We’ve already been acquainted with the third generation C3 supermini, and we have to say this is one of the best choices in case you’re looking to make a personal statement with your car – it’s funky, it’s trendy and it’s also a great choice if you’re feeling Frenchy.
The C3 is not without its quirks, of course – taking the front styling mostly from the C4 and Grand C4 Picasso compact MPVs, but adding some crossover twists so as to bring home the largest possible customer base. All in all, we’ve not seen the C3 Aircross in person until now, but looking at the C3 – especially in its higher trims – makes you wonder if you really need the crossover version or you can settle with the C3. That’s because we have protective plastic body cladding – which is going to make the urbanites happy because most of the bruises happen at low speed and they safeguard the shiny metallic surfaces. We also have the C4 Cactus-inspired airbumps, which further lend credence to the crossover traits. It’s still an urban car, as the C3 has the dimensions and most of all the ground clearance of a model in its class – not that of an SUV. While all others – we’re looking at you, VW Polo – dare not stir up the pot with a fresh design, Citroen has been turning to its innovative roots as of late, bringing about the funkiness that was so beloved with models such as the 2CV or DS. They still have issues with reliability and quality, though, which might annoy some of us – but let’s not forget that right now Citroen is the affordable brand in the PSA Group, so corners have been cut, obviously. The good thing is they’re on the right track, with major improvements from generation to generation – and a general feeling they actually care about the model right now, not just putting it on the market because they need a vehicle in that respective segment, as it felt with the compact C4, for example. In the grand scheme of things, we’ll see if Citroen’s idea of setting itself apart in the segments via an interesting design, as well as a sensible choice when it comes to affordability, will lend them credence on the long run. For now, in the sea of evolutionary brands who dare not innovate because they’re afraid to lose even one traditional customer – we’re glad there are brands such as Citroen (they’re not the only ones, obviously) that give you the choice of being different – and proud of it.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
Of course, at the very base of the trim choice – the Live version can start below the 10,000-euro mark – you’re getting only the basics. But jump on the spending bandwagon and for close to 15,000 euro you can have the range-topping Shine version, complete with a two-tone paint option, three roof colors and some additional touches of color on certain elements – fog lights, door mirrors, rear quarter panels and part of the Airbump panels. On the design level, the new double-tier front lighting signature seems to be the signature trait for Citroen models as of late – the C4 Cactus, C3, C3 Aircross, C5 Aircross, they all have it – though it also seems to be a growing trend among automakers, if we look at the Jeep Cherokee and the newer Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover, a worthy rival in terms of quirkiness to the C3 Aircross. You might not see it so – due to the robust design traits that make it feel more rugged than the previous model, but the C3’s generational shift also brought better aerodynamics compared to the former generation. Additionally, oddly enough the designers decided to skip on the protective Airbumps on the C3 Aircross – though the C3 does get them. You can’t argue with the logic of French designers – even though we would have seen them fitted to the Aircross, rather than the “normal” C3 in our order books. Arguably, the only bland element of the C3 is the taillight design, perhaps an element that is purposely bringing a sense of normality on an otherwise out of the ordinary exterior styling. As far as the exterior design is concerned, the C3 for sure will remain a popular choice among ladies, but it’s also something that men would use – as opposed to the previous two generations that were decidedly addressing just part of the customer base.
Moving inside, the C3 continues on the same innovative line – which is something that again started a few models ago. We are also seeing improvements as compared to the C4 Cactus, one of the initiators of the new human-machine interface. For example, the C3 has a regular – analogue /digital instrument cluster as opposed to the all-digital one on the C4 Cactus, which has been criticized for both the lack of features (not even a rev counter) and outdated graphics. The C3 goes for a more sensible combination, with large traditional dials and a big digital screen in the middle. We’re not going to see a Citroen version of the Peugeot i-Cockpit too soon, though the C5 Aircross does feature a fully digital instrument cluster and a more practical infotainment system, especially on low-tier models such as the C3 and C4 series. So the classical features can be seen this time as an upgrade over the low-end digital system used on the C4 Cactus – they are both done to save money, but the traditional layout inside the C3 doesn’t remind you of that every time you look at it. Because we’re dealing with a funky model, there are interior traits to support this – from a big panorama sunroof to ConnectedCAM, an on-board HD camera that can be used to share your trips on social media channels. Better yet, we could recommend it to anyone who has thought about owning a third-party accessory to use as evidence in the event of an accident. It’s fully integrated and thus you’ll be avoiding the unsightly positioning and cables. The C3 – again, if you opt for the high trims – keeps in touch with the high-tech part of the segment, with voice controlled 3D navigation, reversing camera, lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring, as well as the 7-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system. One issue with that one – it features all controls, including for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), so it takes a bit of time to get used to switching the view all the time – especially since the touchscreen isn’t the most responsive or fast in the world, nor are the graphics (kind of like inspired from the 1980’s era pixel games) top notch. But the dashboard does feature a streamlined design – and this minimalist treatment bodes well with the choice of materials for the seats, as well as fabrics, inspired by travel and home interior design, according to Citroen. For me, it seems more like Citroen was again inspired by the feel, look and touch of models from the 1980s – just like with the graphics of the infotainment system – but this time around the inspiration delivered something positive. That’s because being seated in a C3 – or any other model of recent years – really feels like a treat, even the C3 has ample and comfortable front seats, while other subcompacts offer crammed space.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
We’ve previously driven the C3 with its base gasoline engine – and we feel that model should actually be taken home, or rather to work as a company car in the most basic configuration, with the base Live equipment level. After all, it would serve its purpose better – acting as a no-frills car that still manages to stand out in a crowd. Otherwise, if you feel like spending to have all the “frenchy” features, you’re better off with the more powerful 1.2 PureTech 110 hp version, which is equipped with an auto gearbox. Or you can shell out just about the same cash and go for the top diesel version, the 1.6 BlueHDi with 100 hp – though you’ll have to settle for a manual transmission this time. The C3 with the 82 hp PureTech gasoline engine (it’s also available with a 68 hp version in some markets) was only usable at this low-end part of the power scale because of its very low weight – close to the one-ton mark. The HDi version is a bit bulkier – at 1165 kg – but also comes with 100 hp and 254 Nm compared to 82 hp and a lowly 118 Nm. The difference is obvious at every speed range – both in and out of town. This means – even though nobody loves diesels anymore – it’s the right choice for somebody that uses the C3 both in and out of town. In urban cases, the torque is going to help you post quick low-speed rallies – while combined with the gearbox setup it will also enable comfortable long-range cruises on the highway. While Citroen has become the affordable brand in the group that also encompasses the Opel/Vauxhall brands from now on, that’s not to say the engineers aren’t innovating anymore. The French automaker now has a knack for lightweight techniques – the chassis of the C3 is inspired by the one on the C4 Cactus, feeling lighter and nimbler than before. This also helps with efficiency – and this touch is everywhere, even the seat cushions have less depth now, even though they’re way more comfortable than in the previous generation. This forward thinking is helping PSA post those impressive real-life consumption test scores, where they’re actually usually close to the official laboratory readings.
The HDi engines have always been great performs in that area – a 3,7 liters average fuel economy isn’t something that can easily be achieved, but during our test we averaged a little over 5 liters, with urband and highway driving during the summer, AC on and without any respect towards fuel economy – except using the auto Start/Stop system whenever possible (the system activates depending on the load, so during a scorching summer day with full AC on you might think it’s deactivated). The transmission also helps – the five gears are decidedly longer than on the gasoline version – so highway driving is entirely possible and comfortable, without high NVH thanks to the low revs. The latter is also another strong trait for the C3 – given Citroen’s new love for lightweighting you would think noise levels would go through the roof (check a light sports machine, with barren components in case you think lighter doesn’t equal noisier), but it’s actually a good show from the subcompact. The engine becomes apparent inside when accelerating – but the suspension and other components are very silent under any stress, be it short and narrow bumps or longer, ampler ones. With such long gears performance isn’t actually stellar – but the 100 hp suffice for an 185 km/h top speed and a 10.6 seconds acceleration to 62 mph -100 km/h. The 1.6 HDi is a very old acquaintance for fans of the French brand – and it’s indeed growing long in the tooth in terms of elegance, especially the noise level. Other than that, the engineers have done a fine job refining the design – it has grown in terms of power over the years, while becoming ever more frugal along the way. Being so light means the C3 has to be careful about weight distribution – especially when using a diesel engine up front – but you’ll have a hard time putting the C3 around the corner, both literally and most of all figuratively. It’s as safe as any other subcompact car, but it’s decidedly not for the ones dreaming about the sporty version but settling for the normal one. After all, the C3 doesn’t even have a sporty version planned – which goes to say about its plans for moving quickly along with its driver. It’s as nimble as it gets in an urban environment – mostly due to its dimensions not trespassing across the 4-meter mark into compact territory. But forego all thoughts about driving fast in a C3 – the car has a funky design because it wants to be admired, and to do so you need to slow down. Also, the lounge-like interior is an open invitation towards relaxation – and that clearly doesn’t bode well with the focused mind of track drivers. So, just to be clear – the C3 is all about comfort, not speed. Sure, it can drive fast on the highway – but don’t think you can take it up a mountain course, except if you have plans for a scenic ride, with the ConnectedCAM taking shots for the social media accounts.