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Citroen's third generation C3 supermini strikes a chord with June Neary
Citroen's supermini, the C3, is a mass of appealing contradictions. It's compact, yet practical and roomy. It's affordable, yet feels of high quality. It's refined on longer journeys, yet well-suited to the town. Other small cars may be more engaging to drive but in its latest more characterful MK3 model form, you could well find this one to be more engaging to own.
Every modern car ought to have a unique selling point but sadly so few of them do. This one looks and feels different, with features like what Citroen calls 'Airbump' side panels - black plastic strips with air-filled bumps that look individual and create a scratch-proof surface to guard the bodywork from minor scratches and dents. These are supposed to shield the side of the car from supermarket trolley scrapes. It looks good at the front, where there's the distinctive two-tier front light signature we first saw on the current C4 Picasso. Double chrome strips extend from the double-chevron badge and go all the way across to slick LED daytime running lights. In profile, the black windscreen pillars and floating roof aim to accentuate the more dynamic shape. There's a deliberately high bonnet line, short overhangs, 3D rear lights and wheelarches fitted with extensions for a crossover-style look. Inside, Citroen says that it's drawn inspiration from travel and home interior design to create an interior that aims to feel like an extension of the driver's home. I'm not sure about that. My home looks nothing like his. Still, the perception of space is heightened by the horizontal dashboard, which runs across the whole width of the vehicle. The design of the interior trim and the shape of the chrome-finished air vents also combine to enhance the perception of width. Customers get a choice of cabin finishes and you can also have a panoramic sunroof that fills the cabin with natural light. Out back, there's a decently-sized 300-litre boot
Small French cars used to ride beautifully, grip tenaciously and flow from corner to corner with relaxed, unflustered motion. As this one does. It may come as news to some motoring journalists but most supermini buyers don't routinely want to throw their cars about as if they were on stage from the RAC Rally. What most of them would prefer is a car that rolls the red carpet over the average appallingly surfaced British road. As this one does. The trick, which Citroen hasn't always mastered, is to offer this without inducing the kind of bodyroll and handling woollyness that removes any element of enjoyment from the driving experience altogether. In this respect, this impressively refined C3 is a step forward from its predecessor: a Fiesta rolls less and will still offer more fun, but this is the car I'd prefer to live with day-in, day-out, though on longer trips, the seats could do with a little more support. On the open road, you might also wish the power steering had a bit more feel, but it comes into its own around town, where you appreciate the light gearbox and clutch as much as the tight turning circle that will help owners out of many a tight spot, as will a good field of vision around the car helped by the low window line. And on the engine front? First up at the bottom of the range is a 1.0-litre 68bhp unit that needs to be revved quite hard if you're to get anywhere near the quoted performance figures. Much better is the 1.2-litre version of this unit which offers either 82 or 110bhp and delivers the same distinctive three cylinder thrum but accompanies it with pokier performance. It also gives you the option of the brand's ETG semi-automatic gearbox. As for the BlueHDi diesel options, well there are two main ones. Most potential buyers will be looking at the 75bhp variant but a 100bhp version of this frugal unit is also offered.
List pricing suggests that you'll be paying in the £11,000 to £17,000 bracket for your C3. That's par for the course amongst superminis, but of course Citroen dealers are well renowned for their readiness to sharpen their pencils. There's a choice of three trim levels - 'Touch', 'Feel' and 'Flair'. Potential buyers will need to make sure that they leave some budget aside for personalisation. There's a choice of four cabin finishes - Citroen calls them 'moods' - plus there are some really clever optional touches. Of these, my favourite is the 'ConnectedCAM Citroen' system. Here, you get a forward-facing two-megapixel, GPS-enabled camera mounted in the rear-view mirror. It's there for two reasons; sensibility and fun. The 'sense' bit lies in its capability to record any traffic incidents or accidents, since it activates in an impact and stores the preceding 30 seconds and following 60 seconds. However, there's a fun purpose too, given that the driver can also click a button to safely take exterior photos or videos of the view through the windscreen and then share this content through social networks. I also like the Citroen Connect Nav system that comes with a 7-inch touchscreen and ties into connected services like TomTom traffic. This display also incorporates Mirror Screen technology which enables owners to you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems to link in their smartphones and use selected apps on the move.
As superminis go, the C3 isn't an orthodox one. In time honoured Citroen fashion, it's just that little bit different, with smart, slightly quirky looks and those curious 'air bump' side panels. Instead of adopting the 'little big car' approach favoured by many rivals and ending up feeling like a scaled down family hatchback, the C3 manages the same thing in a cleverer, more compact package by simply making better use of the space it has to offer. Citroen's MPV expertise doubtless helps here. What it lacks in driving dynamism, it makes up for in quality, refinement and a cosseting ride. Indeed, I can think of few sensibly-sized small cars better suited to urban motoring than this one. Overall then, the C3 is an often-overlooked but strong contender in the supermini marketplace. Best of all perhaps, it's a car that's distinctively Citroen.