What Car? says...
Some people are happy with cheese on toast, while others want croque monsieur – and you can look at the Citroën C3 in a similar way. It has the same basic ingredients as other small cars but their presentation is a bit different.
That's partly thanks to the C3's extrovert styling, but also the numerous colour combinations for the roof, bumper inserts, door mirrors and trademark Citroën air bumps. Those bumps are simply wide strips of rubberised plastic applied to parts of the body that are prone to dings and scrapes – they're helpful as protection against rogue shopping trolleys in supermarket car parks and the like.
The most recent update gave the Citroën C3 even more scope for customisation, and buyers can now choose from a whopping 97 exterior colour combinations. You can even have a two-tone paint scheme, matching one of the four roof colours with a range of contrasting tones for the main body of the car.
As part of that update, the model was also treated to a bit of a nip and tuck. The air bumps were redesigned, the front end was sharpened up, the lines of the wheelarch extensions have been smoothed out and LED headlights are now fitted as standard.
Aside from its funky looks, is the Citroën C3 a good enough small car in key areas to make it worth considering over rivals including the Dacia Sandero, the Ford Fiesta, the Seat Ibiza and the VW Polo? And which engine and trim selections make the most sense? That's what we'll tell you over the next few pages of this review.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The pick of the Citroën C3 engine range has to be the 108bhp 1.2-litre petrol (badged PureTech 110). With a 0-62mph time of 9.4sec, it has plenty of pep to its step whether you’re nipping into a gap on a roundabout or merging on to the motorway. Yes, there is a cheaper PureTech 83, but this feels underpowered and you often need to use full power just to keep up with traffic.
Meanwhile, the 99bhp 1.5-litre diesel (badged BlueHDi 100) has plenty of shove from low revs, but since this engine is much more expensive than the PureTech 110, it's very hard to recommend unless you do an awful lot of miles.
The PureTech 83 and BlueHDi 100 come as standard with a manual gearbox, but rather strangely, our favourite engine, the PureTech 110, comes as standard with an automatic. To get the PureTech 110 with a manual you need to step up to range topping Shine Plus trim.
Suspension and ride comfort
Citroën has gone soft with the C3, choosing to make its suspension squidgy and with plenty of travel. As a result, it lollops over bigger bumps, bouncing you skyward and then sucking you back down to the ground again. If you're thinking that sounds a bit uncomfortable, you're right – it is.
And because the body control is so loose, the car never really stops moving around, even over smaller undulations. To make matters worse, over potholes and sharp-edged bumps, there's often a nasty jolt as the suspension struggles to cope. The Dacia Sandero, the Seat Ibiza and the VW Polo are far more comfortable.
Because of its super-soft suspension, the C3 feels rather more old-fashioned to drive than its sharp looks would suggest, with huge amounts of body lean through corners. And while the steering is relatively accurate, it's far too light to give you much confidence when driving on faster roads.
As a result, you have to really concentrate on placing the nose of the car through corners. The process is far more intuitive in other small cars including the Sandero, the Ibiza and the Polo. They feel far more composed through corners too.
Noise and vibration
The C3’s petrol engines tend to be quite thrummy, but no more so than rivals that also use three-cylinder engines. You're more aware of the noise in the PureTech 83 than the 110 because the 83 needs to be worked harder. The diesel BlueHDi 100 is gruff and sends plenty of vibration through the pedals and steering wheel.
Manual versions are hard to drive smoothly in town because the brake and clutch pedals aren’t very positive, and the gearbox has a vague long-throw shift. The light and precise manual gearbox in the Ford Fiesta is much better. The automatic gets around this, but you’ll feel some vibrations during low-speed parking manoeuvres, as well as some jerkiness when pulling away from a stop.
If you release the brake quickly on an incline, the C3 has a tendency to roll before the stop-start system has had a chance to restart the engine. Wind and tyre noise are not excessive compared with other small cars, though.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Along with the usual backrest angle adjustment, the Citroën C3’s driver's seat offers height adjustment, while the steering wheel can be moved up and down, as well as in and out. If you want lumbar support you’ll need to step up to Shine Plus trim, which introduces what Citroën calls its ‘Advanced Comfort seats’. They feel similar to an armchair – your bottom sinks into the pillow-soft cushion, while your thighs rest in a somewhat elevated position.
On manual versions, the clutch footrest is in a narrow gap between the clutch pedal and the car's central tunnel, and if you wear anything larger than a size nine shoe, it traps your foot.
Most controls are conventionally placed and easy to access, the heating and ventilation controls are confined to the touchscreen display (unless you go for the entry-level You! trim). That makes them tricky to use when you're driving. The steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo, cruise control and speed limiter functions do work well, though.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The fairly slim windscreen pillars leave your view forwards reasonably unobstructed. The over-the-shoulder view is rather less impressive, though, because the C3’s tapering roof and up-swept side windows create sizeable blind-spots.
C-Series Edition trim and up gets a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors to help with reversing. Bright LED headlights are fitted across the range, and offer better illumination at night than most rivals that only have dimmer halogen lights.
Sat nav and infotainment
The entry-level You! trim gets a 5.0in monochrome infotainment touchscreen, but every other C3 has a 7.0in touchscreen with DAB radio, Bluetooth, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring.
If you want a built in sat-nav, you’ll need to step up to range-topping Shine Plus trim, which gives you access to a TomTom system with live traffic updates. You get a three-year ‘live’ subscription before you have to renew, but we’d rather use the much slicker Google Maps app for free.
The 7.0in screen is something of a disappointment. It doesn’t have the contrast or crispness in its graphics you might hope for. The delay between pressing an icon and anything actually happening is frustratingly long. The Seat Ibiza and the VW Polo have quicker and more intuitive infotainment systems.
The C3 doesn’t feel as robust inside as the Ibiza, let alone the Polo. The switches simply aren’t as well damped and the surfaces feel cheaper. However, the look of the interior is at least distinctive, with neat touches such as faux-leather door pulls to lift the ambience.
C-Series trim comes with a soft-touch dashboard finish, while range-topping Shine Plus gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gearstick and handbrake lever, plus a strange soft-touch wood-effect trim (called Techwood) on the dashboard. That sets it apart from the more strait-laced Polo.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s little to quibble over where front seat space in the Citroën C3 is concerned. Even tall occupants will find head and leg room to spare, and as small cars go, the shoulder room between you and your front passenger isn’t bad, either.
The door pockets aren’t vast, but will each take a small bottle of water laid on its side. There are also a couple of cup holders in front of the gearlever for your latte, and a place to store your phone near the USB port. Unfortunately, the glove box is small because it also houses the C3’s fusebox.
Rear-seat space isn’t one of the C3’s strengths: head room is below-par and leg room is mediocre. It’s fine for kids, but if you regularly carry adults in the back, particularly ones of above average height, the roomier Dacia Sandero, Seat Ibiza and Skoda Fabia are better choices.
Storage wise, all models come with small rear door bins, while Elle and Shine Plus trims give you map pockets on the backs of the front seats.
Seat folding and flexibility
Seating flexibility is all about clever adjustments that give the car more comfort and versatility, and the C3’s seats don’t really add much of either.
The front passenger doesn’t get seat-height adjustment or adjustable lumbar support, only the usual manual lever fore and aft movement, and backrest recline.
It’s the same in the rear. Unlike the Honda Jazz – which offers all sorts of seating combinations to help you find the right balance between carrying luggage or passengers – the C3 just comes with folding rear seat backs, split 60/40.
Access to the C3's boot isn't the easiest, with a rather narrow aperture and a big internal lip (there's no height-adjustable boot floor).
Once you've navigated those obstacles, the load bay itself is a surprisingly decent sized. We managed to fit five carry-on suitcases under its parcel shelf – two more than you’ll fit in the Kia Picanto and one less than you’ll fit in a Sandero or Fabia.
You can extend the boot by dropping the 60/40 split-folding rear seats, but when they’re down, they form a sizeable step in the floor of the extended load bay. That adds to the strain of heaving bulky items in or out.
Accessibility & Motability
Usability for people with disability or their carers
Motability - Access
If you like to sit up high, the Citroën C3 is the small car for you. Even with the seat at its lowest setting (626mm) C3 drivers sit higher than they would in some rivals with the seat as high as it will go. Set the seat to its maximum, and you'll be a lofty 658mm from the ground.
It's a shame that the doors don't open more widely, though. An opening angle of just 62 degrees means the Citroën has a narrower door aperture than most of its peers. For example, the Vauxhall Corsa front doors open to 71 degrees.
Another potential issue is the height of the door sills. You'll need to step over a 412mm sill – much higher than usual for this type of car. It's a shame the C3's high seating position hasn't been combined with lower sills to make stepping inside easier.
There's a fairly high sill to deal with when getting out, too, with a 122mm step from the floor to the door sill. In the Nissan Micra the equivalent distance is just 86mm, and in the Ford Fiesta it's 97mm.
Motability - Storage
At 782mm from the ground, the C3’s boot entrance is unusually high for a small car, and there's a sizable drop of 241mm to the boot floor. That could put a strain on your back when loading the boot.
Wheelchair users will find that a folded chair will fit in the boot if the back seats are in use. A fully assembled chair won't fit, though, whether the back seats are up or folded down.
Motability - Ease of use and options
If you need an automatic gearbox in your car, the C3 range doesn't give you a lot of choice: the only engine available as an automatic is the PureTech 110 petrol. Fortunately, that's one of the best engines in the range.
Among the optional extras we'd consider are Citroën's integrated dashcam, although it’s a shame that this is only available if you splash out for Shine Plus spec. Rear parking sensors can be added to the basic Sense model and are standard throughout the rest of the range.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The entry-level Citroën C3, called the You!, undercuts almost every small car rival except the Dacia Sandero. The only problem is that it comes with next to no standard kit and can only be had with the underpowered PureTech 83 1.2 petrol engine. If you’re on a budget, we’d point you towards the better equipped Sandero, which is also cheaper on PCP finance.
The 1.5-litre diesel (badged BlueHDi 100) is the most frugal engine, but not by a great deal. It’s also less refined than our favoured 1.2 petrol (badged PureTech 110), so we don't think it's worth the extra.
Whether you choose petrol or diesel, all C3s offer official fuel consumption and CO2 figures that rival the very best in the class. It’s just a shame that servicing and insurance aren’t the cheapest and that it’s predicted to suffer from depreciation at a greater rate than more ‘premium’ rivals such as the Seat Ibiza and VW Polo.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level You! trim is essentially a stripped out version of the C3, allowing it to undercut almost every other rival – but the only ‘luxuries’ it includes are cruise control, manual air-conditioning and heated side mirrors. The similarly priced Dacia Sandero Expression looks much better value.
We'd step up to the C3's C-Series trim. It gets a 7in touchscreen infotainment system, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, automatic air-con, 16in alloy wheels and electronically folding side mirrors. Mid-level Elle trim brings other goodies, including a leather-wrapped steering wheel, advanced comfort seats, gloss-black exterior highlights and automatic headlights and wipers.
At the top of the range is Shine Plus trim. It pushes the price up by a reasonable chunk, but for that you get AEB, a rear-view mirror that dims automatically so you don't get dazzled and faux-wood trim. It's also the only way to get our favourite PureTech 110 engine with a manual gearbox.
Every C3 comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, although you can get a longer five years or 100,000 miles policy if you buy online. Either way, you get one year’s breakdown cover too.
Safety and security
The C3 received only four stars out of five in its safety appraisal by Euro NCAP. That might sound like a good score, but most rivals get five stars (the exception is the Sandero, which received two stars).
Disappointingly, only the Shine Plus trim gets automatic emergency braking (AEB) as standard. You have to add it as part of the Safety pack on other versions. All C3s get road-sign recognition and lane-departure warning.
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All C3s offer official fuel consumption and CO2 figures that rival the best small cars for efficiency. The non-turbocharged PureTech 83 returned a respectable 47mpg on our real-world test route.
|RRP price range||£13,995 - £22,055|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||49.8 - 53.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£769 / £1,305|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,538 / £2,609|