Citroën focuses on design, comfort and infotainment for its new supermini

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Compact, practical and affordable cars such as the Citroen C3 have become the cornerstone of Citroën’s business in the UK.

Its previous homage to a Parisian brand of style and glamour has been assimilated by DS, while saloons and SUVs are left to PSA Group sister firm Peugeot.

First seen on the C4 Cactus, the idiosyncratic Airbumps are standard on the range-topping Flair and optional in mid-level Feel trim

MPVs now dominate the more expensive end of Citroën’s line-up, with the Citroen C3 Picasso and Citroen C4 Cactus somewhere in the middle and the Citroen C1 propping things up at the bottom. And if the hole that leaves for the C3 is a fairly unmistakable one, then so too is the pressure on it to generate a large share of sales volume.

In the past, Citroën has succeeded by making its supermini conspicuously spacious and, because the DS 3 has become the desirable three-door variant by substitution, doggedly innocuous to look at.

The approach has resulted in 3.6 million European sales since 2002. That’s behind the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo, of course, but healthy enough nonetheless.

Which makes the styling direction of this new model all the more interesting. Its predecessor looked rather like the forgettable car it replaced; the follow-up, while closely related underneath, is outwardly quite different.

Not only does it enlarge the C1’s cutesy front end but it also adopts the C4 Cactus’s Airbump flanks. Throw in two-tone paint and it’s readily apparent that Citroën is actively seeking a more style-conscious sort of customer.

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No matter what you make of the C3’s new appearance, this approach is to be encouraged. Fun, affordable small models are at the cornerstone of our enthusiasm for the car as a means of transport.

Citroën has apparently followed the same progressive line of thinking underneath, eschewing the Fiesta/Mini brand of knife-edge handling for something softer and kinder from a revised chassis.

There’s considerably more technology aboard, too, and the inclusion of a social media-friendly dash cam probably reveals most of what you need to know about the C3’s market placement.

So, is it daringly different or a tarted-up reheat?

Citroen C3 design & styling

New levels of comfort and personality are the promises made by Citroën when it talks of the C3’s ‘renewal’.

This latest model receives a glut of signature features designed to lift it above the supermini morass.

The new nose, while recognisable, takes the C3 in a radically different direction from that of the old car. By joining the model at the hip with the smaller C1, Citroën has, in effect, announced a bolder design language for its small cars, one characterised by the Airbumps that were such a key feature of the C4 Cactus.

Considered alongside wheel arch extensions and a floating roof (or one alternatively coloured, at any rate), that language borrows liberally from a design lexicon normally associated with SUVs.

This ensures that the C3 has a notably different look from that of, say, a Fiesta or a Polo, no matter whether you think the result is a success or not.

It’s worth pointing out, too, that the look is very much dependent on trim level: the entry-level car, shorn of most of the features mentioned, is demonstratively more humble than the range-topper.

Underneath the much-altered body is essentially the same chassis and platform as before. Citroën describes its PF1 platform as ‘proven’, which is a nice way of saying that it’s been around for nearly 15 years.

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There has been some mild fettling here, notably the inclusion of a crossbar under the seats to improve safety in the event of a side impact, but it is not substantially different. Nor is the suspension, consisting of front MacPherson struts and a rear twist beam, although Citroën has reportedly revised the spring and damper rates with the intent of offering a more compliant ride than that of the previous model.

The engine line-up is studiously on-brand, too: a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol unit in a choice of three outputs and a 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel in two different guises.

Even in the C3’s lustiest format, the 1.2 Puretech 110 on test here, Citroën claims 61.4mpg combined fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 103g/km; for the lower-powered diesel, those figures are 80.7mpg and 92g/km.

That’s all very worthy, but the firm’s marketing noise is reserved for the debut of ConnectedCAM Citroën, a wide-angle video camera sited behind the rear-view mirror, from where it records the view ahead.

Ostensibly this is for automatically generated evidence in a collision, but it is the capacity to take pictures and record up to 20 seconds of video at will, and then instantly upload them to social media, that makes for the system’s true selling point. 


Citroën C3 interior

The same ‘son of Cactus’ vibe given off by the C3’s exterior is equally apparent as you settle into the flat but comfortable cloth-covered driver’s seat.

The car’s hip point is obviously lower than that of the Citroen C4 Cactus, but you sit in a similar bent-legged posture, with your thighs unexpectedly well supported by inclined cushions.

Seems odd that you can spend more than £17k on a C3 with a steering wheel in gold-coloured leather but still get a garden storage-quality plastic handbrake

There’s colour and visual interest in generous supply. The red fascia decoration of our Flair test car is an optional extra, but we like the contrast-coloured door bins, in which contents are easier to spot than they might otherwise be in a darker cubby. And we remain fans of the designer luggage-themed door pulls, which are better placed here than in the C4 Cactus, in that they don’t interfere with knee space.

The orientation of the controls isn’t exactly typical of a French supermini, but that’s no bad thing. The C3 has more steering column reach adjustment than even a 6ft 3in driver needs and well-placed pedals.

The analogue instruments are simple and clear, and while there’s a digital speedo in the centre of the monochrome drive display screen, it’s not included at the expense of a proper speedo dial.

The centre stack is dominated by a touchscreen infotainment system, which, while we have reservations about the way it works, does at least keep much of the rest of the fascia free from switchgear.

USB and aux-in jacks are at the foot of that stack, as is a 12V power outlet, but it’s a shame Citroën has done such an average job of providing storage space nearby. The cupholders, for example, are barely big enough for cups, let alone anything extra.

Further aft, the news isn’t quite so good. The C3 has a below-par amount of passenger space in the second row, with enough room for small adults and children only.

Boot space is more competitive in outright terms, but loading and unloading is made tricky by a deep load lip. Citroën offers both a boot mat and a waterproof boot tray as dealer-fit accessories but no variable-height boot floor.

The latter might have mitigated the effect of that load lip and made through-loading, past the car’s not-quite-flat-folding back seats, easier.

The C3 follows the lead set by other PSA Group cars in the past few years, whereby the air conditioning, stability control and other secondary systems are controlled via the touchscreen rather than console buttons.

Citroën says everything being in the same place makes life easier, but in practice that’s not always so. For example, adjusting the air-con — which ought to be possible almost without taking your eyes off the road — becomes unnecessarily complicated.

The C3’s major innovation is a GoPro-style dash cam hidden behind the rear-view mirror. It continuously records video of the road ahead in case you should need evidence of an accident or just want to tweet a photo from your drive. It’s standard on Flair trim and optional on lower-spec Feel.

Citroën’s 7.0in ConnectNav system looks better than previous PSA Group efforts, is slightly more responsive and is now compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. There are still some frustrations when using it, though, one being that you can’t input an address via postcode on the sat-nav.


1.2-litre Citroën C3 Puretech engine

We didn’t get the chance to put our test C3 on the weighbridge, but it certainly performed with the zeal of a relatively light, small hatchback well provisioned for power and torque.

Despite a small relative weight penalty, a small deficit on peak power and relatively trickier test conditions, the Citroën outperformed the last comparable turbocharged petrol supermini we fully road tested – the Suzuki Baleno 1.0T – when accelerating from 0-60mph, from 30-70mph through the gears and over the same sprint in fourth gear.

Generous torque allows the C3 to hold third on the steep climbs, despite fairly tall gearing for a supermini

The Citroën doesn’t rely on particularly short gearing for that peppy, willing turn of foot, either. In fact, its gearing is longer than that of the Suzuki and longer even than plenty of similarly powerful six-speed rivals in top gear.

Instead, the C3 relies on torque – a very healthy 151lb ft of it – which arrives after the same turbo lag we’ve grown used to from the PSA Group’s 1.2-litre turbo triple but always with dependable stoutness across a wide band of revs.

As is typical of the three-cylinder breed, the engine runs quite roughly at idle but revs willingly and more smoothly above 1500rpm, and it has all the audible character you’d want from a cheery French supermini, making it a near-perfect fit for the C3.

It’s a great shame, then, that it’s not matched to a more pleasant-feeling gearbox. The cable-operated five-speed manual unit in the C3 feels baggy and unnecessarily long of throw, too often baulking and going slack on its way across the gate, leaving you no option but to return the lever to its former position, re-engage the clutch and try again. The gearboxes of even relatively cheap superminis can and must feel better than this.

There’s not a long wrong with the C3’s range-topping petrol engine on efficiency, though. It proved capable of topping 60mpg on our touring economy test, suggesting that the car will be as punchy, or as frugal, as owners are likely to want.


Citroën C3 cornering

An obliging lightness of control weights, a softness of gait and supple ride isolation characterise the way the C3 conducts itself on the road.

In a modern supermini, these things do feel somewhat contrived – and even if they’re perfectly executed, we’re not convinced that they are necessarily the way to make a small car manageable, comfortable and easy to use either in town or out of it.

Transmission bumps create some harsh thumps in the cabin but don’t cause bump-steer or destabilise the car

But it’s an academic point because, here in the new C3, they’re ideals gestured at or grasped for but ultimately only imperfectly delivered.

The car’s suspension feels not only soft but also long of travel on most roads and at most speeds. The set-up deals with bigger, gentler intrusions well, particularly sleeping policemen around town, and also keeps the car’s body fairly level at B-road speeds.

But before long – about as long, in fact, as it takes to hit a shorter and more severe bump in the road – you realise that this is quite a basic kind of comfort and compliance delivered by an absence of damping rather than a clever, progressive interpretation of it.

The ride turns noisy and quite crashy over sharper edges, although wheel control is never bad enough to allow tyres to part company with asphalt at normal speeds.

As you’d expect from a car thus suspended, the chief price to be paid is in terms of handling response. So while the C3 steers with decent overall pace, it takes a while to roll, settle on its outside wheels and really heel into a corner.

Such sleepiness of directional response feels particularly strange in a small car, and it’s exacerbated here by an over-assisted steering system that makes the car’s handling feel a bit vague as you turn in and imprecise as your speed increases.

High-speed stability is nonetheless better here than it is in the Citroen C4 Cactus, with the C3 declining to adopt the wandering line that its sibling can assume on the motorway and instead tracking much straighter.

But overall, you’d still say the C3’s curious dynamic compromise costs it considerably more than it’s worth.

The C3’s relaxed springing and apparently even more relaxed damping lead you to expect little when you really throw it around, and perhaps that’s why adequacy and creditable security feels like a victory. But whatever the reason, the car could fare worse here.

Yes, there’s lots of roll when you commit to a tight corner at speed, but the extremes of understeer you expect to follow don’t ever materialise. The car stays fairly true to your intended path, although you have to work relatively hard to keep it on line, doing more with the steering wheel as the body leans.

The front tyres will begin to run out of grip as you feed power back in on corner exit, but the car’s stability control system keeps the front end from getting away with a decent level of progressiveness and subtlety. Above 25mph, it’s an always-on ESP set-up — but in this car at least, that’s probably as it should be.


Citroën C3

With the determinedly upmarket DS brand above it, Citroën is overtly targeting a more budget-conscious customer.

Consequently, while you can’t have a DS 3 for much less than £15,000, the entry-level five-door C3, with a normally aspirated version of the Puretech engine, is less than £12k.

CAP expects the C3 to fare better than the Polo or Clio if you buy now — which is no mean feat for Citroën

However, as that Touch model does away with alloys and includes manual air-con, it will be about as popular as the Zika virus in the UK.

Realistically, the range starts at mid-level Feel, where you get the choice of every engine, plus a 7.0in touchscreen and 16in alloys as standard. However, you’ll need to fork out extra for the Airbumps.

The costliest Flair model tested comes with the lot but cannot be bought with the lower-powered diesel engine.

The difference between it and the more powerful BlueHDi 100 in terms of running costs is piffling, though, the latter offering sub-100g/km CO2 emissions too and 76.3mpg combined. But it starts north of £17k – more than you’d pay for a five-door Mini One D.

The Puretech 110 Flair is slightly more affordable at just under £16k, but even that is sufficient to include the five-door Mini hatchback Cooper and outgoing Ford Fiesta 1.0T Titanium as direct rivals. Which is another
way of saying that a potential buyer’s fondness for the C3’s Airbumps needs to be pretty significant.

If you remain keen on a C3 then we recommend biting the bullet and opting for the Flair model with the mid-range petrol engine.


3.5 star Citroën C3

We’re on the cusp of a massive year for the supermini.

But while expectations will be high for the all-new Nissan Micra and Ford Fiesta, it’s not unreasonable to say the C3 exists in a rather less pressured environment – because, while there have been great Citroën superminis over the years, there has never been a great C3.

Dynamically challenged, but cheery design makes the C3 interesting

And there still isn’t. But this new C3 improves on the underachievement of those before it by looking (and appealing) like a true Citroën.

It sports abundant alternative design charm that is evident both inside and out, while feeling equally alternative – and not a little charming and authentic to the brand’s heritage – to drive.

The C3’s substance remains somewhat disappointing in the key areas of passenger space, the quality of the cabin materials, infotainment usability and ride and handling sophistication. Which is why it won’t trouble our top five superminis – in case you are interested consists of the Renault Clio, Volkswagen Polo, Mazda 2, Mini Cooper and our class leader the Ford Fiesta.

But the car feels at last like it has been set on the right path, and while it’s no longer quite the bargain it once was, we wouldn’t necessarily advise anyone against buying one if they have fallen for its particular and peculiar charms.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Citroen C3 2016-2024 First drives