Fi­nally, C3 takes Citroen to a happy place

The Horowhenua Mail - - WHAT’S ON - DAVID LIN­KLATER

If you tried to hot-wash the weird­ness out of a Citroen Cac­tus, you might end up with the French maker’s new C3 su­per­mini.

The latest C3 has def­i­nitely adopted the Cac­tus styling ethos: it has the same ‘‘stacked’’ lights up front, enor­mous door-den­tre­pelling Air­bumps along the side and a sparse dash­board with a free-stand­ing tablet-like touch­screen.

Yet the C3 doesn’t go all the way into the desert-like cabin en­vi­ron­ment of the Cac­tus. There’s a lot more em­pha­sis on con­ven­tional comfort and er­gonomic fea­tures: you get a proper gear­lever in­stead of but­tons, for ex­am­ple, and Cac­tus peo­ple might be amazed to find you can open the rear win­dows and split-fold the rear seats.

The C3 has grown com­pared with the pre­vi­ous model, but at 3996mm it’s still very much su­per­mini-Size: still un­der the bench­mark four me­tres long. Think Suzuki Swift or Mazda2 di­men­sions.

The C3 isn’t quite as new as it looks. It’s based not on Peu­geotCitroen’s latest EMP1 plat­form, but on a long-run­ning ar­chi­tec­ture called PF1 that dates back to 1998 (same as ev­ery pre­vi­ous C3, the Peu­geot 208 and yes . . . the Cac­tus). The com­pany craftily re­named it ‘‘Plat­form A’’ for this new C3, but it’s the same box of bits.

De­spite that, Citroen fi­nally seems to have served up the right pack­age at the right price for New Zealand. There’s just one C3 for our mar­ket, pow­ered by the out­stand­ing 1.2-litre three­cylin­der turbo en­gine we’ve al­ready seen in some Peu­geotCitroen prod­uct. This PureTech pow­er­plant has been a cat­e­gory win­ner in the En­gine of the Year Awards for three years run­ning.

Cru­cially, it comes with the right trans­mis­sion: a six-speed au­to­matic.

At $26,990 the C3 sits among some of the snazz­ier su­per­mi­nis on the mar­ket. The Swift RS (an­other three-pot turbo) is $25,990, the Honda Jazz RS is $26,600 and a Mazda2 GSX is $24,795.

It cer­tainly looks the part. No short­age of de­sign flair, and the C3 rides on sub­stan­tial and very stylish 17-inch al­loy wheels. With nine body colours and three for the roof you get 27 pos­si­ble com­bi­na­tions, and there are sub­tle dif­fer­ences for each around door mir­ror, foglamp-sur­round, the sin­gle Air­bump ‘‘hoop’’ and C-pil­lar bor­der-de­cal be­tween body and roof.

It’s a bit SUV-ish, but it’s not ac­tu­ally an SUV. At least not while Citroen also has the C3 Air­cross, a high-rid­ing ver­sion of this new model that is also un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for Kiwi con­sump­tion.

Cruise con­trol is stan­dard, in­clud­ing speed limit recog­ni­tion, and ac­tive safety kit in­cludes lane de­par­ture warn­ing that ac­ti­vates from 60kmh.

The cabin is still clearly built down to a price, with a lot of hard plas­tic. But that’s not un­usual at this price point and the C3 pulls it off nicely be­cause that sparse­ness is a de­lib­er­ate styling theme.

It’s pos­si­ble there’s a bit too much min­i­mal­ism. Like some of the ear­lier Peu­geot prod­uct with this new touch-screen, vir­tu­ally ev­ery cabin func­tion has been moved into the dig­i­tal realm. When you have to go into a sep­a­rate menu to ad­just the air con­di­tion­ing, you won­der whether things have gone too far.

Thank­fully, Citroen has at least left us with a phys­i­cal vol­ume con­trol and the op­er­at­ing sys­tem in­cor­po­rates An­droid Auto, Ap­ple CarPlay and Mir­ror­link phone pro­jec­tion.

The three-pot en­gine is a smilea-sec­ond thing. You might want to switch off the stop-start in heavy traf­fic as it’s slow to fire up when you’re in the com­muter-crawl, but with a few revs on board it hums and thrums in fine fashion. This pow­er­train has the char­ac­ter you ex­pect of a Citroen . . . fi­nally.

The chas­sis is also cal­i­brated in line with Citroen’s ethos of comfort over fast cor­ner­ing. At low speed the sus­pen­sion still re­acts abruptly to small im­per­fec­tions, but when the pace picks up you get a sense of body roll com­bined with a sure-and­steady cor­ner­ing gait. It’s not es­pe­cially sporty and doesn’t claim to be. It’s quite re­fresh­ing, ac­tu­ally.

As a brand in NZ, Citroen has a long, hard climb af­ter years of soso prod­uct (it only sold 160 cars here last year). For that rea­son the C3 may still seem like a risky pur­chase to many, but there’s no doubt that this is a strong small­car pack­age at the right price.

More than that, it’s full of char­ac­ter in ev­ery area from de­sign to driv­ing dy­nam­ics. It makes you feel happy. It’s a very happy car.

It’s a little bit SUV-ish, but new Citroen C3 sticks to tra­di­tional su­per­mini di­men­sions.

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