Does the Citroën C3 shine bright enough to pull attention from more established B-segment contenders?
It shows a degree of confidence, Citroën introducing its B-segment C3 into the South African market. In a country where the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta rule the roost, it’s a tough segment to infiltrate, even for some established manufacturers. Perhaps Citroën hopes to lure those who want to stand out from the crowd?
Well, you certainly wouldn’t mistake the C3 for anything else in its class. The distinctive styling found favour with everyone on the team, many praising some of the various quirky design elements that make the Citroën such a visual treat. Painted in Platinum Grey, our C3 test unit offset the subtle paintwork with a red contrast roof and Airbumps with red accents. Funky 17-inch Cross alloy wheels finish everything off nicely.
Step inside and you’ll find yourself in a similarly stylish environment. Although pleasant to look at, the materials used within the cabin aren’t quite up to the standard of the Citroën’s rivals, with elements of the facia and door cards trimmed in coarse plastic. The three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel and some interesting touches do their best to lift the cabin’s ambience, such as neat leatherette door pulls and red embellishments. The seats are treated to a similar design, the cloth-trimmed pews sporting grey and red patterns.
The large front seats are comfortable, yet they don’t offer enough side bolstering and there’s a touch too much under-thigh support. There are plenty of adjustment options for the driver’s seat, yet the passenger has to do without height adjustment.
On the convenience front, this C3 Shine model (there’s an entry-level Feel variant that does without a turbocharger and some convenience items) is generously equipped, with luxuries such as automatic wipers, headlamps and cruise control all standard. The more safety conscious will be pleased to see that six airbags, ABS with EBD and a lane-departure-warning system are all included in the price.
Although it is feature rich, the seven-inch infotainment system can be a source of frustration. The screen does respond quickly to user input but the complicated menu structure may leave you scratching your head. Adjusting the temperature or fan speed is more of a task than it needs to be, requiring the driver to dive into the climate-control submenu to make minor adjustments. It does declutter the interior but an analogue climate-control interface would be a more ergonomic solution. The infotainment system does at least offer Bluetooth and smartphone-mirroring connectivity. The speedometer and rev counter are clearly marked and easy to read, and the trip computer is a doddle to navigate.
Cabin storage isn’t one of the Citroën’s strengths. The large glovebox lid is particularly deceptive, with a curiously small amount of storage space hidden behind. A small tray under the infotainment system, a coin holder and reasonably sized door pockets supplement the paltry cubby.
Sited just behind the gearlever are two cupholders. Curiously, the gear indicator is positioned here, too, and is hidden when a beverage is stored in the cupholder. An additional pair of holders positioned behind the handbrake are larger and more practical.
Outward visibility is excellent, with the large windscreen and side windows aiding manoeuvrability when changing lanes or parking. The rear window is slim which makes reversing a bit tricky. Thankfully, there are standard rear parking sensors.
There is plenty of space for those seated up front, with ample knee- and headroom. Larger adults wouldn’t want to sit in the rear, though. The compact dimensions of the C3 hinder headroom, in particular. Coupled with the dark trim, it does make the seat feel cramped. On the plus side, the boot offers up a sizable 248 litres of luggage space and there’s a nicely rounded 800 litres of utility room with the 60:40-split bench folded forward.
The 1,2-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol engine performs admirably, offering more power and considerably more torque than some of its competition. Producing 81 kW between 5 500 and 6 000 r/min, and a healthy 205 N.m of torque (at an easily accessible 1 500 r/min), the punchy powertrain revs smoothly and feels much quicker than it is. Still, 0-100 km/h in 11,69 seconds is sufficient for a car of this ilk. On our standardised fuel route, the C3 returned 6,4 L/100 km, which is not far off the claimed figure of 6,0 L/100 km.
Around town, the C3 is in its element. The powertrain pulls strongly from low speeds and remains refined as the pace increases. Mated to a six-speed automatic, the gearshifts are near imperceptible. At times, the C3 does tend to hang onto a gear for longer than is necessary, requiring the driver to intervene and select a higher gear via the manual override. In slow traffic, the cumbersome stop/start system can be a tad annoying. Thankfully, it can be switched off via the infotainment screen.
You certainly won’t be annoyed by the high-speed stability demonstrated by the French hatchback. At freeway speeds, the C3 feels composed and sure-footed, making it a fine motorway cruiser. The engine remains suitably hushed, too.
In typical Citroën fashion, the C3 has a superb ride. The soft suspension irons out potholes and road irregularities that would catch out many other small hatchbacks. The trade-off of the softly sprung arrangement is that the C3 doesn’t feel as composed in the corners when compared to the more dynamic vehicles offered in this segment; there is notable body roll on high-speed corner entry. Despite this, though, the C3 is still entertaining to hustle, with pleasing levels of grip. The electric power steering is direct and light at lower speeds, building in resistance as the speed increases. On our test strip, the C3 screeched to a halt from 100 km/h in just 3,01 seconds, gaining a “good” rating. While impressive, it is slightly slower than the heavier C3 Aircross we tested earlier in 2020.
At around R300 000, the Shine variant of the C3 is packed with plenty of comfort and safety equipment, supple ride quality and an excellent five-year/100 000 km service plan and warranty. However, it simply doesn’t have the established reputation of the Fiesta or Polo, both of which are backed by an extensive dealer network and maintain a high resale value on the second-hand market.
Still, the C3 has many positive attributes, the sprightly 1,2-litre powertrain and trendy styling being two of its most appealing. It may not cause a stir in the B-segment sales race but the C3 does provide more choice for buyers, especially those who want their practicality infused with plenty of individuality and style.