Citroen C1 review
With distinctive styling and an improved drive, the C1 is much improved. But it's let down by a lack of interior space.
Citroen's joint effort with Peugeot and Toyota to create the C1, Aygo and 107 platform-sharing city cars proved very popular with buyers. But nearly a decade on and the market of urban runabouts is a lot tougher. The new trio has to compete with cars such as the Skoda Citigo, Hyundai i10 and Renault Twingo, and that's strong competition.
At least the C1 makes a good first impression with distinctive styling, thanks to quirky split-level headlights, and an extensive range of contrasting colour and trim options. The inside is colourful, cheerful and more lavishly equipped, too.
Despite the completely new styling, the new C1 carries over much of its from the previous model. This means the rear seats and boot are quite cramped compared to rivals . Nevertheless the new 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech engine finally gives the French city car a bit more motorway cruising ability, despite remaining efficient (sub-100g/km of CO2). Its low kerbweight means plenty of agility around town.
Refinement is better than before, but the engines aren't the quietest in the class. The ride is generally supple but can get quite unsettled out of town. Alongside three and five door versions of the hatch, a new Airscape version adds an electric peel back fabric roof in the mould of the Fiat 500C.
Engines, performance and drive
With the same underpinnings as its predecessor (except for a redesigned rear axle saving 4kg, new shock absorbers and revised anti-roll bars) it’s not surprising to find that the Citroen C1 feels rather similar from behind the wheel.
That means a supple ride that irons out small imperfections in the surface well but can become a little bouncy over a series of consecutive bumps, and light steering that offers barely any feedback but is a doddle to use around town. The soft suspension and numb steering mean body control is fairly loose in corners, but then parking is especially easy given the cars dinky overall length of 3.46m.
Buyers can choose between a development of the old car’s willing 69bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder VTi engine, or a range-topping 82bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech, which delivers a welcome dose of performance. With just 860kg to haul around, performance is lively, even from low revs where the C1 is happy to pull away from a crawl in third gear.
The engine to go for would be the more powerful 1.2-litre engine, it may only have an extra 13bhp but as the car is so light you really notice the extra oomph. Both engines thrum a little at idle but once up to speed they soon settle, although the 82bhp motor is a lot more able at higher speeds. If you're mainly going to be driving the car around town and over shorter distances, the 1.0-litre engine is still a good choice, revving sweetly and achieving almost 70mpg.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The previous-generation C1 was offered with a diesel engine, but that was dropped in 2009, and the focus once again is one small-capacity petrol units.
The most efficient option is the stop-start equipped e-VTI 68 Airdream with a five-speed manual, with claimed CO2 emissions of only 88g/km. The same engine is offered with a five-speed ETG automated manual gearbox, but our choice is the new 82bhp 1.2 PureTech engine with a five-speed manual gearbox that offers significantly better performance across the rev range, but still manages to return 65mpg and 99g/km.
Three trim levels are offered – Touch, Feel and Flair. The seven-inch screen standard on all but base level, while the ‘Feel’ model is expected to be best-seller and comes with air-con, DAB and body-coloured wing mirrors and handles and standard.
Interior, design and technology
The split headlight design is an interpretation of the same theme you’ll find on the new C4 Cactus, while vertical LED lights are integrated neatly into the front bumper.
At the rear, square 3D-effect taillights and a blacked-out glass tailgate are also distinctive, while the side profile is shared with the Aygo and 108. It’s a similar story with the interior design that’s replicated for all three sister cars, with the exception of badges.
With colour-coded trim for the centre console and gear lever surround, as well as flashes of exterior colour on the doors and the option of striped seat upholstery, the C1’s interior is a light and cheery place to spend time.
Push and scratch some of the surfaces and the quality of materials isn’t up to the standard of a Volkswagen up!, but it by no means feels bargain basement and is better than before.
Our choice: Citroen C1 1.2 PureTech
Practicality, comfort and boot space
If you want an affordable car that can transport four adults short distances, but will be used mainly with one or two passengers in the car, then the Citroen C1 is a good choice. Adults will just fit behind an similarly sized driver, but it’s a serious squeeze and headroom in the back is tight for anyone approaching six-foot.
We’d go for the five door model, simply because it only costs £400 more, looks just as good and improves rear accessibility massively. You can order the three and the five-door model with an Airscape peel-back fabric roof for around £850 extra, which adds another dimension to the character of the Citroen C1, but causes refinement to suffer slightly at higher speeds.
Although can carry four adults at a push, its best to leave your luggage behind if you have any as the 196-litre boot is only really suitable for small shopping bags. If you need more space you can fold the rear seats down which frees up 780-litres of space.
Reliability and Safety
By carrying over the same basic chassis architecture and 1.0-litre engine as its predecessor, Citroen is working with proven mechanicals that it knows works.
French manufacturers don’t have the best reliability records, but considering a large chunk of the development work of the C1 was carried out by Toyota (and the Japanese are famed for their bullet-proof reliability), it’s a safe bet that the C1 won’t go wrong very often.
The C1 is a simple car undeneath, so there’s relatively little to break, although the seven-inch touchscreen designed to mirror the screen of Android smart phones still feels like a technology in development – it’s a good idea but the operating interface isn’t seamless.
Although changes under the skin are limited, Citroen’s engineers have found time to bolster the side impact protection, in a bid to up its three-star Euro NCAP rating to four.