Citroen's third generation C3 supermini is a crucial car for the French brand. Can it deliver? Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Citroen's third generation C3 supermini got a wash 'n brush-up in late 2020, with a slightly smarter looks, comfier seats and extra personalisation options. Here, it's been further tweaked, with a revamped trim range featuring extra equipment. It's still one of the most comfort-orientated small cars you can buy, though ultimately, there's nothing really revolutionary on offer here. Still, as a complete and highly personalisable package, it's desirably different.
Today to survive, Citroen must offer more than just sensible efficiency: the Stellantis Group has its Peugeot brand to deliver that. And its DS nameplate to offer a fashion-conscious premium option for those prepared to pay a little more. Which leaves Citroen needing to go back to being the kind of manufacturer it once was, fun, innovative and different.
Which, at first glance at least, appears to be what's served up here with this version of the third generation C3 supermini, which was improved in 2020 to create the car we have now. By the time of that update, over 750,000 MK3 C3 models had been sold since the car had been launched in 2016 but today there's tougher competition, not least in the form of this car's in-house Stellantis Group supermini cousins, the MK2 Peugeot 208 and the latest 'F'-series Vauxhall Corsa. Unlike this this C3, those two contenders ride on the group's more modern CMP modular platform. The C3 plods on with the older PF1 chassis. Still, who cares about the oily bits? This car's smarter, comfier and far more customisable now. What's not to like?
Small French cars used to ride beautifully, grip tenaciously and flow from corner to corner with relaxed, unflustered motion. As, by and large, this one does. It may come as news to some motoring journalists but most supermini buyers don't routinely want to throw their cars about as if they were on stage from the RAC Rally. What most of them would prefer is a model that rolls the red carpet over the average appallingly surfaced British road. As, to a great extent, this one does. It's all down to the way that the fairly conventional suspension set-up has been tuned, though the downside of that is inevitably extra body roll through the bends. Stay with it though and you'll find that there's actually more grip and traction on offer than you might think.
As for engines, well the PureTech three cylinder 1.2-litre unit is frugal and willing and comes in 83hp form with manual transmission or 110hp guise with the brand's EAT6 automatic. Either way, this unit delivers the same distinctive three cylinder thrum. It's a pity the 110bhp PureTech engine isn't more affordable because it really is a very sweet little unit. The turbo nearly doubles this little powerplant's pulling power and the result is that overtaking moves that'd be white-knuckle manoeuvres in the entry-level model can be safely completed with hardly a thought. The old 1.5-litre diesel engine is no longer offered.
Design and Build
The idea here is to offer supermini buyers a little more energy and personality - and that's broadly what's delivered. In late 2020, this car received a lightly re-styled front end, with stylised changes inspired by the brand's recent 'CXPERIENCE' concept car that were supposed to accentuate your perception of the height of the bonnet. We're not sure about that, but like the smarter headlamps which feature LED beams. In profile, you might notice the vibrant rear quarter panel patterns. And the fact that the distinctive side lower 'Airbump' panels stand out, plus, dependent on version, there are wheel arch extensions and larger 17-inch wheels. At 3.99m in length, this car remains slightly smaller than some of its rivals, but it's more interesting to look at and Citroen promises that it'll be just as customisable to buyer preference as it ever was.
Inside, plusher C3 models these days get the supportive Advanced Comfort seats we first saw in the MK2 version of the larger C4 Cactus, which claim to offer 'armchair-like' comfort that's emphasised by the addition of an armrest on the driver's side. There's also a clever central storage area. And a smart 'glossy appearance' for the 7-inch centre-dash infotainment touchscreen, which featurers a useful 'rib' at the bottom to rest your finger on between monitor jabs. As you'd expect, this display incorporates voice recognition, Bluetooth, a DAB tuner and 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. Plus you can have it with Citroen's Connect Nav GPS system. Plus there's a 'TomTom Live Traffic' feature which provides real time traffic information and information on fuel stations, carparks and weather along your route.
Citroen says that it's drawn inspiration from travel and home interior design to create an interior that aims to feel like an extension of the driver's home. The perception of space is heightened by the horizontal dashboard, which runs across the whole width of the vehicle. The design of the interior trim and the shape of the chrome-finished air vents also combine to enhance the perception of width. Customers get a choice of cabin finishes and you can also have a panoramic sunroof that fills the cabin with natural light. The rear seat isn't especially big by supermini standards, but it'd be fine for a couple of kids. Out back, there's a decently-sized 300-litre boot.
Market and Model
The price range now spans the £14,000 to £22,000 bracket. There's a choice of three trim levels - 'You', 'Plus' and 'Max'. Potential buyers will need to make sure that they leave some budget aside for personalisation. This remains the most customisable supermini in its segment, with a vast number of visual spec combinations. This includes vibrant body colours and bi-tone choices (incorporating the roof, door mirrors and the rear quarter panel trim), plus optional coloured inserts around the fog lights and the Airbump panels, as well as graphic trims decorating the roof for a more distinctive pavement presentation.
Equipment levels remain pretty generous. Mainstream 'Plus' trim gets you Airbump panels, LED headlights, a seven-inch capacitive touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic air conditioning, six airbags, lane departure warning, speed sign recognition, coffee break alert and power folding door mirrors.
For a bit of luxury though, you'll need to stretch to the top 'Max' trim level, recognisable by its larger 17-inch 'Vector'-style alloy wheels, gloss black B-pillars and tinted tailgate glass. There are two really significant cabin additions here, the first being Citroen's more supportive 'Advanced Comfort' front seats, which are fitted out with lumbar support and an armrest and are created using thickened fabric and special foam that can be up to 15mm thick. There's also the more sophisticated 'Citroen Connect Nav' set-up for the 7-inch fascia central infotainment screen, which includes navigation, voice control, Tom Tom Live traffic updates and a three year subscription to 'Speed Cam' which includes visual and sound reporting of speed cameras and danger zones before you reach them.
Cost of Ownership
Almost every fashionable type of technology has been thrown at this car to drive its running costs down. The PureTech 83 variant manages up to 54.3mpg and a WLTP emissions figure of 122g/km. And for the PureTech 110 auto, it's up to 49.4mpg and up to 137g/km (WLTP).
Enough on engine efficiency. What about other financial considerations? Well, regular service intervals come round every 16,000 miles or 12 months, depending on which comes sooner. For many supermini owners, this will mean a visit to a dealer once a year and there are plenty of Citroen outlets to choose from, so you should never be too far from one. So you can budget ahead, the French maker offers its 'Citroen Maintenance' scheme that lets you pay either a one-off fee or monthly instalments to cover the cost of the routine upkeep of your car for as long as three years and 35,000 miles. Every C3 comes with a three-year and 60,000-mile warranty and there's also Europe-wide breakdown assistance included from new for the first year you own the car. Looking at the longer term, you also have a 12-year guarantee against rust and 36 months cover for any paintwork defects, though that doesn't include stone chips and other wear and tear damage.
As superminis go, this C3 isn't an orthodox choice, but then that's part of its appeal. In time honoured Citroen fashion, a C3 is just that little bit different, with smart, slightly quirky looks and some fun aesthetic options if you want them. Of course, there'll be lots of people who just won't get what this car is trying to be. After all, there isn't really any need for Crossover cues on supermini. And you can probably survive a trip to the supermarket without the protection of Airbump side panels. If you're tempted to take this perspective, then you'd probably be better off considering another contender in this class, a supermini that might well be better to drive and more spacious inside than this one. But also a car that might well feel bland and boring after experience with this Citroen.
All of which leaves us. Well where? From an objective point of view, this C3 isn't the best car in the class. Subjectively, though, you could easily argue that there's nothing in this segment to touch it. It all depends on how you view the automotive world. We think this C3 makes it a brighter place.