The return of the Citroen C3 to Australia marks a kind of renaissance for the forgotten French city car.
The second-generation C3 has been in the automotive wilderness for most of 2013 after new importer Sime Darby in February elected to wait for the arrival of the facelifted model rather than continue to source the old version that previous distributor Ateco Automotive had imported since the end of 2010.
Citroen’s new management says it has overhauled the C3 line-up to make it more competitive in Australia’s cut-throat city-car class, though the outcome largely reads like a case of déjà vu: the relaunched range starts from $19,990 and is topped by the $25,990 Exclusive grade – exactly as it did under Ateco in 2010.
That pricing makes the Citroen C3 one of the most expensive city cars on the market, eclipsing the best-in-class Volkswagen Polo ($16,990 to $23,990, excluding GTI) and Renault Clio ($16,790 to $23,290), aligning more closely with its PSA cousin, the Peugeot 208 ($18,490 to $26,490, excluding GTi).
Seduction features a 60kW 1.2-litre three-cylinder with either a five-speed manual (and $19,990 driveaway pricing until the end of 2013) or four-speed auto.
The Exclusive model tested here is the same $25,990 as the Ford Fiesta ST hot-hatch that comes with an advanced 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine.
The Citroen C3 Exclusive, however, is mechanically identical to the 2010 model, teaming a four-speed automatic transmission with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 88kW of power at 6000rpm and 160Nm of torque at 4250rpm.
Two gears short of most of its rivals, the C3’s four-speed is sorely out of its league. Drivers are forced to work the engine hard to counter the wide spaces between ratios, with little punch down low and the requisite higher revs translating to increased engine noise and decreased cabin refinement.
Though equipped with a manual tipshift option, the transmission refuses to shift below second gear above 30km/h, making ascents up steep hills slow-going.
The auto is also slow to upshift when you flatten the throttle, leaving the engine lingering in too-high gears for too long before agreeing to a ratio better suited to accelerating.
The engine does its best to overcome the transmission’s shortcomings, happily revving beyond 6000rpm and into its redline. It remains quiet when cruising around town at lower speeds, though becomes tiresome on the highway, spinning at a consistently high 3000rpm at 100km/h.
The electric steering has too much free play, particularly at lower speeds, though its light weighting, combined with the C3’s reasonably tight turning circle, makes manoeuvring the little Citroen around town easy.
Though the second-generation Citroen C3 launched internationally in 2009, it shares its PSA PF1 platform with the original C3 that debuted more than a decade ago.
It rides well on smooth roads, but is far less convincing on less than perfect surfaces. The C3 jitters over coarse bitumen, reacting to little imperfections rather than smoothing them out, and sending vibrations through the steering wheel and into the cabin.
The C3 thumps over road joins and bangs through potholes yet the unsophisticated suspension also lacks body control over undulations.
The C3 Exclusive’s 17-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tyres may do few favours for ride quality, though the Michelin rubber fitted to our test car provided good grip.
Inside, the driver’s seat is more comfortable than the ride quality, though the bucket lacks some side support. Rear headroom is fine for sub-180cm passengers, and there’s a decent amount of legroom and loads of foot space beneath the front seats. The second-row base is quite flat, however, leaving knees and thighs of taller passengers to float around unsupported.
The C3’s 300-litre boot matches the Renault Clio’s as one of the most accommodating in its class, beating the Peugeot 208 (285L), Volkswagen Polo (280L) and Ford Fiesta (276L). The 60:40 split rear bench can also be folded forward to create more space.
Back up front, and a large colour display screen, piano black trim dash and door grab trim, and chrome and silver highlights give the C3’s cabin a modern, premium look that’s among the best in the city-car class. The ‘zenith’ windscreen that extends behind the driver’s head creates an airy, spacious ambience and may be a favourite feature among passengers who love to star gaze...
The cabin is let down, however, by the tactility and quality of some of its surfaces. The retractable blind over the upper section of the zenith windscreen is flimsy and loose-fitting, and its hard plastic sun visors lack mirrors. The only soft-touch plastics sit at the top of the dash, meaning the surfaces you most often touch are of the hard and scratchy variety.
The centre console and doors feature useful bins for phones, wallets and bottles, though there are no cup holders and the glovebox is tiny.
Pairing a smartphone via Bluetooth and programming the satellite navigation are simple, intuitive tasks, though scrolling through the trip computer data (displayed in the centre screen but accessed via a button on the right wiper stalk) and operating the cruise control and media functions via the stubby twin stalks hidden behind the steering wheel take a little more getting used to.
In addition to the standard sat-nav are rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, climate control, auto wipers and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, but while the C3 Exclusive is well equipped, it is still more than $1000 dearer than its similarly specced and demonstrably superior French rival, the Renault Clio Dynamique.
Safety is on par with the class leaders, though, coming standard with six airbags and electronic stability control and earning the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP. The C3 is covered by an average three-year/100,000km warranty with free roadside assistance over that period.
Although better equipped than before, the Citroen C3 Exclusive lags behind the city-car class leaders, its cute French styling and modern cabin offset by a dated drivetrain, unsophisticated suspension and pricing that remains too high.