12:28 Thursday 02 January 2014

REVIEW: A bold French supermini with a luxurious twist - Citroen's new C3

Written byGARETH BUTTERFIELD

SMALL cars have a big job to do to stand out in the supermini sector, and Citroen’s handsome C3 is up against some fairly tough opposition.

It needs to be good enough to win over fans of small car royalty like the Ford Fiesta. The justifiably popular Kia Rio stands out as a strong competitor and, less obviously, Hyundai’s i20 is lulling more and more buyers away from the obvious European choices.

So that’s the bad news out of the way. The good news is that the C3 wades into battle suitably armed with a text-book plethora of standard equipment to woo buyers away from the rivals.

The overall package with the C3 represents an emerging trend for Citroen, one which helps it stand out as the more luxurious and individual option.

Of course, it rides beautifully and has excellent visibility – same as can be said for any Citroen – but a lot of the features that would often have been referred to as ‘quirks’ are being taken more and more seriously with every new model the French firm launches.

Take, for example, the C3’s panoramic windscreen.

It wasn’t long ago such a nice feature would have been unheard of in a small car but it’s practically a standard-fit item across the C3 range.

It’s a lovely thing to have on any car and, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s going to lead to excessive glare or too much heat entering the cabin, as there’s a blind which slides down (with the sun visors still attached) to cover the section above the driver.

It adds to the overall feeling of quality you get when you sit in the C3.

There’s lots of nice materials and it’s all very attractively styled, with an easy-to-use infotainment system and a good stereo.

It feels very grown up for a supermini but there’s still plenty of youthful French design flair to brighten it up.

On the whole, there’s plenty of space. The boot is on the small side of generous but it’s not bad and rear seat passengers have plenty of room to move around.

Up-front the driving position is easy to alter and make comfortable and all the controls are light and within easy grasp.

There’s some useful storage areas if you poke around a bit and you’re likely to be impressed right up to the point you open the glove box.

Sadly, this is very small. It’s a small-Citroen trait, rather than move the fuse box in their righthand drive models, they simply shrink the glove box to fit around it.

It’s not useless but it’s a shame, nevertheless.

On the road, the driving experience is nothing to write home about. Its light controls make for a pleasant, if not exciting driving experience but it’s the ride comfort that will impress most.

It’s as good in the town as it is on the open road and is another feature that helps the C3 stand out.

Thanks to a few recent additions to its engine range, the C3’s other trump card is in the fuel economy stakes.

It needs to be able to put in a strong set of figures as this is one of the areas of the supermini domain it will find its biggest struggle in, such is the fierceness of the competition in the supermini sector.

But the units on offer range from a clever 67bhp 1.0-litre VTi PureTech good for 65.7mpg, through to the brilliant 1.4-litre eHDi Airdream which Citroen say is good for 83.1mpg and, more importantly, emitting a tax-free 87g/km of CO2.

All the diesels manage to stay within the magic 100g/km barrier, even the top spec 115bhp 1.6 HDI unit in my test model.

None of the powerplants have the wherewhital to take on the boyracers in the traffic light Grand Prix - the C3 is built to deliver impressive fuel economy rather than blistering 0-60mph performance - but there’s enough grunt in most of the engine line-up to ensure it can keep up with modern road pace.

Trim levels range from VT to Exclusive with the VTR spec taking up middle-ground. Don’t let the iconic three letters fool you, however, this is never going to be a sporty hot hatch – if you’re after driving thrills look past the rather sensible C3 and opt for the DS3 – which shares many parts but adds a dose of sporting sparkle into the mix.

In its own right, the C3 makes a very good case for itself.

Prices start at around £11,000 which is an acceptable benchmark in this sector and its quality feel and comfortable ride help it stand out from rivals that might offer more for less or promise a more involving drive.

More than anything, though, it offers something absent from nearly all the other superminis - character.

And you can’t put a price on that.

(Model tested) Exclusive e-HDi 115 Airdream

Engine: 1,560CC diesel

Size: (L) 3,941 mm (W) 1,728 mm (H) 1,538 mm

Maximum speed: 118mph

0-62mph 9.7seconds

MPG: Urban: 61.4, Extra-urban: 83.1, Combined: 74.4

Emissions: 99g/km

Boot space: 300 litres

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