Citroen C3

Drying clothes, washing the dishes and cleaning the car are all now dying arts, thanks to labour-saving gadgets. But not all of Britain's drivers readily embrace the automatic gearbox, and still insist on stirring cogs manually.

Whether you're a fan of paddle-shift gearboxes or not, there's no doubting that sequential systems are getting better all the time. While Citroen's SensoDrive wasn't initially designed for a diesel, it works surprisingly well. Taking advantage of the HDi's low-down torque has never been easier, and economy improves, too.

Drying clothes, washing the dishes and cleaning the car are all now dying arts, thanks to labour-saving gadgets. But not all of Britain's drivers readily embrace the automatic gearbox, and still insist on stirring cogs manually.

Part of the reason for this is that autos generally sap power and increase fuel consumption, which is why clutchless manual units are growing in popularity. That's certainly Citroen's thinking behind the C3 HDi SensoDrive - the first diesel-powered supermini to be offered with a semi-automatic paddleshift.

Identical to the gearbox fitted in the French manufacturer's petrol models, the SensoDrive system contains the basic mechanical parts of a manual, but the driver doesn't have to worry about operating the clutch. The set-up has been mated to the popular 70bhp 1.4-litre HDi oil-burner for the first time, making it a unique model in its class.

The system is simple to operate, with the paddles mounted directly behind the steering wheel. Thanks to the lazy characteristics of the diesel engine, the transmission is smoother than when teamed with the higher-revving petrol units, as the lower revs mean the box doesn't suffer as big a jump in torque delivery between gears.

However, while the 1.4 HDi is an impressive town car when in paddle-change mode, selecting full automatic makes the transmission jolt between ratios and gives jerky progress. We certainly prefer the former, which ensures an entertaining drive.

The Citroen is also accomplished on the open road. Although a 0-60mph time of 15.4 seconds and a top speed of 99mph are not fast by any means, the car is refined at speed. Also, at 69mpg, the SensoDrive is marginally more economical than its manual sibling. In short, a worthwhile and desirable addition to the C3 range.

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