Family life puts a big strain on the family car but these 7-seat used cars are well up to the challenge and great value too
What - Citroen C3
Where - Tuscany, Italy
Date - October 2009
Price - £10,800 - £16,200 (TBC)
Available - January 2010
Key rivals - Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Renault Clio, Peugeot 207, Volkswagen Polo
Gallery: Citroen C3
Citroen's second generation C3 has a whacking great windscreen. Will this see it to the top of the supermini sales charts?
We like - looks good, comfortable, compact, spacious, tries hard, Zenith windscreen unique
We don't like - oddly impractical in places, not a driver's car (but it's not supposed to be), windscreen may cause as many complaints as compliments
You might be surprised to learn Citroen has sold 2 million examples of the previous generation C3. We were. It has been hugely successful. Can't be easy to follow that. This is the new version.
The styling is evolutionary - not quite so cute, lines a little more complex, but the same basic egg-on-wheels shape. No point messing with a proven formula. Instead Citroen has concentrated on improving the quality and maximising space.
The new C3 is a centimetre shorter than the current Ford Fiesta, yet has the biggest boot in class. So it's small, but practical. Well, mostly - there are some surprising details that we almost want to call oversights; we'll come to these below. It also has a hint of wow.
This is embodied by the new Zenith windscreen. Standard on almost every model - entry-level and Airdream+ eco diesel miss out - this offers a massively increased amount of glass. As a result the windscreen stretches over the front seat occupants' heads - much like the previous generation Vauxhall Astra Panoramic. Is this a good thing? Let's find out...
As with the old model, the new C3 is available with a selection of modestly endowed petrol and diesel engines. We sampled the core 90hp HDi turbodiesel and range-topping 120hp VTi petrol. Both are 1.6-litre units. The petrol is zippy and enthusiastic - 0-62 in 8.9, 118mph flat out - but plagued slightly by an engine note that drones at higher revs.
Typical motorway speeds fall just below this point, but if you're heavier of foot expect to get annoyed. Or invest in ear-plugs. Refinement is otherwise commendably decent if not jaw-droppingly impressive. The petrol is expected to cost £600 less than the diesel. Despite this and the power deficit, we'd still buy the HDi. Citroen is well regarded for its turbodiesel tech.
With a 0-62mph time of 11.0 seconds and top speed of 112mph, the on-paper performance may seem comparatively sluggish. In reality, the diesel's extra torque - 158lb ft versus 118 - makes for a meatier mid-range. As a result progress is scarcely less rapid and certainly more relaxed. Refinement remains good, engine aurals balanced by a touch of road and wind noise; on board conversation is rarely troubled.
Ride and Handling
Wringing out a regular supermini on a challenging B-road can be massive fun - if the car (and your passengers...) are up for it. Sound like you? Then head to a Ford dealership. The Citroen C3 is not really that kind of car. It is comfortable and stable and generally well composed - up to a point.
Beyond this it starts to get flustered. Speed + uneven road surface and/or twiddly corners sees things getting out of shape pretty quickly. There just doesn't seem to be enough damping, and the composure swiftly crumbles. However, if you simply want to get from A to B without incident the C3 does a perfectly good job. Bumps are heard more than felt, the brakes are strong.
We preferred driving the diesel. The steering's a mite heavier and less springy, perhaps partially explained by the test car's larger (mildly ride compromising) 17-inch alloy wheels.
Both versions come fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox. This isn't exactly the ultimate in mechanical precision, but we had no problems finding our chosen ratio.
And so to the C3's interior - easily its strongest selling point. The dashboard layout is simple, and with our test cars' contrast colour central strip, good to look at as well.
The optional satellite navigation system is still blighted by the slightly over-complex and button-heavy control interface - touchscreens are the answer, people - but the display is clear and bright. More significantly, Citroen has worked on improving passenger space.
The C3 is a five-door only, and the easy access to the back seat is boosted by narrower front seats, adding an extra 3cm of legroom. It's still not hugely roomy - name a supermini that is - but if you've got especially long legs make sure you bag the space behind the front seat passenger.
Citroen has gone all Toyota iQ and scooped out a chunk of dashboard, freeing up a further 8cm of front passenger legroom, which can in turn help out the person behind. The floor feels rather high - not quite as knees up as a Mercedes A-Class, but surprisingly close. Oddly there are no cupholders, and some of the lower dash plastics hardly plush.
The aux-in and 12v sockets look like an afterthought, and while the 300-litre boot is certainly big the lip is rather high. Minor niggles, not really significant complaints. But what about that Zenith windscreen? It looks very flash, is progressively tinted to prevent the worst glare (and sunburn?), and covers quickly with a pull down shade. A unique selling feature in this sector to be sure. However, our driving partner found the additional glass initially unnerving - and he's apparently not the only one.
The design also compromises the sunvisors - hard plastic, they leave a gap and can't be repositioned to the side. It makes the roof seem like a bit of a gimmick.
And unfortunately it's a gimmick you're forced to live with, a standard feature, rather than an option. Nice try Citroen, and certainly different, but perhaps not entirely thought through.
Economy and Safety
When it comes to safety, Citroen has opted not to fit ESP as standard on all models. This has resulted in a four-star Euro NCAP crash rating. You can have up to six airbags.
Environmentally speaking, the 90hp diesel returns 65.7mpg combined while emitting 110g/km; the 120hp petrol manages 47.8mpg and 136g/km CO2. Other engines in the line-up are similarly competitive.
The real star is the 99g/km Airdream+ model, which uses a revised (and curiously more potent) version of the 1.6 HDi, and comes complete with aerodynamic and gearing tweaks.
This is available from launch. Stop&Start arrives later next year, along with five- and six-speed "clutchless" gearboxes and even more efficient three-cylinder engines - enabling a sub-120g/km petrol.
MSN Cars Verdict
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the new Citroen C3. It looks neat, in a short of miniaturised C4 Picasso sort of way, is clean, spacious, with a smart interior.
If you're after a relaxed drive with plenty of boot space, then take a look. We're just not totally sold on that windscreen, and feel the quest for style may have gone a little too far.
More images of the Citroen C3 from Bing
More information on the Citroen C3 from Car Guide
|Need to know|
|Engine petrol||1.1, 1.4 75hp, 1.4 95hp, 1.6 120hp|
|Engine diesel||1.4 70hp, 1.6 90hp, 1.6 90hp 99g/km, 1.6 110hp|
|Torque (lb ft)||70-199|
|Top speed (mph)||96-118|
|Rating (specific model)||Citroen C3 1.6 HDi 90hp Exclusive|
|Ride and handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||***|
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