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One thing Citroen cannot be accused of is being bland. Its history is liberally sprinkled with innovative cars, cars that challenged the norms of automotive design in their day.
The Citroen DS, of course, stands tall in a field that also includes the 2CV, the gorgeous SM and the slightly less beautiful but nevertheless interesting CX. Styling is of course, subjective, often polarising, but there’s no question Citroen has always been at the forefront of interesting design.
Enter the 2018 Citroen C3, the French brand’s funky take on the compact hatch/crossover segment.
The third-generation C3 is an altogether more accomplished offering than the second-gen C3 it replaces, a frumpy and humpy hatchback with lacklustre performance that had its genesis way back in 2009. Instead, Citroen has reinvented the C3, adding not only some much-needed style, but also injecting a performance lift thanks to a new drivetrain.
But what desperately needs an injection is Citroen’s local sales. Last year, Citroen sold just 735 vehicles across its range in Australia, a slump of nearly 24 per cent from 2016, making this C3 – the fresh new face of the brand in Australia – such a vital car in what the company is calling the brand’s ‘renaissance’.
That renaissance starts with this, the Citroen C3 Shine, the only variant Australia will see. Positioned at the upper end of the segment, the C3 Shine has launched locally at $23,490 (plus on-road costs) although it’s currently available for $26,990 drive away (until March 31), including metallic paint, normally a $590 option.
There actually aren’t many options to, well, option with Almond Green paint (we’d give this a miss) costing $290, while the sporty Urban Red interior will set you back $150 or, if you prefer a chicer setting for your daily grind, the Hype Colorado interior featuring tan accents asks for an extra $400.
There’s also a panoramic glass roof for $600 and Citroen’s ConnectedCAM for $600. ConnectedCAM? A fancy word for dash-cam integrated into the rear-view mirror which can record video and stills, including in the event of an ‘incident’. Citroen is claiming brownie points for this tech, the first to be integrated by an OEM in Australia. (Audi launched something similar overseas last year.)
Standard kit abounds in the C3, as it should at that near $24K price point. Highlights include a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear-view camera with rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, auto dimming rear-view mirror, privacy glass, and auto headlights.
Safety wise there’s the usual array of airbags as well as lane-departure warning, speed-limit recognition and coffee-break alert. Crucially, though, the C3 misses out on autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. Those omissions are central to the C3 only scoring a four-star safety rating when submitted for Euro NCAP testing. Frankly, that’s disappointing in this day and age and especially at this price point, which is in the upper echelons of the segment.
What’s not disappointing is the C3’s styling. It is, in every regard, funky. From the 33 colour combinations – comprising of nine body colours with three contrasting roof hues and two wheel choices, all no cost options except for the slightly hideous Almond Green ($290) as previously mentioned – to the three interior “moods” and of course, Citroen’s now signature ‘Airbumps’. The C3, in any colour (except Almond Green) looks every bit the chic urban runabout it aspires to be.
Inside is no different, with Citroen again harnessing all of its creative forces to come up with what it terms, interior ‘moods’. Standard trim is Grey Mica which is, as the name suggest, a sea of contrasting greys. Next is the $150 optional Urban Red mood which introduces, yep, red highlights while the Hype Colorado mood (I’m not making this up… they are called ‘moods’) adds tan elements to the dash, seats and steering wheel for an additional $400. To be frank, we’d settle for the standard Grey Mica or, at a pinch, if we were feeling a little bit racy, the Urban Red but the Hype Colorado left us feeling a little cold and confused, not least of all because of the silly name.
That said, the interior of the C3 is spacious, ergonomic and comfortable, no matter what ‘mood’ you’re in. Equally, the second row offers plenty of leg-, knee- and headroom, belying the C3’s diminutive stature, although three across would be a stretch.
The boot offers 300 litres of storage, expanding to 922 litres with the rear seats folded, and there’s space-saver pare hiding under the boot floor.
One annoyance is Citroen’s insistence on having all of the car’s functions controlled via the touchscreen. There are no dials, no tactility. Instead everything is controlled via the touchscreen including air conditioning settings such as temperature and fan strength. It’s annoying and unnecessarily complicated.
There's no integrated sat-nav, either, despite the teasing compass button on the touchscreen which when pressed, instructs you to plug in your phone to access that device’s maps function. Small things, yes, but they add up.
On the road, the C3 is competent enough, if not exactly a thriller. The C3 shares the same powertrain as found in Groupe PSA stablemates, the Peugeot 208 and 2008, as well as its SUV sibling, the C4 Cactus. Under the bonnet is a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol unit mated to a six-speed Aisin-sourced automatic transmission sending drive to the front wheels, naturally (Citroen has manufactured front-wheel drive cars exclusively since 1934).
That little three-pot pumps out 81kW of power at 5500rpm and a healthy 205Nm of torque at a very usable 1500rpm. Citroen claims a 0-110km/h dash of 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 188km/h. It’s no hot hatch, then.
There’s no urgency from standstill, but neither is the C3 sluggish. The six-speed auto exhibits traits of an early double-clutch system, i.e. some hesitancy at take off before rigorously shuffling through the gears searching for optimum fuel efficiency. It’s by no means smooth, but, once acclimated, you can drive around it by adapting your throttle application.
At speed though, the C3 hums and is adept at shuffling down a cog or two and offering plenty of grunt to help you with those overtakes. That’ll be the 205Nm at 1500rpm at play, then.
Fuel consumption is rated by Citroen at 4.9L/100km on the combined cycle and we saw an indicated 7.0L/100km on test but that included a loooong stretch of stop/start traffic at its worst in Sydney's M5 tunnel. We'd expect better returns over a less gruelling run.
But undoubtedly, the C3’s trick card is its ride. No surprise there, considering the French manufacturer’s storied history with suspension tuning. Around town, the C3 offers a supple and comfortable ride, neither too firm nor too soft. Sydney’s rough and tumble roads are dispatched with barely a ripple, the C3 settling quickly over bumps and imperfections. That suppleness is only accentuated out on the highway, the C3 offering a quiet and refined ride. Solid.
The C3 remained solid during some, let’s say, more aggressive cornering, exhibiting only slight body roll. It felt solid and planted, although mid-corner imperfections did translate their way into the cabin via some slight jerkiness on the steering wheel. That said, the chances of this funky funster ever being called upon to aggressively tackle a winding country road are pretty minimal. Still, if the opportunity arises, the C3 is capable enough.
The steering, too, is capable with enough feedback to make you feel at one with the C3. Again, it’s no hot hatch in the way it delivers sensation to the hand, but neither is it a run-of-the-mill city-car experience.
Citroen has done some work in providing surety for its customers, which sees the C3 come with a five-year/unlimited-km warranty. Kudos to the French for showing the way to the Germans who continue to persist with their miserly three-year/100,000km offering.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km with the first five years' costing a total of $2367 under Citroen's capped-price service plan.
There’s plenty of engagement and fun to be had in the C3, with that thrummy little three-cylinder leaving you in no doubt it is capable of delivering some fun, if the ‘mood’ takes you.
Is it a class leader? Not by any stretch, but the C3 makes up for some of its shortcomings with its sheer funkiness. And that matters to buyers in this segment.