JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – The announcement of Citroën's return to South Africa was a welcome one. Although the French firm is unlikely to sell its wares in the thousands it's always a treat to have a variety of manufacturers in the local automotive market. We drove the new C3 for a few days in and around Gauteng.

Where does it fit in?

The local C3 range currently comprises just two derivatives, the five-speed manual 1,2-litre Feel (60 kW/118 N.m) and our test unit, the 1,2-litre Turbo Shine delivering 81 kW and 205 N.m. The latter's forced-induction engine is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Citroën C3 competes with cars such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo. It sets itself apart from these rivals with unusual and interesting exterior and interior design. Take, for example, the plastic Air Bump panels on the flanks and the two-tone exterior colour scheme. It certainly draws attention.

This funky design continues when you open the door. The leatherette door handles inside remind me of the grips of a classy suitcase, while the air conditioning vents have a soft-angled rectangular design – a theme carried throughout the car. The red framing of the facia ties in neatly with the red stitching of the cloth seats. The pews, interestingly, remind me of those of the Citroën C4 Cactus long-term test car I drove a few years ago. These seats are wide and comfortable and again illustrate that cloth seats can be more comfortable than leather items.

You view the two dials (speedometer and rev counter), as well as a central screen, through the steering wheel, while the infotainment screen to the left supplies all the necessary information, along with Bluetooth, USB, aux-in and screen mirroring for your smartphone.

Behind the wheel

During our few days with the car, we drove in excess of 600 km, with two adults in the vehicle at all times. This included a commute to Middelburg and several trips within Gauteng. Even with this modestly sized engine, the performance was sufficient. There's sufficient torque low in the rev range, while the engine is at its happiest up to the 5 000 r/min mark.

The transmission shifts relatively effortlessly, but if you are used to a double-clutch transmission, you will notice the slight delay in this torque-converter’s actions. Still, this is an everyday driver and not a performance car, after all. The gearbox sometimes holds onto a gear for longer than expected, although this seems to follow a spirited drive or overtaking manoeuvre, with the cog-swapper clearly thinking its driver wants to continue in this style.

While we made use of the available performance most of the time, our average fuel consumption figure still came in at just a little over 7,0 L/100 km.

Rear passenger space is rather tight, although there's just enough headroom for this 1,87-metre author. The suspension is absorbent and the ride quality comfortable, no doubt aided by the 205/50 R17 tyres at all four corners.

Summary

The unconventional flavour the C3 brings to this segment is refreshing. The importer might not have the dealer-network footprint of its main competitors (that's less of a problem if you reside in one of the larger cities, of course) but the hatchback offers a high level of specification for the money, including a five-year/100 000 km service plan.

It rides well and its performance is on par with that of its key competitors. All things considered, there's a lot to like about this French newcomer...

*Read our full road test of this model in the April issue of CAR magazine.



FAST FACTS

Model: Citroën C3 1,2T Shine AT
Price: R299 900
Engine: 1,2-litre, three-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 81 kW between 5 500 - 6 000 r/min
Torque: 205 N.m at 1 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 11,69 seconds (tested)
Top Speed: 194 km/h (claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 6,0 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 137 g/km
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Service Plan: 5-year/100 000 km