So here’s the rub: we moan that all cars look the same these days, and whether you think it’s funky or frumpy, you can’t say that Citroën hasn’t attempted to spice up the small car market with its latest model.
The new Citroën C3 borrows a chunk of style from its popular bigger brother, the C4 Cactus, and from whichever angle it's observed, bristles with difference. And it does so with one aim: to woo you away from such gems as the Ford Fiesta or Skoda Fabia.
What’s new then, other than the style? Well, the underpinnings aren’t, because they are carried over from the previous C3, but elsewhere it comes at things afresh. The Air Bump side inserts – standard on the top trim – mean minor dings are absorbed by plastic panels that can be easily replaced if needed. And the car could protect your no claims bonus in more serious scrapes, thanks to a built in dashcam which comes as standard on the top-spec Flair model. Download an accompanying smartphone app and this also allows you to take videos and pictures of your road trip, then upload them to social media.
The infotainment uses Citroën’s newest software package with all the latest connectivity, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, to mirror your smartphone onto the 7.0in touchscreen. That includes your phone's sat-nav, so you needn’t pay for the £500 factory option.
What’s the 2016 Citroën C3 like to drive?
This little 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine’s cheery and largely unobtrusive thrum matches the car’s cheeky looks. It provides enough pace for pottering around town, but escape the urban sprawl and with only 81bhp it starts to feel a bit pedestrian, especially when getting up to 70mph on the motorway. Once there, however, it happily maintains speed without complaint.
On a long drive you might start to moan, though. At these speeds the constant buzz of the engine begins to rankle. The problem is that the 1.2 comes with a five-speed gearbox only, and the lack of a sixth gear for cruising means the engine revs are kept relatively high at motorway speeds. It’s not a pleasant gearchange either, suffering from Citroën’s typically long and woolly gate.
Move on to more twisty roads and the C3’s handling lacks precision, certainly compared with that of the tightly controlled Fiesta. The steering is relatively accurate and largely intuitive when it comes to placing the front wheels where you want, but the C3 leans so significantly when cornering that you quickly learn to take things easily.
Back in the city is where it feels at home, the car is perfectly easy to manage. The light controls let you drive smoothly in heavy traffic and don’t tire you out. And here that oh-so soft suspension pays off with a floaty ride that feels quite cosseting. Our test route was on smooth Spanish roads, however, so we will have to wait for a drive in the UK to see how truly absorbent it is.
What’s the 2016 Citroën C3 like inside?
It's best described as spartan. That's partly thanks to the sweet, minimalist design, but it's also due to the liberal use of hard recycled plastics that feel cheap next to something plusher (and, it must be said, more expensive), such as a VW Polo. Somehow though, the C3’s Gallic charm wins through, so despite the plastics it’s one of the most enjoyable small cars to spend time in.
That’s also down to the excellent driving position. With standard seat height and steering wheel rake and reach adjustment it’s really easy to get comfortable, and there’s enough space in the front for that still to apply if you're tall. You also get lots of storage, with big door pockets, a large glovebox and a couple of cup holders.
The back is tighter - more akin to a Fiesta than roomier rivals such as the Fabia. Head room is the main issue for taller adults, while leg room is average for the class at best. It’s got a decent boot, though; not quite a match for the Fabia’s but good enough to swallow a couple of medium-size suitcases.
Of the three trims available we’d stick with the middle Feel trim. It’s competively priced but gets plenty of kit, including automatic air conditioning, 16in alloys and the 7.0in touchscreen that will mirror your smartphone, plus a DAB radio and Bluetooth. It also has the neat styling additions, such as a black roof and extended wheel arches. From there you can go to town on numerous personalisation options both inside and out, including those plastic side panels.
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