I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – brightly-coloured press cars make journalists happy. Citroën clearly got this memo, and lo and behold the gorgeous Spring Blue / Onyx Black C3 that was delivered to me. Already, this review was off to a good start, but is the Citroën C3’s beauty simply skin deep?
Well, not everyone would agree with that statement – it’s fair to say that the C3’s design can be polarising, thanks to its ‘busy’ front end design in particular. I, for one, actually rather like how it looks. Yes, integrating the high and low-level lights into one unit would probably look cleaner, but I grew to quite like the almost monobrow-looking light layout throughout my time with the C3.
The other thing to note with the C3’s design is the use of contrasting black plastics around the exterior, most notably on the lower parts of the doors (nicknamed ‘airbumps’) and the wheel arches. Citroën have plenty of form with this (think C4 Cactus, C5 Aircross, etc) and while black plastic panels usually signify a base-level car, Citroen have used them to good effect here, without cheapening the appearance of the C3 – no easy feat.
So the C3 certainly looks the part – it even looks cool from above, thanks to the O-shaped Spring Blue design on the Onyx Black roof – so if you’re ever in a helicopter chase, you’ll be easy to spot. A subtle getaway car this is not, I’m afraid.
But what if you’re not planning on using this brightly coloured, easily-distinguishable hatchback as a getaway car? Well, you’re in luck, as this is one of the most interesting small family cars on the market today!
Citroën always like to be quirky with their design, and the C3 is no exception. That rule continues inside the cabin, where I was greeted by wonderfully soft and comfortable cloth seats, complete with half-and-half colour scheme and interesting stitching patterns. In a world where most interiors have become a sea of grey plastics and black leather, the Shine Plus spec interior was a most welcome relief.
The quirkiness doesn’t stop at the seats, however. The dials are still wonderfully analogue, and while that isn’t a surprise in itself, the unusual squared-off design is a joy to behold, and the unusual shapes carry down to the gearstick too, which is an unconventional rounded rectangle design. Initially, I found it rather awkward to use, but eventually discovered it was perfect for ‘palming’ gear changes, and became rather comfortable once I’d warmed to the design.
Even the vents are unusual in their nature, mimicking the squared-off rectangle shape of the gearstick, highlighted in chrome against the black plastic vents. One thing I couldn’t warm to was the unusual wood-effect accent running along the dashboard. Quite simply, I couldn’t work out what the point of it was: There was no other wood effect or accents in the interior, and the unusual pattern almost looked like snakeskin – it just felt at odds with the rest of the design. In my opinion, some brushed aluminium or piano black accent to match the rest of the interior would’ve looked far more appealing, but this is only a minor design flaw.
There is one other problem too. In cleaning up the interior (which is by-and-large a wonderful place to spend time, though heated seats would’ve been a nice option) Citroen’s designers removed the physical controls for the A/C system. While the shortcut button on the 7” touchscreen was responsive and worked well, I can’t help but think that some physical controls wouldn’t have spoiled the aesthetics of the interior, and improved the overall usability of the C3.
On the road
Under the bonnet of the C3 I tested was the 110hp ‘PureTech’ three-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Performance was nothing to shout about – taking just over 10 seconds to hit 62mph – but I did find the ‘triple’ was surprisingly eager to rev and quick to react, even if it did lack overall power output.
In reality, this shouldn’t be any reason for people to be put off the C3. In Shine Plus trim as tested the interior is a wonderful place to be, in particular the deep softness and cushion afforded to the seats, so an extra second or two to hit 60mph shouldn’t have any impact on buying choice; This isn’t a sports car, after all.
That said, on a winding road I did find the C3 was surprisingly engaging to push on with, though the tires definitely struggled for grip occasionally, even spinning up when taking in an energetic start away from traffic lights.
Rear seat occupants also reported feeling like the car was somewhat ‘wallowy’ and ‘boaty’ in its ride characteristics on a winding country road, though in my experience sat in the drivers seat I certainly didn’t feel the same. Again, this is a practical family hatchback – not a sports car – so it would be unfair to judge it harshly on its performance aspects, instead you should focus on the practicality, appearance and aesthetics, where in my opinion the C3 scores very highly indeed.
The Final Verdict
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, or so they say. So, having spent a total of 5 hours behind the wheel of the C3 in one day, what do I think? Well, it’s excellent at motorway journeys, and the suspension soaks up bumps in the road very well indeed. This bodes well for a family car, as no doubt there will be a few longer journeys each year to visit distant relatives or for holidays (when it’s allowed again, of course) so it’s good to know the C3 will handle it with ease.
Road noise was very noticeable, however, in particular on the concrete sections of the M25 with their expansion joints. The suspension handled this test very well, but the noise in the car was such that I had to end a call I was placing through the integrated Apple CarPlay system, as the person on the other end of the line couldn’t hear me clearly. I imagine, however, that lower-spec cars with smaller wheel sizes (this was fitted with the top-spec 17” alloys) would likely fare better, due to having a higher-profile tire.
The aforementioned road noise notwithstanding, there’s a lot to like about the Citroën C3: It’s unique design, practicality, comfort and charm all contribute to a very enjoyable experience overall, and I’d certainly have no objection to living with the C3 on a daily basis. Factor in a list price of below 20K (£19,035 OTR) and this is a strong contender for the best sub-20k cars on the market; Consider me suitably impressed!
Kieran Bicknell offers his fresh take on car reviews by making the most of his dynamic, yet detailed approach to writing. Having graduated from university with a BA (Hons) in Photography and spending a number of years as a freelance automotive photographer. Kieran is now putting his knowledge and writing skills to use, with the ability to supply both written articles and imagery. Kieran feels at home in anything from small superminis to the latest SUVs, and relishes the opportunity to drive, photograph and write about anything with four wheels.