Citroen is a brand undergoing a fairly serious overall at the moment. Some models are being culled other totally new vehicles are being released and others are being given comprehensive overhauls.
The C3 range falls into all three of those categories. The C3 Picasso mini-MPV is out, the C3 Aircross compact SUV is in (due October) and the C3 hatchback is unrecognisable from the blobby five-door model of old.
The C4 Cactus set out the current Citroen design approach and its quirky, stylish influence can be seen all over the C3. The exterior has a toned-down version of the innovative Airbump panels and shares the three-tiered front lighting arrangement which makes it stand out in much the same way it did the Cactus.
Citroen C3 Flair BlueHDI 100
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Top speed: 115mph
0-62mph: 10.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 95g/km
Inside the strap-like door pulls and rounded rectangle motif on doorcards and air vents also make their way across. Thankfully, though, some of the Cactus’s more annoying features have been done away with, so the touchscreen sits lower in the dash, allowing space for air vents above it. The instrument display, too, is a more sensible design with proper old-fashioned dials separated by a clear LCD info panel.
Overall the interior’s a smart and fresh-feeling place to sit. Our car had a gloss black finish to the dash and chrome-coloured highlights but as part of the colour pack options you can have anything from Power Orange to Almond Green to match the exterior paint. Our car also benefitted from the £400 panoramic glass roof, which stretched almost the whole length of the car and flooded it with light. Even without it the C3 still feels bright and spacious.
As good as the cabin is, the C3 can’t match class leaders for refinement. At higher speeds there’s a fairly obvious amount of road noise and the diesel engine has a distinctly gruff note under any load, although it’s much less obvious at a cruise. And while it isn’t the quietest unit ever there’s a healthy 187lb/ft of torque to make it flexible and smooth in operation.
While the exterior looks fun and exciting, the C3 isn’t a car for anyone who drives everywhere like their hair is on fire. In that very Citroen way, the ride and handling are set up for comfort first and foremost. It means there isn’t much driver engagement but even the worst road surfaces won’t upset those on board, which is welcome in this world when even family hatchbacks come with massive wheels and rubber-band tyres.
Our test car was in range-topping and best-selling Flair trim. For a small hatchback it’s well equipped with the likes of cruise control, automatic air con, a seven-inch touchscreen, 17-inch alloys and automatic lights and wipers as standard. There’s also the ingenious windscreen-mounted ConnectedCAM which allows you to safely take snapshot photos of your journey and save them to an app, as well as acting as a regular dashcam in the event of an accident. The sat nav, keyless start, panoramic roof and upgraded alloys fitted to our car upped the kit level but also pushed the price a long way from the range’s £11,300 starting price to nearly £20,000.
In fairness to Citroen, that’s around the same as a similarly-specified Ford Fiesta but to a tight-fisted git like me it seems like a lot for a B-segment hatchback.
The Fiesta has long been the segment leader and it has the C3 beaten on refinement and driving involvement but that’s not what Citroen’s going for here. In the areas it’s targeted – looks, equipment and comfort – there’s plenty to appreciate about the C3 and its slightly left-field approach.