The new Citroen C1 is up against some seriously strong rivals in the competitive city car class, such as the Volkswagen Up ( a former What Car? Car of the Year) and our current favourite, the Hyundai i10.
As if those two weren't enough to worry about, the C1 also has to take on its stablemates, the Toyota Aygo and Peugeot 108. With all three cars sharing the same basic engineering DNA, it's likely to be styling, pricing and the small details in spec and trim that will make the difference to customers.
Two three-cylinder petrol engines are on offer: a 1.0-litre 68bhp petrol available with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automated manual, plus a slightly pokier 1.2-litre petrol that produces 82bhp and emits 99g/km of CO2.
The entry-level motor, called VTi 68, also has the option of engine stop-start, which brings its emissions down to 88g/km. Mind you, if you want this low-emission model, or the bigger 1.2 engine, you have to go for top-spec Flair trim.
The C1 is available with three or five doors (the latter costs £400 extra) and there is also an open-top Airscape version, which comes with a retractable fabric roof. Citroen is at pains to avoid calling it a true convertible, though - which is just as well, because it isn't one.
What's the 2014 Citroen C1 like to drive?
We’ve driven both the 1.0 and 1.2-litre models, and there’s no getting away from the fact that both are quite noisy. Even in the 1.2, which didn’t have the Airscape roof, engine noise is a noticeable thrum in the background and there's a fair amount of wind flutter over the windscreen at high speeds.
That wind noise was only accentuated in the 1.0-litre car we drove, which did have the scrolling fabric roof, and the lower-powered engine is just as buzzy. Vibration is also noticeable through the C1’s steering wheel, pedals and seat bases, regardless of which engine you choose.
That’s not to say that the C1 is unbearably noisy – by city car standards it’s acceptable. It's quiet enough around town, and even at motorway speeds you’ll be able to have a conversation with your front passenger without having to raise your voice (unless you’ve got the Airscape roof open, when there is a lot of buffeting). Even so, there are more refined cars in the class, particularly the Hyundai i10.
More frustrating than any vibrations is the clutch, which is light, but has a vague, oddly high biting point. This, teamed with a fairly sensitive initial throttle response on both engines, means it can be a bit tricky to drive the C1 smoothly in stop-start traffic jams.
Once you’ve mastered the awkward clutch, you find that both 1.0 and 1.2 engines need working very hard to make progress. The 1.2 is quick enough around town, although you’ll have to change down through the rubbery-feeling five-speed gearbox quite regularly, and rev it noisily to make a clean getaway.
The 1.0 feels just as sprightly up to 30mph (and is also your only option if you want one of the lower-priced trims that we'd recommend). It's only worth going for the 1.2 if you regularly venture out on to fast A-roads or motorways, because in faster traffic or up steep inclines, the 1.0 really does feel frustratingly gutless.
On the plus side, the steering is light and responsive, ideal, in fact, for manoeuvring into tight parking spaces or for parallel parking in narrow streets. There's noticeable body lean through corners, but nothing alarming, and at low speeds the C1 soaks up the initial thunk over potholes quite well.
However, on the 15-inch alloys fitted to both our test cars, the C1 shimmied and fidgeted much of the time over typical British town roads, and skittered sideways momentarily over fast, mid-corner bumps too.
What's the 2014 Citroen C1 like inside?
It's clear Citroen has put some effort into the cabin, with a chance for owners to personalise the interior. You can choose a different colour for the dashboard centre console, air vent trims, door panel inserts and the gearlever surround.
On one of our test cars the roof was also in a different colour to the car's body; the roof fabric comes in three different colours: black, red, or grey, and you can get eight different body colours. Airscape models are also available with two-tone paint schemes.
There are three trim levels on offer - entry-level Touch, Feel and Flair - and Airscape models are offered in only the two top trims. All cars get hill start assist and six airbags as standard, while Touch comes with electric front windows, remote central locking, LED daytime running lights and a USB socket.
Move up to mid-range Feel – the trim we’d recommend - and you also get a seven-inch colour touch-screen, air-conditioning, steering wheel controls, body-coloured door mirrors and a DAB radio. Just add auto air-con, lights and heated, electrically adjustable wing mirrors, which comes as a pack for £300, and you’ve got the best value C1 in the range. However, for some buyers luxuries such as the reversing camera, leather-covered steering wheel and 15-inch alloys of top-spec Flair models will still be tempting.
There's plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, and the C1 now comes with driver's seat height adjustment, but the steering wheel still adjusts only for height. Despite looking the part, the front seats don’t offer much in the way of side bolstering or lumbar support.
What does impress, though, is the large panoramic area offered by the canvas soft-top roof; it opens up a gap of 800mm x 760mm, and the mechanism is easily operated by a ceiling panel switch. The roof can also be opened or closed whether the car is stationary or while driving, even at motorway speeds.
The seven-inch touch-screen infotainment system, called Touch Drive, controls the radio and your phone, via a Bluetooth connection. It also features smartphone mirror screening, which throws whatever is on your phone's screen to display on the car's touch-screen.
You have to install an app first that lets you connect to and share data via the car's USB socket. We used this in our test car for navigation with Google Maps. In theory it's a good idea, but there are some limitations; for example, you need to tell your phone not to go into sleep mode after a certain amount of time, because if it does so the car's screen will turn off, too. Even so, it’s the best touch-screen system in the city car class, and once you’ve familiarised yourself it’s easy to control all the major functions.
Things aren't so impressive in the back. Space is tight, especially for taller adults, who will find their knees digging into the front seatbacks under most circumstances. Depending on spec, the rear seats can either be folded as a single piece or in a 50/50 split. Whatever the configuration, with the seats folded, the increased load bay is nowhere near flat. The C1 also has a big drop from the load lip to the boot floor.
Upon first inspection the claimed boot capacity of 196 litres with the seats upright, extending to 780 litres with them folded down, seems impressive, given that the Toyota Aygo offers only 168 litres with the seats in place.
However, that 196-litre capacity is when the car is specced with a puncture repair kit hidden under the boot floor, not a spare wheel. True, it does offer some valuable extra space, and is useful for stowing smaller items, but it doesn't look or feel like an area that you would automatically consider using.
Should I buy one?
With prices starting from £8245 for the entry-level 68bhp three-door, the C1 is competitively priced, well-equipped, and is available from £99 per month on various finance deals. The funky looks, bright colours and fabric roof option also add a level of fashion consciousness to the C1 that’s sure to add heaps of appeal to younger buyers.
However, while there’s lots to like about the baby Citroen, there’s no getting away from the fact that there are other city cars that do a better job. After all, the C1 is let down by an unsettled ride, thrummy engines, and tight rear passenger space – niggling issues that you wouldn’t have in those rivals we’ve mentioned.
So, while the new C1 is definitely an improvement over its predecessor, it still continues to lag behind the class leaders in too many key areas.
Melanie Falconer/Vicky Parrott
What Car? says...
Citroen C1 1.0 VTi 68 Touch 3dr
Engine size 1.0-litre petrol
Price from £8245
Torque 70lb ft
0-62mph 14.3 seconds
Top speed 99mph
Fuel economy 68.9mpg
Citroen C1 1.0 VTi 68 Stop Start Flair 3dr
Engine size 1.0-litre petrol
Price from £10,435
Torque 70lb ft
0-62mph 14.3 seconds
Top speed 99mph
Fuel economy 74.3mpg
Citroen C1 1.2 PureTech 82 Flair
Engine size 1.2-litre petrol
Price from £10,535
Torque 86lb ft
0-62mph 11 seconds
Top speed 106mph
Fuel economy 65.7mpg