power versions such as the 81bhp model, because they need to be worked harder. The low-end grunt of the 109bhp petrol makes it feel a lot less strained, and generally quieter as a result.
On the motorway all the models we’ve tried suffer from the lack of a tall sixth gear, when the engine’s constant buzzing can get a little wearing. Otherwise, at speed wind and tyre noise in the C3 are no more voluble than in its best rivals.
Where it comes in for heavy criticism is the control weights. For example, the brake and clutch pedals aren’t very positive, so judging your inputs to be smooth in town traffic is a dark art. And compared to the Fiesta’s light and precise gearbox, the woolly, long-throw gear change in the C3 feels more akin to stirring an old tin of emulsion.
Let’s start off with the C3’s good bits: the excellent amount of adjustment the driver gets, which includes seat-height adjustment and a steering wheel that moves extensively up and down, as well as in and out.
Yet to back this up there’s no adjustable lumbar support, even as an option, and the seats themselves offer precious little side support. This means you end up gripping onto the steering wheel to avoid falling into your passenger’s lap during cornering. You can option a driver’s armrest to give you something to lean on, but on the top-spec Flair model only.
Another issue is the clutch footrest. On right-hand drive models this fits beneath the narrow gap between the clutch pedal and central tunnel, which if you have anything larger than a size-nine shoe traps your foot.
The dashboard isn’t awash with buttons to befuddle you, and what’s there are all within easy reach. On the mid-spec Feel trim and above you get a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system. Annoyingly, this means you don’t get separate heater controls, and you have to delve into the touchscreen menus every time you want to change the temperature.
Reasonably thin windscreen pillars mean your view forwards is quite unobstructed. It’s mainly the rear view that’s a problem. This is because the tapering roof and swept-up side windows leave you with a shallow rear screen and thick rear pillars.
Salvation on our favourite mid-level Feel trim comes in the form of the relatively inexpensive option of rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera. You can’t get these on the basic model, while they come as standard on the top-spec Flair model.
Another option is blind spot monitoring. This flashes a warning light if there happens to be a car lurking at your side, where you can’t see it. In general the door mirrors, which are electrically adjustable from mid-trim Feel onwards, do offer a decent view of what’s approaching from the side.
Every version of the C3 gets useful techno-gubbins such as a DAB radio and Bluetooth, but you need to upgrade to our favourite Feel trim before you benefit from a 7.0in touchscreen and handy smartphone link. This allows you to connect your mobile phone and use its apps, including the sat-nav, through the screen. With in-built sat-nav optional even on the top-spec C3s, that’s a handy gadget to have.
This is a much better infotainment system than the one you’d find in a Fiesta, but a Fabia's is better still. The C3's menus aren’t particularly well laid out and can be sluggish responding to inputs. We also dislike that the heater is controlled via the touchscreen, instead of separate dash-mounted buttons that would make changing the temperature less of a faff.
Sit inside the C3 and hard plastics abound, but that’s not the issue it might first seem. It isn’t unique in the small-car class either, and in fact our favourite small car, the Skoda Fabia, has similarly unwavering materials inside.
We’ve marked the C3 down because it doesn’t feel as robust as the Fabia – the switches aren’t as well damped and the surfaces somewhat shinier-looking – but it’s a thoroughly nice place to reside. It’s basic-looking but very chic, and neat touches such as the faux-leather door pulls lift the ambience.
All models come with a cloth facing across the dashboard, which on mid and upper trims can be upgraded to a leather-look material with different-coloured surrounds. The top Flair trim comes with a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, for an extra dash of luxury.
In the Citroën C3 there’s little to quibble over concerning front seat space. Even if you are tall you get head and leg room to spare, and for a small car, the shoulder room between you and your front passenger isn’t bad, either.
Not only is there space for you, but there’s room for a few odds and sods, too. The door pockets aren’t vast, but will take a 500ml bottle of water laid on its side. There are also a couple of cup holders for your café latte in front of the gearlever, and above a place to store your phone near the USB port. You get a decently big glovebox as well.
Rear-seat space isn’t one of the C3’s fortes: the head room is below-par, and at best the leg room only average. It’s fine for kids, but if you regularly carry adults in the back, particularly those above average height, look instead at cars such as the roomier Skoda Fabia, Hyundai i20 or Honda Jazz.
Storage wise, from mid-spec Feel trim onwards you get map pockets on the back of the front seats. All models come with small rear door bins.
Seating flexibility is all about clever stuff that makes the car more comfortable and practical. The C3 doesn’t really do much of either, to be honest.
The front passenger doesn’t get seat-height adjustment or adjustable lumbar support, only the usual manual forward and aft movement, and backrest recline.
It’s the same in the rear. Unlike a Honda Jazz, which offers all sorts of seating combinations to help prioritise between carrying luggage or passengers, the C3 just comes with folding rear seat backs, split in a 60/40 arrangement.
The C3’s boot is big enough to take a couple of travel-sized suitcases, or a three to four large shopping bags,
in other words it’s about average for the class. The Skoda Fabia’s boot is about 10% bigger, but even that isn’t as big as the Honda Jazz’s, which is as roomy as some larger family cars.
Unlike certain competitors there’s no dual-height boot floor to let you separate out delicate items. And once you’ve dropped the 60/40 split-folding rear seats, there’s a sizeable step in the lengthened boot floor. You also have to contend with the small loading lip from the tailgate opening to the floor of the boot. This adds to the strain of lifting heavy items in or out.
Most small cars are bought on PCP finance, so good news: Citröen will do some decent deals on the C3 to keep your monthly payments low. If you happen to be buying outright then dealers are happy to discount as well, but be sure to check out our Target Price data for the latest on how much you can save.
Servicing and insurance aren’t the cheapest in the class, but we’re talking in hundreds, rather than thousands of pounds, after a typical three-years’ ownership.
Only the 1.6-litre diesels gets under the magic 100g/km of CO2 emissions, which means you pay no road tax. But if you thought they’d make the cheapest company cars in the range, you’d be wrong. The 109bhp 1.2-litre petrol is also pretty efficient and cheaper to buy, so it’s cheaper than the diesels for benefit-in-kind (BIK) payments.
The diesels will potentially use less fuel though, which is something to bear in mind if you do a very high mileage and can recoup the savings at the pumps. But whether you choose petrol or diesel, all C3s offer claimed average fuel consumption to rival the very best in the class.
Even the entry-level Touch trim has a fair amount of kit. You get split/folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, an adjustable steering wheel, cruise control, and a DAB radio with Bluetooth. Safety equipment is reasonable too, and includes a speed limit display, lane departure warning, a tiredness monitor and six airbags. Be warned, though – there’s no air-con or alloy wheels.
That’s partly why we think it’s worth the upgrade to the Feel trim. It does get 16in alloy wheels and climate-control (rather than just manual air-con), plus a 7.0in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, so you can use your phone’s sat-nav through the screen. You also have stereo controls on the steering wheel and electrically adjustable door mirrors.
At the top of the range is the Flair model. This pushes the price up by a reasonable chunk, but for that you do get rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and an in-built dash cam; if you end up having a bump this could provide the proof that it was ‘that idiot that ran in to me,’ and not the other way around. Other trinkets include automatic lights and wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and privacy glass. Plus you get the distinctive plastic ‘air bump’ side mouldings, a contrasting coloured roof and door mirrors, plus a leather steering wheel and gearlever.
As a brand, Citröen’s been improving its reliability and dealer service over recent years, and features in the mid table of our most recent reliability survey.
Every C3 comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty – the first two years are the manufacturer’s warranty, and the last year is a dealer warranty. You also get one year’s breakdown cover.
Euro NCAP hasn’t released crash-test data for the current C3 yet, so we’ll let you know the results in due course.
We do know that the all C3s come with a good compliment of six airbags, and active safety features such as lane-departure warning, speed-limit display, and a tiredness monitor. That’s great, but the system we think is most useful is autonomous emergency city braking - because it can prevent the common situation of shunting the car in front – and on the C3 that’s not available, even as an option. Other cars such as the Skoda Fabia and Nissan Micra feature this as standard on selected trims.
This is the only car currently on sale with an in-built dash cam, though. It’s an option of the mid-spec Feel trim and standard on the top Flair model, and could help save your no-claims bonus.
All trims come with an immobiliser and remote central locking, but only Feel versions with the most powerful petrol and diesel engines come with an alarm. This is standard on all of the top-spec Flair models.
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