Citroen C3 review
The French firm's Fiesta rival is both economical and relaxing to drive, but feels dated and the cabin feels a little past its best
Citroen's historic reputation has been based on its ability to do something a little bit different from the class norm. But the C3 aims to be a more conservative and competent rival to the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Hyundai i20, while the DS 3 aims for buyers after a more premium feel, extra character and dynamic drive.
In essence the C3 does most of what you'd want a modern supermini to do. It looks decent enough, has a varied and economical engine range, and offers plenty of space. But it's five years old now and feels it, lagging behind the class best in terms of handling, tech and cabin quality, and isn't particularly cheap to make up for that.
There are four trim levels to choose from in the latest C3 range. Electric front windows, remote locking and a CD player are pretty much all you get in the basic VT specification, while the VTR+ (our choice) adds air-con, cruise control and a 'Zenith' windscreen which extends further back. Alloy wheels are included on most VTR+ models too. The range-topping Exclusive trim stands out with a full-length panoramic windscreen, climate control and Bluetooth.
The C3, given a light facelift in 2013, is also available with decent choice of engines. Three-cylinder 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre petrol units give a moderate turn of pace, and are supplemented by an auto-only 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol. Then you have the 1.4 and 1.6-litre HDi diesels, giving great torque and economy but pushing the price up.
Those needing more space and practical features should look at the Citroen C3 Picasso, while the upmarket Citroen DS3 supermini and Citroen DS3 Cabrio convertible should satisfy buyers looking for more individuality, performance and a better drive.
Our choice: C3 1.2 VTI PureTech VTR+
The C3 was never an unattractive car to begin with, but the 2013 facelift addition of LED daytime running lights, a body-coloured splitter in the lower air intake and a bold double chevron grille freshen up the car’s stylish design.
Updated reflectors and taillights were also been fitted to the car’s rear end and the C3 is available in several striking body colours including the bold Ink Blue. It all helps to keep the car looking competitive, but it's difficult to escape the feeling that Citroen's supermini is nearing the end of its life.
Inside it looks adequately up-to-date with deep-set dials and colourful dash trim, while a large windscreen and bright dashboard makes it feel light and airy. On top-spec models there's plenty of glossy material to make it look upmarket, but poke and prod at a lot of the touch points and they feel a little flimsy. The plastics below sight are quite cheap, too.
Equipment levels are generally decent as long as you opt above VT spec, meaning it doesn't feel like a bargain basement car (but the price reflects this).
High speeds and motorway driving are handled pretty easily in the C3. It’s a refined long-distance cruiser, with one of the most comfortable rides in the sector also paying dividends around potholed urban roads. The firm knows this is a priority for its customers, and we commend them not following the 'sportier' trend of superminis.
But the payoff is evident if you push the C3 even moderately hard, as the handling leaves a lot to be desired. The soft setup means it rolls around in corners and the steering is quite vague, meaning it's pretty far away from the Ford Fiesta in terms of driver appeal. Many rivals nail the balance between ride and handling better.
The C3's latest three-cylinder PureTech petrol engines use direct injection technology and are designed to reduce weight along with running costs. We recommend the 1.2 VTI PureTech VTR+ which does 62.8mpg and 0-62mph in 12.2 seconds, giving it enough pace for town use and occasional motorway trips.
The 1.0-litre is willing but a little sluggish for a larger supermini like this, while the automatic 1.6 is much thirstier and doesn't feel all that fast.
The C3's diesel engines are impressively economical on fuel and give decent performance, but they’re considerably more expensive and we’d only recommended them for high mileage drivers. They're at least reasonably quiet units, however.
The C3 finished a disappointing 163rd place in our 2015 Driver Power survey. Part of that its due to its advancing years, but handling and build quality were particularly marked out by owners as being less than adequate. Citroen did climb 6 places as a manufacturer to 20th this year, but this is more likely because of improvements across the board in models newer than the C3.
The C3 received a four-star crash test rating from Euro NCAP when it was tested back in 2009, scoring just 40 per cent in the safety assist category. This is because ESP isn’t standard in the Citroen C3 range and is only an optional extra in the VTR+ and Exclusive models. Driver, passenger and side airbags are included in all versions.
Other than some trim quality issues and electrical quirks, the C3 seems to have remained relatively trouble-free mechanically. But there has been a number of recalls over its life, with issues such as fault brake servos, handbrakes and battery earthing among the most serious.
The Citroen C3’s height and clever packaging allow it to almost rival the larger Ford Focus in terms of cabin space. Suitcases and other bulky cargo can be stowed easily in its 300-litre boot which is only 16 litres smaller than the Focus, and larger than many in the supermini class.
If you fold the 60:40 split back seats you can increase boot space to an impressive 1,121 litres. The under floor storage area can hold the parcel shelf when the rear seats are folded but a large load lip makes loading bulky objects awkward.
The C3’s front seats are very adjustable and the plentiful head and legroom should also keep taller passengers happy. Unfortunately, a large fusebox takes up most of the glovebox so you may need to find somewhere else to put your gloves. There also seems to be a lack of practical touches to the cabin, like extra cupholders.
The PureTech engines make the cheaper Citroen C3 models impressively efficient. The old four cylinder 1.1 VTi has been replaced by a more economical 67bhp 1.0-litre VTi PureTech engine, which returns 65.7mpg.
Our choice, the 1.2 VTi PureTech, produces 81bhp and manages 62.8mpg in fuel economy, making it competitive with the class average but not the best. There's a more powerful turbocharged 1.2-litre engine which does 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds, but most won't need the extra pace considering the C3's lack of sporting pretentions.
The eco-special diesel Airdream models are better still - the 1.4 eHDi Airdream gets a range of mechanical and aerodynamic tweaks enabling it to return an average fuel economy of 83.1mpg combined with CO2 emissions of 87g/km. Plus, the 1.6 eHDi Airdream model manages a road-tax busting CO2 output of 99g/km. As with many firms nowadays, costs can be reduced via pre-paid servicing deals.