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C3 Review

Freeborn Winchester, my local CitroŽn dealer upgraded my courtesy car from a C1 to a new C3 when I took my wife’s Xsara Picasso in for a service. 

The car provided was a 1.4i VTR+ priced at £13,225.  Despite being positioned below the Airdream+, Connexion and Exclusive, the car is fully loaded with ABS and electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Emergency Brake Assist, variable power steering, Panoramic Zenith windscreen, 15” alloys, Gear Efficiency Indicator and speed limiter.

The very first thing that struck me was how thick the windscreen (or A) pillars are, notwithstanding the press release which states VTR+ and Exclusive models, as well as the Airdream+ Special Edition, all feature the innovative panoramic Zenith windscreen, which dominates the car’s appearance from every forward angle.  Unique to the market, this massive screen opens up new perspectives and sensations for all occupants.  Soaring 1.35m from bonnet to roof, the panoramic Zenith windscreen is 36% bigger than a normal screen on an average 5-door small car and the angle from the driver’s eye line to the top of the windscreen is a huge 108į instead of the segment average 28į. Coupled with slim A-pillars, the curved glazed area offers unrivalled visibility - with obvious safety benefits - and gives occupants a truly panoramic view of the world.  Progressive tinting across the top 25cm of the screen ensures optimal protection from overhead sunlight.  A sunblind, featuring two sun-visors, can easily be pulled forwards when driving in low-angle sun conditions.

Not only are the A pillars thick, so are the B pillars.  This creates three sizeable blind spots when pulling out of junctions.  Clearly the pillars have to be thick in order to provide the roll over protection mandated by European construction regulations and clearly, the loss of the front part of the roof as a result of the Zenith screen plays a part in this.  As I have observed before, cars are much safer than they used to be but I find myself wondering whether a restricted view out doesn’t result in more accidents, albeit accidents that one is more likely to survive.

The next thing that struck me was the amount of space inside.  Driving the Picasso with my mobile ‘phone and glasses case in my right hand jacket pocket meant that the jacket was in contact with the door trim.  This is not the case in my C5 and similarly was not the case in the C3.  Despite a fairly high waistline, the C3 does not feel in any way claustrophobic, even with the roof blind pulled fully forward.  With it retracted, apart from the kind of lighting levels experienced in a car with a glass sunroof, I was unaware of the Zenith screen – until I put the wipers on when it appeared that they were leaving a vast tract unwiped.  I suspect it makes  a considerable difference for rear seat passengers though.

The steering at parking speeds was SM/CX light but firmed up once under way.  Indeed it always felt correctly weighted and became noticeably heavier as it loaded up under cornering.  The clutch was light and the gearchange precise but I hate DIY transmissions.  The 75 bhp, 1.4 injection engine seemed to have quite reasonable torque from just below 2000 rpm but, try as I might, I was unable to get the car to exceed 60 mph on a stretch of dual carriageway.  Then I noticed on the display the words ’60 limit on’ and, assuming that the left hand control would operate the cruise control as it does on my C5 and that it therefore might also operate the limiter (which my C5 does not have although it does have an audible warning if you exceed a pre-determined speed), I fiddled around with it until the display read ‘pause’.  Now why didn’t I consult the owner’s handbook you might very well ask?  Because it was not in the glove compartment.  A few weeks ago, we had a meal with one of my wife’s relations who complained about the self same thing in the Mercedes E Klasse that he had hired.  His normal transport is an Audi A8.  It started to rain and he was obliged to pull over and play with all the controls until he found the one that operated the wipers.  He observed that controls that one would push or pull on the Audi required a rotary action on the Mercedes and he asked why manufacturers don’t produce a laminated card explaining the operation of the essential controls for use by hire companies and garages.

The ride was really rather excellent.  At low speeds, it was both smoother and quieter than that on my C Cinq.  At higher speeds, it was still very good by steel spring standards but obviously lacked that typical, infinitely rising spring rate that typifies hydropneumatic cars.  There was little body roll and this, coupled with the properly weighted steering and generally neutral handling meant that fairly rapid progress could be made on country roads. At dual carriageway/motorway speeds, the car was commendably quiet, thanks to class leading aerodynamics (it has a Cd of 0.30 – the same as the GSAX1/X3) although opening a window led to buffeting.  The engine was reasonably quiet until one pushes it above 5,250 rpm when it becomes quite harsh and intrusive.

I took a look at the on-board computer display which revealed that since it was last reset some 425 miles previously, the car had averaged 40.3 mpg (and averaged 30 mph).

In addition to the excellent interior space, the boot is enormous, given the exterior dimensions of the car.  At 300-litres capacity, it is the biggest in the segment and offers easy loading - thanks to a low boot sill and wide aperture Additionally, the boot has four lashing rings and can be equipped with a removable load net.  To increase rear load space, the 60:40 split-folding rear seats can be folded with one hand in a single movement using levers accessed from either the boot or the back seats.  With the rear seats down it is possible to load boxes up to 1029 x 1189 x 689mm in size.

In order to take the underbonnet photo, self-evidently I had to open the bonnet and the interior release was exactly where I expected it to be – in the front passenger footwell but I was unable to operate it until I opened the front passenger door – the stowage tray in the door is designed to prevent one from doing this.

The front seats were comfortable although I would like more lateral and lumbar support.  Spring rates complement those of the suspension. 

I was not keen on the plastics used in the interior.  The press release majors on the quality of the finishes and materials used - such as on the ‘soft-touch’ upper dashboard.  I thought this was plain tacky. The ‘metallic plastic’ trim (in particular that facing the front passenger) looked like plastic and cheap plastic at that. Nevertheless, the press release states that “…throughout the interior, the new C3 is inspired by cues from upper segment vehicles, delivering the highest levels of comfort and prestige.

To sum up, the packaging is very clever, the car is quiet and comfortable, handles and rides well (much better than the Vauxhall I drove at the beginning of this year).  I didn’t like the thick pillars or the interior.  It clearly builds on the strengths of the old C3 while avoiding most of that car’s shortcomings (such as the horrible digital speedo).  It is, unusually for a CitroŽn, visually related to the outgoing car while actually being a new model.

It must be said that I do not generally like small cars.  Nor do I like manual transmissions.   Therefore I would never contemplate purchasing a C3.  However, the press release says it is “…a vehicle for all ages, the new C3 will be desirable to young families and single professionals looking for a car with a sense of fun, driving pleasure and a distinct personality, but also with practical space and great fuel economy.  It will also appeal to older drivers looking for a comfortable and spacious compact car with high levels of specification.  Whilst most models in the small car market either focus on style (with sporty, dynamic characteristics) or practicality (with an emphasis on value-for-money), the new C3 strikes an excellent balance between the two.” I think this sums it up pretty well.

© 2011 Julian Marsh

© 2011 CitroŽnŽt