Citroen C1 review
Latest C1 is much improved, with distinctive styling and a better driving experience. But interior space could still be better.
The Citroen C1 makes a good first impression with its distinctive styling – a result of quirky split-level headlights and an extensive range of contrasting colour and trim options. The colour continues inside, which gives the car cheerful feel, plus this latest C1 is more lavishly equipped than the original.
Despite the fresh styling, the Mk2 C1 carries over a great deal from the previous model. The 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech engine is all-new, though, and finally gives the French city car a bit more motorway cruising ability, despite remaining impressively efficient, with CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km. Refinement is better than before, although the engines still aren't the quietest in the class, and the ride can get quite unsettled. The rear seats and boot are quite cramped compared to rivals, too.
So while the Citroen C1 is chic, fun and affordable, other city cars can do what it does better.
Mk1 versions of the platform-sharing Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo city cars proved very popular with buyers. The programme began as the B-Zero project, and first bore fruit in 2005, when cars started rolling off the lines at the Toyota Peugeot Citroen Automobile factory in the Czech Republic. Collectively, more than 750,000 examples of the three models were sold, but nearly a decade on and the market for urban runabouts is a lot tougher. The latest trio has to compete with strong rivals such as the Skoda Citigo, Hyundai i10 and Renault Twingo.
But aside from the all-new body and interior design, there’s more to suggest the latest C1 has moved with the times. The first bit of good news is the addition to the range of the new 1.2-litre PureTech engine, which gives the car a much more sprightly feel, although the old 1.0-litre engine has been carried over. Both engines come with a five-speed manual gearbox, or the five-speed ETG automated manual option.
The chassis is closely related to the first-generation car’s, too, but this has also been uprated, with revised spring and damper rates, a bigger front anti-roll bar and a modified torsion beam rear axle.
The latest body brings a bit of contemporary styling flair, and the C1 is still available with the option of three or five doors. Plus, a new Airscape version adds an electric peel-back fabric roof in the mould of the Fiat 500C.
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Three trim levels are offered: Touch, Feel and Flair. The entry-level Touch provides remote central locking, electric windows and an MP3-compatible stereo, but upgrading to Feel brings body-colour wing mirrors and door handles, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
The range-topping Flair features 15-inch alloy wheels, tinted glass, a rev counter, electric mirrors and a rear parking camera.
Citroen predicts that Feel will be the best seller in the range, and it’s our choice from the line-up, too.
Engines, performance and drive
As the Citroen C1 uses the same underpinnings as its predecessor (except for a redesigned rear axle, saving 4kg, plus new shock absorbers and revised anti-roll bars), it’s not surprising to find that it feels rather similar from behind the wheel.
This 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, as well as light steering that offers barely any feedback yet is a doddle to use around town. The soft suspension and numb steering mean body control is fairly loose in corners, although parking is especially easy given the car’s dinky overall length.
Buyers can choose between a development of the old car’s willing 69bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder VTi engine, with optional Stop & Start, or a range-topping 82bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech, which delivers a welcome dose of pace. As there’s just 860kg to haul around, the C1 is a lively performer, even from low revs where it’s happy to pull away from a crawl in third gear.
This engine is definitely the one to go for. 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.
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The figures hammer home the point, as the 1.0-litre model takes 14.3 seconds to sprint from 0-62mph, while the 1.2-litre completes the benchmark in 11 seconds dead.
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 over 70mpg. However, unless you’re a martyr to environmental causes or on a strict budget, the bigger engine seems like a no-brainer due to its extra flexibility.
If you’re planning on driving extended distances in either, be prepared to steel yourself against the noise – or take earplugs. That charismatic three-cylinder thrum is fun to start with, but turns into a tiring drone at higher cruising speeds.
We can’t really recommend the automated manual gearbox option, either, as the changes can be jerky and unpleasant.
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 on small-capacity petrol units.
The most efficient option is the e-VTi 68 S&S with a five-speed manual. This model uses stop/start to keep CO2 emissions down to only 88g/km, and Citroen claims it will return an impressive 74.3mpg fuel economy.
The same engine is offered with a five-speed ETG automated manual gearbox, but our choice is the new 82bhp 1.2 PureTech with a five-speed manual gearbox, which serves up significantly better performance across the rev range. It still manages to return 65mpg and emit 99g/km of CO2, with the latter helping it scrape into the free road tax band.
The little Citroen is not a common choice for fans of high-performance cars, or a target for thieves, and as a result insurance groups are reassuringly low. They range from group 6 for the 1.0-litre car to group 12 for the 1.2-litre version in the highest trim level.
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So if you’re a mature driver with a decent driving record, you’ll be laughing. Younger motorists, or those whose insurers consider them a liability, might want to look elsewhere, though. For example, the Skoda Citigo line-up ranges from insurance group 2 to group 4.
The previous-generation Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo turned out to be winners on the depreciation front; and although the C1 held on to the least value of the trio, there wasn’t a great deal in it. The counterpoint is that the Citroen was the cheapest of the trio to buy new. That remains the case today, with the C1 costing less than its equivalent Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo sister models.
Of course, considering the added competition in the city car sector these days, those rock-solid residuals have softened a fair bit, but with the starting prices so low the financial pain is reduced – even when you’re losing 55 per cent or more of the new value after three years. Plus, you can reduce your exposure further by agreeing a decent discount, which Citroen dealers are often open to negotiating.
Interior, design and technology
Although the latest Citroen C1 has almost identical dimensions to its predecessor – not surprising as it’s a development of the previous-generation model’s platform – the company has done a great job of making the design fun, fresh and entirely different from its Toyota and Peugeot sister cars.
The split headlight design is an interpretation of the same theme you’ll find on the Citroen C4 Cactus, while vertical LED lights are integrated neatly into the front bumper.
At the rear, square 3D-effect tail-lamps 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; this is replicated across all three of the city cars, with the exception of the badges.
Colour-coded trim on the centre console and gearlever surround, as well as flashes of exterior colour on the doors and the option of striped seat upholstery, ensure the C1’s interior is light and cheery.
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The driver sits in front of a single binnacle housing a large speedometer dial, while the infotainment and nav systems are located on a separate ‘floating’ binnacle in the centre of the dash. It looks good, but the cabin control layout is less intuitive from the driver’s perspective than, say, the Skoda Citigo’s.
Push and scratch some of the surfaces and it’s instantly obvious that the quality of materials isn’t up to the standard of a Volkswagen up!, although the Mk2 C1 has a better finish than before, and by no means feels bargain basement.
The little Citroen doesn’t feel like a technology fest inside, but buyers don’t expect much at this end of the new car market. Even so, there are some highlights – apart from the touchscreen and reversing camera (on Flair models), you can have keyless entry and keyless start, while all versions of the C1 feature hill-start assist.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Flair and Feel models come equipped with a seven-inch touchscreen designed to mirror the screen of Android smartphones. The trouble is, as promising as this sounds, the technology doesn’t feel as though it’s been fully developed yet. The operating interface isn’t seamless, and may cause some frustration to people who are used to the slick interfaces on tablets and consoles. The MirrorLink function is not compatible with all smartphones, either.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
If you want an affordable car that can transport four adults over short distances, but will be used mainly with one or two passengers on board, then the Citroen C1 is a good choice. We’d go for the five-door model, simply because it only costs £400 more than the three-door and makes access to the rear much easier, yet looks just as good. You can order the three and the five-door models with an Airscape peel-back fabric roof for around £850 extra. This set-up adds another dimension to the character of the Citroen C1, but causes refinement to suffer slightly at higher speeds.
It’s not surprising that rear seat passengers aren’t terribly well catered for, although the story is mixed up front, too. While there’s plenty of room, drivers don’t get the range of adjustability expected of bigger cars. So there’s no reach adjustment on the steering wheel, and the basic model doesn’t offer seat height movement, either. If you intend to spend much time behind the wheel, you’d better make sure you can get comfortable.
Every model in the current crop of city cars is cleverly packaged, but the Citroen C1 is one of the most compact of the bunch.
At 3,460mm from nose to tail, it’s comfortably shorter than the 3,645mm Hyundai i10 and 3,563mm Skoda Citigo. It’s narrower, too – the 1,620mm-wide C1 compares to the 1,660m i10 and 1,641mm Skoda. No wonder parking is a doddle.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Adults sitting in the back will just fit behind a similarly sized driver and passenger, but it’s a serious squeeze and rear headroom is tight for anyone approaching six foot tall. And while there are seatbelts in the rear for three passengers, they’d better be super-skinny.
You do get Isofix mounts for child seats, but you’ll want the five-door version to install them (and the kids) unless you’re a contortionist. Still, finding homes for your other bits and pieces shouldn’t be too hard, as there’s a good-sized glovebox, cup-holders and storage in the centre console.
While the Citroen C1 can carry four adults at a push, it’s 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 – this frees up a maximum boot capacity of 780 litres – although the C1 isn’t helped by the fact its seats don’t fold completely flat. It’s also hampered by a relatively high loading lip.
If space is a critical issue, consider the Skoda Citigo or Hyundai i10; both serve up over 250 litres without the need to fold the seats.
Reliability and Safety
By carrying over the basic chassis architecture and 1.0-litre engine from the previous-generation C1, Citroen is working with proven mechanicals.
French manufacturers don’t have the best reliability records, but considering a large chunk of the development work was conducted by Toyota (a brand famed for its bulletproof dependability), it’s a safe bet that the C1 won’t go wrong very often.
Under the skin, the C1 is a simple car, so there’s relatively little to break, and although the quality of some of the interior materials isn’t up the standard of some rivals, there’s nothing yet to suggest it won’t be sufficiently resilient. This is reflected in the car’s score in the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey; although the C1 came a disappointing 97th overall, it ranked an impressive 43rd for reliability.
While changes under the skin are limited, Citroen’s engineers bolstered the side impact protection, in a bid to improve on the previous-generation C1’s three-star Euro NCAP rating. This latest car achieved a four-star crash test score.
There’s plenty of safety kit available as standard, including six airbags, a chassis stability system, electronic brake assistance and tyre pressure monitoring, which we reckon puts the C1 up there with the best cars in the class. (While the Skoda Citigo and Hyundai i10 have five-star Euro NCAP ratings, both were tested under an earlier and less stringent regime.)
The mechanically identical Toyota Aygo comes with a five-year/100,000-mile warranty package, so Citroen C1 buyers might be a little miffed to discover that their car is supplied with only three years and 60,000 miles of cover. The Hyundai i10 is sold with a five-year deal, too, although the Skoda Citigo carries a similar three-year package to the Citroen.
If you’re buying a Citroen C1 as part of an economy drive, you’ll be pleased to know that servicing costs won’t break the bank. Your dealer will want the car back every 15,500 miles or 12 months to give it a check-up, and service costs start from a reasonable £115.