What is it?
This is Citroen’s revised version of its workaday five-door, sold alongside the more stylish and performance-oriented DS3. But there’s a lot going for the straight- talking C3, with a genuinely attractive restyling, impressive levels of refinement and comfort, and the sort of quality you once hardly dared expect from affordable French hatchbacks.
It’s practical, sensible and competitively priced, although you’d want a serious discount to tempt you away from the VW Polo.
Gone are the days when all French hatchbacks were inherently entertaining to drive. Comfort has been put to the fore with the C3 and as such it rides out the ripples with consummate ease and feels very stable at motorway speeds. The drawback of this sort of set-up is that handling is compromised – the C3 rolls like a ship in a storm and with this comes plenty of understeer. Very light steering and gear changes – another concession to comfort – also distance car from driver, making the C3 feel vague and over-assisted. Drive it gently and the C3 will reward you with its big car qualities. Rag it like a French supermini of old and you and it will suffer accordingly.
A broad range of modestly powered engines, especially the three solid diesels, complements this grown-up nature. It’s all very sensible, then, but you’ve got the DS3 to counteract that.
On the inside
The new C3 is really well finished inside, belying its supermini status, and its Frenchness for that matter. The front row can benefit from a cockpit-style ‘Zenith’ wraparound windscreen on higher trim levels, and the dash has now dispensed with tacky digital gimmickry in favour of clear, analogue instruments that are easier on the eye and easier to live with.
All-in-all it’s a pretty sober affair inside the new C3, but consciously so, and this ends up playing to the car’s strengths as a mature and subtle choice that will distance older supermini drivers from the angry young men in GTIs and Clio Cups. This is a car that is unashamedly aiming for a very specific market.
Frustratingly, however, the rear row is unexpectedly cramped, which – for a car that is trying to put the liveable before the lovable – seems a bit daft.
The C3 will be easy to insure and run, with all engines returning good economy figures, most notably the diesels, which manage to average 65mpg between them – very impressive. Citroen has never enjoyed particularly strong residual values and it’s hard to see that changing for the C3, especially now that the DS exists as a separate, sporty entity.