Citroen C3

Small cars have been a French way of life for years. With the likes of the Citroen 2CV and Renault 4 selling by the multi-million, the market for basic yet stylish runarounds has long been established across the Channel.

Small cars have been a French way of life for years. With the likes of the Citroen 2CV and Renault 4 selling by the multi-million, the market for basic yet stylish runarounds has long been established across the Channel. Superminis are popular here, too - Peugeot's 206 is the UK's top private seller. But it isn't the sector's only style icon, as Citroen proved with the C3 in 2002. And the good-looking five-door offers a wide engine and model range. Keen dealer incentives mean there are lots on the road, while recent VAT-free promotions have seen many year-old cars traded back into the network. All are still under warranty, while novelty value helps stave off depreciation.Checklist * Interior: by far the most common complaint is the C3's interior build, with the mirrors, steering column cowls and sun visors all prone to coming loose or rattling. * Windscreen: some owners have reported odd reflections from the C3's windscreen if driving at night. While the fault isn't recognised by Citroen, a new screen tends to fix it. * Electrics: ECUs are prone to failure. Check for erratic idling, jerky power delivery and odd lights on the dashboard. Replacement should be fine under warranty. * Brakes: front brake calipers have been known to seize if a car has been left standing. Listen for squealing from the front wheels and check your example pulls up in a straight line under hard braking. * Doors: examine the carpets for dampness or staining. Early models suffered from leaky door seals and, if they haven't been repaired, water can get into the cabin.Driving Impressions Replacing the five-door Saxo, the C3 had much to live up to, as it was one of the most entertaining superminis on sale in terms of handling and driver appeal. With the exception of the chassis, the C3 is a far better car. A big criticism of the Saxo was its lack of cabin comfort, but with a high roofline, wider track and longer wheelbase, the C3 has interior space to rival cars a class higher. That makes the Citroen a practical family buy. Just choose your engine carefully: the 1.4 petrol is adequate and the 1.6 lively, but our pick is the responsive and refined 16v HDi. The 8v HDi and 1.1 petrol are sluggish out of town.Glass's View The C3 is Citroen's best car as far as residual values are concerned - it appears to have found a distinct niche with private buyers, and nearly new examples are popular. Specification sells, so the SX is the best bet, although petrol models are more popular than diesels. The 1.6 Exclusive suffers from steeper depreciation than most because of its high purchase price, but makes more sense used. Go for metallic paint, alloy wheels and air-con to lift resale values. Jeff Paterson, Senior Editor, Glass's GuideLife With A C3 I bought my C3 because it was so cheap, and for the money I think I have got a cracking buy. My 1.4 HDi is by far the most economical car I've ever owned - and it's fun to drive, too. Naomi Walker, Burslem, Staffs A bit more performance wouldn't go amiss and the interior build isn't brilliant, but I think my C3 looks great and it's pleasant enough to drive. Mark Bircher, Reading, Berks

Verdict

Citroen's assault on the supermini sector is its most attractive and convincing to date. A good looker with a decent engine line-up, the C3 is bursting with technology and has a vastly improved interior over the Saxo. Equipment levels are high, while the firm's generous pricing policy looks set to be an added bonus to private buyers. However, there's still work to be done in areas of build quality and steering - both of which spoil an otherwise fine vehicle.

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