Citroen C1

Small car buyers have never had it so good. Hot on the heels of the Toyota Aygo comes Citroen's new entry-level model, the C1. It is the product of the city car family developed jointly by PSA and Toyota, which is completed by the Peugeot 107.

Competition in the small car market has never been so intense, but Citroen's C1 promises to be a star. It's every bitas accomplished as the Toyota Aygo, but the Citroen's European flavour should mean it will become a familiar sight on UK roads. Add in the French firm's competitive pricing policy, and the C1 is certain to be the value-for-money choice of the new family.

Small car buyers have never had it so good. Hot on the heels of the Toyota Aygo comes Citroen's new entry-level model, the C1. It is the product of the city car family developed jointly by PSA and Toyota, which is completed by the Peugeot 107.

Auto Express was first in the queue to drive Citroen's new baby - an event we had been looking forward to since the model made its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show back in March.

Although its silhouette reveals a close relationship with the Toyota - the cars share more than 90 per cent of their parts - the new Citroen has an identity all of its own, thanks to larger headlamps and a deep front bumper. The grille juts out beneath the double-chevron badge, and although the C1 looks more conventional than its Japanese counterpart, it is clear that some French flair has been allowed to flourish.

There is change at the rear, too, with a uniquely shaped bumper, tailgate and lights. However, the C1's single-piece glass bootlid is similar in concept to that of the Aygo, while the baby Citroen also has the same high loading sill and pop-out side windows.

The rear doors are unusual as they extend to the tail-light clusters, so the C-pillar is actually incorporated into the opening, saving vital space. Other innovative styling points include the fuel filler flap and cap - which is integrated into the bumper.

These changes provide the C1 with a distinctive appearance, so it is a shame to find that the interior is near-identical to its Japanese twin. On the plus side it is spacious and surprisingly comfortable, with neat design touches to increase the car's storage space. Passengers are well catered for, too, with three-point seatbelts all-round, and twin airbags up front, while standard Cornering Stability Control also boosts safety.

Under the bonnet, two engines are on offer: a 1.0-litre petrol and 1.4-litre diesel. Five-speed manual and Sensodrive auto gearboxes are available, but while the petrol unit can be specified with either, the diesel is manual-only.

Sadly, no oil-burning models were on hand for us to try out, and as the C1's 1.0-litre powerplant is the same Daihatsu-sourced three-cylinder unit we tested in the Aygo, there were few surprises in terms of performance.

Trumpeted as the lightest production car engine available, it is capable of returning 61.4mpg, and develops 68bhp. The motor is surprisingly relaxed at speed, thanks to a tall fifth gear. On the road, the C1 feels extremely assured, particularly over potholed city streets. Thanks to its short front and rear overhangs and wheel-at-each-corner stance, it is not only easy to manoeuvre, but handles confidently and rides bumps well.

But do not be fooled into thinking the car's tiny dimensions mean the Citroen is cramped inside. The five-door we tested had a 139-litre boot, plus there is a full-size spare wheel, and the rear seats fold to create a versatile load space.

Overall, the C1 is a very impressive package - but then it needs to be in this class. As well as challenging competition from city cars such as the Fiat Panda, the Citroen faces rivals in its own back yard, including the £6,800 Aygo and the still-to-be-launched Peugeot 107. It is clear that the fight for honours is going to be tough.

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