As the most recent car to benefit from Citroen’s design resurgence, the new Citroen C3 light hatch ought to be a massive recipe for success for the French brand. Packed full of youthful touches, with a hint of SUV from some angles the new C3 is a charming little looker.
Looks alone won’t be all Citroen needs to stand out in Australia’s ultra-competitive market though where perhaps two of the blandest competitors available, the Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris, dominate the market.
But freed from the ungainly bubble-roofed awkwardness of previous generations, this latest C3’s funky form leads an engineering package that’s more conventional, and most importantly, more likely to appeal to Aussie customers.
While the new model is due in Australia in less than a month, Citroen invited TMR to sample the new C3 hatch on its home turf, touring the streets of Paris as the brand prepares to introduce its most compelling light car yet.
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Price: $22,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 81kW/205Nm 1.2-litre 3cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.9 l/100km | Tested: 7.1 l/100km
Australia will take the C3 in a single Shine model-grade packed with standard features. That means we’ll miss out on the lower-grade variants offered overseas, but that's not such a bad move with slightly creepy names like Touch and Feel (although the French Live base model isn't as cringeworthy).
Under the bonnet you’ll find a 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine with 81kW of power and 205Nm of torque, shared with other models from the Peugeot Citroen family, like the 208 hatch and C4 Cactus small SUV.
The engine isn't the drawcard though - it’s the exquisite detailing, like the bold interior available with tactile fabric inserts, door pulls inspired by old-school travel cases, big 17-inch machined-face alloy wheels, contrasting roof paint, and of course Citroen’s AirBump door panelling, which makes an iconic feature out of something as utilitarian as a bump strip.
With details like that you’ll certainly stand out from the crowd in a C3, and as buyers flock to bigger SUVs - with the illusion of being more versatile - the C3 hatch tries to straddle the realm between sensible city car and adventurous image leader.
All that uniqueness will come at a cost though. This C3 isn’t going to appeal to shoestring budgets, arriving in Australia with an introductory $22,990 (plus on-road costs) price.
While that price includes plenty of kit and an automatic transmission as standard it’s also as much as more powerful cars from the next class up in size, some of which also pack a decent equipment list, ensuring the C3 will predominantly appeal to those that are willing to pay a price for style.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim, power windows, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, single-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, rear privacy glass, cruise control with speed limiter, black roof (other colours available) AirBump door protector strips, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and Aux inputs, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility, six-speaker audio
- Options Available: Connected camera $600, Fixed panoramic sunroof $600, single-tone paint $290, metallic paint $590
- Cargo Volume: 300 litres to parcel shelf, 922 litres with rear seats folded
Jump into your average light hatch and it's safe to expect a dreary black plastic interior jammed full of hard and uninviting surfaces. That’s not Citroen. The brand has a long and proud history driven by design and the new C3 tries its hardest to convey that.
As a result you’ll find a kind of retro-futuristic fusion of squircular (round-edged rectangles) details with fabric dash inserts, leather-look door pulls, bold colour combinations, and surprisingly minimalist interior controls.
Like the C4 Cactus before it, Citroen runs almost all interior functions through a central 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is great for making the C3 feel like a concept car, but not ideal when all you want to do is bump the temp up a notch without losing your sat-nav map.
The good news is how simple and speedy the touchscreen interface is to use, plus it houses a reversing camera display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and tethered online services, although there’s no inbuilt navigation - something younger phone-savvy owners are unlikely to care about.
Also promising is the amount of interior space. The new C3 has grown compared to its predecessor with an extra 55mm of overall length and a 74mm longer wheelbase which results in greatly improved rear seat comfort.
As for included items, the C3 Shine will arrive in Australia with cruise control and speed limiter, single-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, a self-dimming interior mirror, push-button start, rear privacy tint, and 17-inch alloy wheels standard to help justify its positioning against cut-price competitors.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.2-litre PureTech 110 three-cylinder turbo petrol, 81kW @5500rpm, 205Nm @1500rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPhersion strut front, torsion beam rear
- Steering: Electric power steering, 10.7m turning circle
A french car should be filled with character, right? In the past that hasn’t always been a positive thing, but in the case of Citroen’s three-cylinder PureTech engine it can be.
With outputs of 81kW and 205Nm the 1.2-litre turbo engine is competitive when it comes to power and a little more torquey than most rivals, which gives it an eager willingness to zip in and out of city traffic.
In the cut and thrust of peak hour in Paris, the C3 proved to be happy to either roll along in grinding stop-start traffic, or bound away at the head of the traffic lights. It’s not blisteringly quick, but it's decent amongst its competitive set.
As for that character thing, that comes down to the three-cylinder engine's excitedly gruff engine note. Rev the little motor out and it provides a thrummy beat that’s actually a bit of fun, though refinement is a low point, with plenty of vibration making its way into the cabin, particularly at low speeds.
The six-speed automatic is a conventional auto, not a dual clutch or CVT type, but has been tuned to feel like a dual-clutch auto with a moment of hesitation before getting underway from standstill, and gear changes that are super quick and yet reasonably smooth.
Push a little hard and the auto can lose its wits, holding on to tall gears too long and falling out of sync with driver demands. A sport mode helps liven it up a little, though it can make the auto reluctant to select a higher gear.
A full appraisal of things like ride and road noise will have to wait for a drive on Australian roads to be certain, but French cobblestones are about as good a test as you’ll ever find, and Citroen’s comfort-oriented suspension blotted out the crazed surface underneath like it wasn’t there.
Given the incredibly urban nature of the intro drive, fuel consumption was never going to match factory claims, and at 7.1 l/100km after some seriously hard driving the little C3, with plenty of running-in still to do, wasn’t as bad as it could have been - but it’s another area that deserves greater local scrutiny.
The early signs are very promising. Citroen has managed to create a vehicle that is both more unique yet less polarising than its predecessors with mature driving dynamics that should sit comfortably with Aussie buyers.
The C3 isn’t going to be a cut-price darling, but it is going to pack in plenty of standard features to justify its price premium and as much as Australia loves a bargain, it also loves premium cachet - something the C3 has plenty of.
Unfortunately Citroen's new Australian distributor has also lopped the previous six-year warranty back to three years, diminishing the brand's appeal somewhat to cautious consumers.
Some of the engine’s vibey low-speed characteristics aren’t ideal given the premium positioning, and at the price performance could be a touch more exciting. But as an artisanal approach to light cars, the C3 will no doubt impress urban dwellers looking for something less ordinary.
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