There are five engines in the C3 range, but so far we’ve only driven three of them: these are the three-cylinder 1.2-litre Puretech petrol engines, in outputs of 81bhp and 109bhp, and the 1.6-litre BlueHDI diesel with 99bhp.
The lower-power version feels fine for pottering around town, but on the motorway it starts to run out of puff. To make any decent progress, you’ll need to rev it very hard. As it doesn’t come with start/stop technology like the 109bhp Puretech, you do feel vibrations through the seat and steering wheel when you’re stationary.
So if you regularly travel the highways and byways outside the city, we’d recommend plumping for the 109bhp model. Although at its core this is basically the same engine as above, a turbocharger adds a bundle of helpful extra pace. Not only is it punchier on all roads, its extra performance is available from much lower revs, making it considerably more relaxing to drive.
As for the diesel, it has plenty of power that makes getting up to speed and staying there easy. It does send quite a lot of vibration though the controls at idle and you’re always aware that it’s a diesel, though. Considering the high purchase price, we’d avoid unless you do an awful lot of miles.
Citroen C3 ride comfort
Citroën has gone soft with the C3, giving its wheels plenty of room to move in the wheel arches and making the suspension squidgy. As a result you’d expect it to be pretty compliant, which it is. It lollops over general bumps like a Silver Cross perambulator, but just as baby will know, that’s not as comfortable as it sounds.
Because the body control is so loose, it’s always moving around, even over small undulations. It’s the same story over sleeping policemen, with the suspension absorbing the initial bump well, but subsequently letting the car slam back down in an uncontrolled and uncomfortable way. And all that’s before you’ve even entered a corner, where you and your passengers will be swayed about by the extensive body lean.
Drive a C3 back-to-back with Ford Fiesta, or even the Skoda Fabia, and you’ll immediately feel better body control equals less jiggle, which in turn equals a more comfortable ride.
Citroen C3 handling
The C3 doesn’t really 'handle', in the way we’ve come to expect from modern, nimble small cars.
In fact it feels rather more old-fashioned than its sharp looks would suggest, with huge amounts of body roll through corners and very little feedback to let you know what’s going on underneath.
This includes the steering. While it’s relatively accurate, it has precious little consistency in the way it’s weighted. That might not sound important to you, but it means you have to concentrate more on placing the nose of the car in corners, or gauging what grip you have available; on a long drive through the country that gets quite tiring. The best handling cars in the class, such as the Fiesta and Renault Clio, are far less taxing to drive.
Citroen C3 refinement
The C3’s petrol engines tend to be quite thrummy, but no more so than rivals with three-cylinder engines. It’s not an unpleasant noise, but it’s something you are more aware of in the lower-power versions such as the 81bhp model, because they need to be worked harder. The low-end grunt of the 109bhp petrol makes it feel a lot less strained, and generally quieter as a result.
On the motorway all the models we’ve tried suffer from the lack of a tall sixth gear, when the engine’s constant buzzing can get a little wearing. Otherwise, at speed wind and tyre noise in the C3 are no more voluble than in its best rivals.
Where it comes in for heavy criticism is the control weights. For example, the brake and clutch pedals aren’t very positive, so judging your inputs to be smooth in town traffic is a dark art. And compared to the Fiesta’s light and precise gearbox, the woolly, long-throw gear change in the C3 feels more akin to stirring an old tin of emulsion.
With only 67bhp this is the least powerful petrol engine and comes only with a five-speed manual gearbox. We’ve not driven it, but as the more powerful 81bhp of this engine struggles on faster roads, don’t expect any fireworks from this one.
1.2 Puretech 82
Around town this 81bhp three-cylinder petrol feels pokey enough, but get it out onto the motorway and you need to rev it hard to make it go. The good thing is it’s always pretty smooth when you do, although the standard five-speed manual gearbox has a very woolly shift action.
Our pick 1.2 Puretech 110
Adding a turbocharger to the 1.2-litre petrol engine stokes it with a much more useful 109bhp. This brings it alive, giving it plenty of power for town or motorway driving. It’s also better on CO2 emissions than the lower power versions, and offers cheaper company car tax than the diesels. The five-speed manual gearbox isn’t very slick, though, and there’s no automatic option.
1.6 Blue HDi 75
We’ve not yet driven this engine, but don’t expect much as it has only got a relatively puny 74bhp.
1.6 Blue HDi 100
Thanks to plenty of power from low in the rev range, this engine gives the C3 plenty of flexible performance. We’d stick with the cheaper 1.2 Puretech 110 petrol unless you do mega miles, though, because you’d have to do many miles before the diesel’s slightly better fuel economy outweighed the additional purchase price. It’s also more expensive as a company car, too.