A long time ago, Citroen was renowned for creating cars most other manufacturers would never have thought of. It’s difficult to imagine any other company building and selling, from the 1930s to the 1970s, such a trio of marvels as the Traction Avant (or Light Fifteen as it was known to British buyers), the 2CV and the DS. Towards the end of the 20th century Citroen seemed to want us all to forget it had been an innovator, but that policy has, happily, now been reversed. For evidence of that you need look no further than the new C3, which I’ll say right now is the best supermini the company has come up with since it introduced the name back in 2002.
Some aspects of the C3 have been carried over from Citroen’s most adventurous car of the current era, the C4 Cactus. My second favourite is the design of the front interior doorhandles. These are simply leather straps, such as you might find on a suitcase, and like many simple things they are brilliant. Once you’ve used them you wonder why more complicated doorhandles than these were ever thought worth the trouble.
A description of my favourite feature shared by the C3 and the Cactus requires a short preamble. In a piece of hippiness that would have delighted the most long-haired 2CV owner, C3 trim levels are named, reading from the bottom up, Touch, Feel and Flair. Flair models are the ones where Citroen has really let rip, and they feature as standard those very clever Airbumps which protect the body and paintwork from minor damage.
I like the Airbump concept so much that I’m surprised it hasn’t been applied to all C3s, but in fact they’re only optional on the Feel and not available at all on the Touch. The reason is that not everyone is as impressed as I am. Apparently there are people – weird, unimaginative people I don’t think I’d like to meet – who have refused to buy a Cactus specifically because of the Airbumps. Not wanting to harm potential sales of the C3, Citroen has understandably, though perhaps with some regret, avoided making them compulsory.
Also standard on the Flair and optional on the Touch is an extremely clever thing called ConnectedCAM. You can take still photos with this and share them on social media if that floats your boat, but its more serious purpose is to act as a dashcam. In normal running it’s constantly recording video footage and shortly afterwards deleting it, but in the event of an accident it saves the last 30 seconds’ worth and whatever it records in the next minute so you can present it as evidence during subsequent legal proceedings.
This is remarkable stuff for a conventional supermini, and to my mind it’s just the sort of thing we should be expecting Citroen to come up with.
There is, however, more to the C3 than oddities such as these. Especially in Flair form, it’s a good-looking little car, though I’m not as confident as a senior Citroen spokesman I chatted with that the unusual front-end treatment won’t put off some more conservatively-minded buyers. There are nine body colours and three contrasting ones for the roof, though you don’t have to opt for any of the latter if you don’t want to. That means 36 possible colour combinations, of which all are pleasant and several are very attractive. From what I’ve seen so far there isn’t a clunker in the whole bunch.
The enormously windscreen available on some versions of the previous car hasn’t been repeated, and rear three-quarter visibility is just awful, but there’s a reasonable amount of space for passengers. Headroom is good even though this C3 is 40mm lower than the last one, and there’s just about enough legroom all-round to make accommodation for four adults feasible as long as none of them is much over six feet tall.
The rear load sill is a bit high, but the luggage capacity with the back seats up is 300 litres. While this is well short of what you’ll find in a Skoda Fabia and especially a Honda Jazz, it’s the same as you get in a Renault Clio and better than what the UK market-leading Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa offer.
Your C3 may have either a 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech engine or a 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel, the former in 68, 82 and 110 forms, the latter as a 75 or a 100. (The number refers to the power output in PS – subtract one to find the bhp figure in each case.) The very perky PureTech 110 and both diesels have start-stop, leading to the odd situation that as well as being quicker than the less powerful petrol models they are also officially more economical and have better CO2 figures – in the case of the diesels, under 100g/km. Start/stop would improve the green figures of the PureTech 68 and 82, but probably not by enough to make the extra expense of the system worthwhile.
With the last C3 I always felt that the diesels were much better to drive than the petrol cars, but in this generation they’re very similar, the petrol ones now having a very slight ride and handling advantage as well as being significantly quieter. The only versions I’ve driven have been Flairs with optional 17″ wheels (Touches normally run on 15s, Feels and Flairs on 16s). In other small cars wheels that size often lead to disaster, but the C3 has been set up to cope with them very ably.
The least pleasant major control is the gearchange, which tends towards the rubbery (though of course this won’t apply to the automatic, which will be available with the Flair trim level from February 2017). The best is the steering, notable for its excellent combination of smoothness and accuracy.
The C3 is available to order now, priced from £10,995 for the PureTech 68 Touch to £17,095 for the BlueHDi 100 Flair, and officially goes on sale on January 3. Automatics will be more expensive but pricing has not yet been confirmed. There will almost certainly be some equivalent of the current C3 Picasso mini-MPV in the near future, not least because it has just become the oldest Citroen model on sale, but it’s unlikely to use the same name.