Nobody does quirky and funky cars like Citroen. The 2CV, C4 Cactus, DS, the list goes on. Love or loathe French styling, you’ve got to give Citroen credit for being courageous in the design department.
The 2018 Citroen C3 is no exception. The third generation is an all-new design, albeit taking some styling cues, namely the Airbumps, from its larger cousin, the C4 Cactus.
Priced from $23,990 drive-away, the C3 is available in just the one Shine specification in Australia and is powered by a 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine, which is matched with a six-speed automatic transmission. It has all the features you would expect in a modern car – lane-departure warning, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, speed recognition and speed warning. But, a massive omission is autonomous emergency braking, which is a surprise considering the C3 is predominantly a city car – the very environment that feature is most useful for.
The C3 makes a statement with its polarising looks. This reviewer posted a photo of it on Facebook and found the majority of people who liked it were women, whereas it was a stern 'no' from men. Polar White is the only standard colour, with bright colours an extra $590, and $290 for Almond Green, which this example sports. Photos don’t do the vintage colour justice. It is so much better in the metal.
While it looks cute from the side, it gets more aggressive at the front, with the Citroen logo flowing through the grille and around the slim LED DRLs. Separating the Almond Green and the black roof (there are 33 colour combinations) is a black and white vinyl strip on the D-pillar. An intriguing addition.
The cabin is just as funky as the exterior. There are inverted Airbumps on the door trim, and the shape continues to the air vents, steering wheel controls, and just about everywhere else. There is also a door pull handle that resembles a suitcase handle. It’s a neat retro touch.
The front seats are super padded with grey ‘Mica’ cloth, and like the exterior, you can choose from numerous colours. The door armrest is fabric but not very soft, and after 20 minutes of driving, it can begin to irritate your elbow. Another small annoyance involves the sun visors – they are that narrow, they barely do the job of blocking out the sun.
Ingress and egress is easy, and once inside there’s a decent amount of leg room and knee room. And the optional panoramic sunroof makes the interior feel even more spacious and bright; we think it’s worth spending the extra $600.
While we are on options, this C3 featured Connected Cam, a built-in dash cam hidden behind the rear-view mirror. Operated via just one button on the camera (a steering wheel control would’ve been less clunky), the high-quality photos and videos are sent to an app on your phone, where you can upload them to social media. In the event of an accident or heavy braking, the camera will also automatically store data for 30 seconds before the incident, and 60 seconds after. The only issue we found was you couldn’t access the media without sitting in the car with the ignition on. While it is a cool feature, it is costly at $600.
And the options continue... Although this C3 doesn’t feature it, the centre armrest with a storage compartment small enough for coins comes at a cost of $394. There is no large enclosed storage, but a shelf above two awkwardly placed cupholders is big enough for a couple of phones. The only wish would be to have the USB connection moved up there as well to clear the cables away from your coffee cup. The infotainment on the 7.0-inch screen is bright and easy to read, yet is clunky and slow, with your finger needing to precisely press the icons and with some pressure.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and you might find yourself using phone mirroring as the C3 doesn’t have satellite navigation, although there is an icon for it. We found connecting Bluetooth to be slow, taking over 30 seconds for the phone to be discovered. Bluetooth audio quality is great as heard from the phone, but the six-speaker stereo doesn’t produce the crispest sound.
In the back, leg room is fantastic; however, if you option the sunroof, head room is a bit compromised. The door opening size isn’t all that large, so climbing in for a broader person could be a struggle, or even trying to fit a baby seat in using the two ISOFIX points. Vision out the side windows (no pop-outs like the C4 Cactus, just electric) is fine, but looking forward is limited due to the wide front seats. There are no connections or air vents, just a lone sizeable cupholder that is large enough to double as a place for a phone.
The 300L boot is deep enough for a large suitcase. When folding down the seats, it grows to 922L, although they don’t fold enough to really make the most of the space, with the lip of the seats stopping you from pushing bigger items to the front of the car. A 15-inch temporary wheel is stored under the floor.
The C3 rides differently to how you would expect a crossover to. With any pothole, you typically brace for impact, but in this you don’t. In fact, the ride is that smooth on the 17-inch wheels, you would need to remind yourself it’s not a larger car. Due to the soft suspension, it does tend to roll around corners, though.
Its 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine makes 81kW of power and 205Nm of torque, with its race to 100km/h in 10.9 seconds. While it is a little rattly in the cabin, especially accelerating at low revs, it’s enough to get around the city perfectly fine. The Sport driving mode holds onto the revs a little longer, except it doesn’t increase the fun factor enough to drive with it for long periods of time. The button for it is also placed in a woeful spot, deep in the centre console, which means taking your eyes completely off the road.
The stop/start function kicks in about two seconds after coming to a complete stop, but once the engine starts back up, the car jumps forward, and more alarmingly, at one stage it jumped backward when stopped on a slant. It seemed even the hill holder didn’t do the job in this instance.
Citroen claims 4.9L/100km fuel consumption on the combined cycle, but with a mixture of freeway and peak-hour runs, we got a much higher reading of 7.4L/100km. While the PureTech engine under the bonnet won three consecutive International Engine of the Year awards in its class from 2015–2017, the transmission won’t be winning awards any time soon.
Unfortunately, the six-speed automatic transmission really lets down the C3. It is torque-converted, and in stop/start traffic it is one confused little gearbox. While it keeps the revs low at 2000rpm at 100km/h, it often changes down to fifth at 98km/h and doesn’t do it very smoothly, like every other gear change. Driving with this gearbox for the week we had it, we still didn’t get used to it. Sadly, Citroen doesn’t offer the six-speed manual found in the C4 Cactus, as it would improve the C3 considerably.
Warranty is an impressive five years/unlimited kilometres, with five years of roadside assistance. Its first service comes at 12 months/15,000km and is the same interval onwards. Recently, the C3 received a four-star safety rating conducted by Euro NCAP. Adult and child protection scored 88 and 83 per cent respectively, and a much lower 59 per cent for pedestrian protection and 58 per cent for safety assist, with thanks to the lack of AEB. For New Zealanders, it does come as an option, but not for Australia.
The C3’s unique design either turns heads or scratches heads, depending on your taste. It does stand out amongst the SUV crowd, especially with the colour choices, and that engine is genuinely a good thing.
Yes, there are a few ‘buts’ coming. It is a tad pricey, as are the options, the gearbox is hard to live with, and the lack of safety is something you would need to consider. However, if you’re just as quirky and bubbly as the C3, then it appears a match made in heaven.