Finally, C3 takes Citroen to a happy place
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.