What Car? says...
While some might be happy with cheese on toast, others simply won’t accept it unless it’s a croque monsieur. You can look at the Citroën C3 in a similar way: it follows essentially the same recipe as many other small cars, but presented in such a way that makes it look a little more interesting.
That's partly thanks to its extrovert styling, but also numerous colour combinations for the roof, bumper inserts, door mirrors and Citroën’s trademark air bumps. The latter are nothing more than wide strips of rubberised plastic that are applied in places that could be prone to dings and scrapes – helpful in fending off attacks from rogue shopping trolleys in supermarket car parks.
An update in 2020 introduced even more scope for customisation, with buyers being able to choose from a whopping 97 exterior colour combinations. There’s even scope to choose the C3 in a two-tone paint scheme – there are four roof colours available, with a range of contrasting tones for the main body of the car.
As part of this update, the C3 was also treated to a bit of a nip and tuck – the aforementioned air bumps were reprofiled, the front-end was sharpened up, the lines of the wheel arch extensions have been smoothed out and LED headlights became standard across the range.
But aside from its funky looks, is the Citroën C3 a good enough small car in key objective areas to make it worth considering over rivals including the Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo ? And which engine and trim make the most sense? We'll tell you all you need to know over the next few pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The pick of the range has to be the 108bhp 1.2-litre petrol (badged PureTech 110). 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.
All C3 models come with a manual gearbox as standard. Should you want an automatic, you can only have one with our favourite engine, the PureTech 110.
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 doesn't sound very comfortable, well, that's because it isn't.
And because the C3’s body control is so loose, it 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 Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza and VW Polo are all far more comfortable alternatives.
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, whereas this process is far more intuitive in rivals, including the Fiesta, Ibiza and Polo. All of those cars 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 this noise in the PureTech 83 than the 110, simply because the former needs to be worked harder.
Meanwhile, the diesel BlueHDi 100 is gruff and sends plenty of vibration through the pedals and steering wheel. However, at faster speeds, wind and tyre noise in the C3 aren’t excessive compared with other small cars.
Most frustrating, though is that the brake and clutch pedals aren’t very positive, so the C3 is very hard to drive smoothly in town. And compared to the Fiesta’s light and precise manual gearbox, the woolly, long-throw shift in the C3 feels more akin to stirring an old tin of emulsion.
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