Citroen's C3 has been revitalised with hi-tech three cylinder petrol engines and BlueHDi diesel technology. Jonathan Crouch checks it out
Citroen's second generation C3 supermini has been with us since 2009, but the French brand has never stopped trying to improve it. In 2013, the car was facelifted and a frugal range of three cylinder Pure Tech petrol units added under the bonnet, borrowed from its cousin, the Peugeot 208. Now, this car's diesel range has been revitalised too, the latest generation BlueHDi units added in to further improve fuel consumption and reduce emissions. If Citroen can get that message across to potential buyers, it could make all the difference to their sales prospects in this segment. This model is, after all, already rather refreshing in its refusal to prioritise the 'sportiness' that other brands seem to feel is necessary in their small runabouts. The French brand has its more dynamic DS brand with that marque's sporty three-door DS3 model to provide that. Leaving this five-door C3 to create its own distinct, more laid-back market niche as something smartly fashionable that offers higher quality and greater comfort than a Fiesta without the potential priceyness of a Polo. Sounds tempting? Then join us as we put this French contender to the test.
The significant changes to this improved second generation C3 mostly lie beneath the bonnet. Citroen has been able to borrow the light, revy little three cylinder 'Pure Tech' petrol engines that add so much spark to Peugeot's rival 208 supermini and they really transform this car's buying proposition for green pump buyers. First up is a 1.0-litre 68bhp unit that needs to be revved quite hard if you're to get anywhere near the quoted performance figures (rest to 62mph in 14.2s en route to just 101mph). Much better is the 1.2-litre 82bhp version of this unit, the variant we tried. This delivers the same distinctive three cylinder thrum but accompanies it with pokier performance. It also gives you the option of the brand's ETG semi-automatic gearbox. On to the latest BlueHDi diesel options: there are two. Most potential buyers will be looking at the 75bhp unit here, but at the top of the range at the priciest trim evel, a 100bhp version of this frugal unit is also offered. And on the move? Well small French cars used to ride beautifully, grip tenaciously and flow from corner to corner with relaxed, unflustered motion. As, by and large, this one does. It may come as news to some motoring journalists but most supermini buyers don't routinely want to throw their cars about as if they were on stage from the RAC Rally. What most of them would prefer is a model that rolls the red carpet over the average appallingly surfaced British road. As this one does.
Design and Build
It's quite smart isn't it, with sleeker looks that were improved by this car's mid-life facelift, an update that brought a bolder front end emphasised by this double chevron grille. Owners of the original second generation version may also notice trendy LED daytime running lights and this body-coloured splitter in the lower air intake. At the rear, there are sleeker tail lights and some neat reflectors fitted to the bumper. As before with this second generation C3, features like the bulbous roof and the low side windowline give the cabin an airy feel that makes it feel bigger than it is, something that'll be further emphasised if you get yourself a car fitted with a clever 'Panoramic Zenith windscreen'. This extends the top of the screen upwards into the roof, increasing the front passengers' field of vision from 28 to 108-degrees. Up front, there are classy analogue instruments - now with smarter white-backlit dials - plus solid expensive-looking plastics, flashes of chrome to liven things up and a neat strip across the dashboard that's available in a selection of colours. Take a seat at the back and as usual with a car in this class, there's space for two adults or three children to sit comfortably. Out back, and rather astonishingly given the tight exterior dimensions, you'll find one of the largest luggage bays in the supermini segment, though there's quite a high loading lip to negotiate before you can access it. At 300-litres in size, it's 10% bigger than a Fiesta's boot and offers nearly as much room as you'd find in a Ford Focus from the next class up.
Market and Model
List pricing suggests that you'll be paying somewhere in the £11,000 to £17,000 bracket across the five-door-only C3 line-up. That's par for the course amongst superminis, but of course Citroen dealers are well renowned for their readiness to sharpen their pencils. There's a choice of four trim levels - 'VT', 'VTR+', 'Selection' and 'Exclusive'. At the bottom of the range, there's a quite a large £2,500 premium to go from the base 1.0-litre petrol version to the base 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel, that black pump-fueled model coming with a £13,500 price tag that might be better spent on the almost-as-frugal VTi 82 petrol variant we tried. Further up the range, the BlueHDi 100 diesel engine is impressively efficient but costs nearly £17,000. If you want an automatic with Citroen's slightly jerky ETG semi-auto unit, you'll have to have the PureTech 82 petrol engine and VTR+ trim - and a price tag of around £14,000. Whichever model you opt for - 1.0 or 1.2-litre three cylinder petrol or BlueHDi 75 or 100 diesel - you should find this Citroen to be decently equipped. All models get a good quality CD stereo with at least four speakers, steering wheel-mounted controls and an aux-in socket, power front windows and mirrors, split-folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a multi-function trip computer and a 12v socket.
Cost of Ownership
Almost every fashionable type of technology has been thrown at this car to drive its running costs down and, as you'd expect, the best returns can be acieved from the BlueHDi diesel models. Go for the entry-level BlueHDi 75 variant and you can expect 80.7mpg on the combined cycle and 90g/km of CO2. if you're able to stretch to the top BlueHDi 100 model, then the fgures are even better - 83.1mpg and 87g/km of CO2. Don't automatically sign on the dotted line for a diesel though, particularly if, like many supermini owners, you don't cover a huge number of annual miles. In the Pure Tech petrol range, the entry-level 68bhp 1.0-litre unit delivers 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2, while even the far pokier 1.2-litre VTi 82bhp unit we tried manages 61.4mpg and 107g/km. Go for the same car with the ETG automatic gearbox and the figures improve to 65.7mpg and 99g/km. It all means that at last in a C3, petrol power could very well make the most sense.
The improved version of this second generation C3 supermini is a far more buyable prospect - and that's mainly due to the fresh options it offers under the bonnet. Most looking at a car of this kind come in search of super-efficient running costs: previously, this Citroen couldn't offer that at class-leading levels but with the clever Pure Tech three cylinder petrol options and BlueHDi diesel units now on offer, that's been properly put right. With this technology in place, it's high time small car buyers took a fresh look at what's on offer here. True, as superminis go, this isn't an orthodox choice, but then that's part of its appeal. In time honoured Citroen fashion, a C3 is just that little bit different, with smart, slightly quirky looks and, if specified, that uniquely clever extended windscreen. What it lacks in driving dynamism, it makes up for in quality, refinement and a cosseting ride. Indeed, I can think of few sensibly-sized small cars better suited to urban motoring than this one. Overall then, the C3 is at last a strong contender in the supermini marketplace. Best of all perhaps, it's a car that's distinctively Citroen.