The best superminis – Fiesta, Polo – are positively sabre-toothed, so with excellent timing, along comes Citroen’s all-new C3 featuring a refreshingly different approach. Its design is an unusual mash-up of supermini and SUV, and it doubles down on comfort, a rather Gallic, two-fingered salute to the Ford/Mini dynamic hegemony. And you know what, it’s a rather charming combination.
First, the looks. The bluff, high-set nose and plastic cladding give off SUV overtones which, coupled with the wide track, endow the C3 with butch proportions. And the design features more ovals than a Nascar season – contoured roof, door handle recesses, lamps and grille, protective Air- bump shape, every car comes with a game of‘spot the oblong’ outside and in.
Beware the £10,995 entry model though, which forsakes the Airbumps, black arches, second-tone roof and body-coloured handles: you’ll need to upgrade to £13,045 Flair trim and splash another £290 on Airbumps, or go top spec, to get the C3 looking its best.
Two engines are offered: a 1.6-litre turbodiesel four in 74bhp or 98bhp flavours, or a 1.2-litre petrol triple with 67bhp, 80bhp or turbocharged to 109bhp. We drove the latter, and it’s fizzy and fabulous. The long gearing encourages you to wind out the engine, with the three-cylinder soundtrack goading you as it becomes more shrill. There’s a strong 2500- 4500rpm mid-range, and just about enough punch for overtaking: 0-62mph takes 9.3sec.
And what of this comfort set-up? The primary ride feels well cushioned, even a little floaty, with the nose bobbing under acceleration. Canter over potholes or bumps and the suspension absorbs them pretty quietly, with the ride largely composed and the body settling down again quickly.
The solidly built cabin has a civilised air too. At 60mph, a little wind noise can be heard along the side, but tyre roar is muffled. The high-mounted dashboard is unpretentious, and can be spiced up with colourful trim inserts costing from £150 to £380. And here’s a Mensa-level idea of stunning simplicity: the door bins are coloured white inside, so you can easily spot any contents.
Front and rear, the spongy seats are comfy and supportive. Tall passengers will find it a squeeze without understanding comrades up ahead, but the upside is a 300-litre boot, bigger than the five-door Mini’s or outgoing Fiesta’s.
But it’s not all plain sailing. The steering is featherlight, spinning like a Catherine wheel at low speeds. While that can make parking speedier, it can also cause some unexpected trajectories exiting T-junctions. At urban speeds, it feels sloppy off the dead-ahead and eager to self-centre; it becomes heavier (and better) with speed. The five-speed manual ’box is long-winded to operate too.
Citroen claims a world first with its Connected-CAM. The forward-facing camera, which endows the C3 with speed sign recognition and lane-departure warning, can be upgraded to take stills or videos for Facebook addicts to upload. There’s a secondary, more meaningful benefit: in the event of a collision, the cam will store 30 seconds of precrash footage and a minute of the subsequent road-rage incident. No word yet on whether Citroen will launch a dashcam YouTube channel as it seeks to digitise its revenue streams.
Not that it will need to top up earnings from the C3. It looks like a hit.
Citroen C3 PureTech 110 Flair
Engine: 1199cc petrol 3-cyl turbo
Power: 108bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque: 151lb ft @ 1500rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 117mph
On sale: Now
Wins by playing to Citroen’s strengths