Aaaah, Citroen. It’s one of the oldest car brands in the world and, like a good French Chablis, it’s steeped in cultural reverence and appreciation by those who know.
But for those that don’t – and judging by the brand’s miniscule sales here in Australia, that’s most of us – Citroen is a rarity, a quirk, a négligé. It doesn’t necessarily mean the cars are bad, though and in some cases, there are some diamonds in the rough that are being overlooked.
This is the Citroen C3 Shine, which is the only variant offered here in Australia. It lists at $23,490 before on-roads, while a white C3 with no options will cost you $23,990 driveaway at present (December 2018).
Our red tester (no cost) comes with a glass roof ($600), extra red trim ($150), black rims (no cost option) and something called a Connected Cam, which can record vid and pics via a camera through the windscreen. At $600, it’s not cheap, but it’s the first instance of a factory-fitted dash cam that we’ve seen.
You’ll be cross-shopping against a swathe of Japanese and Korean compacts like the Suzuki Swift (and even the smaller, similarly quirky Ignis), the Mazda 2, Kia’s Picanto and the Toytota Yaris.
Fuel-wise, the little C3 likes 95 RON, but it doesn’t drink much of it. Over a full-tank run, we used 42 litres (its tank holds 45) to travel a smidge over 600km, giving us a real world fuel figure of 6.0L/100km. Against a claim of 4.9L/100km, and with two large lads and cargo aboard, that’s a win in my books.
The front-wheel-drive C3 comes with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine mated to a traditional six-speed automatic transmission.
Read next: 2019 Citroen C3 Aircross review
It’s also got automatic headlights and wipers, a reversing camera, a small multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a digital speedo, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a switchable stop/start mode.
It also comes with speed sign recognition, which worked almost flawlessly over a 1200km trip up the north coast of NSW. Its only flaw was a propensity to pick up signs located at the bottom of freeway exits, even if you were proceeding past them.
It does miss out on a bit of kit, though, especially in the driver aid department. It does come with beep-only lane departure control, but it misses out on AEB. Citroen says it’s working on adding it to the car in 2019 – but we’d guess this will put pressure on that driveaway price.
“Wow… there’s so much room in here! You’d never think that by looking at it,” remarked my 22-year-old, and that’s a great way to sum it up. Wide door apertures, long-slung seats and plenty of head room means that the C3 feels like a larger thing inside.
There’s not a lot of boot space at 300 litres, but it does jump to 922 litres with the seats folded down. Getting bigger items in is a bit tricky, as the loading lip is raised and the aperture itself is small – but having said that, I still rammed a full sized mountain bike in the boot with the wheels off.
The safety basics are present in the C3, with six airbags including full-length curtains and a rear camera with lines and sensors, although driver aids are limited to a clever and effective speed sign recognition system.
It’s only rated with a four-star safety score from ANCAP, though, mostly due to the absent AEB. Citroen says it’s working to make it available ASAP.
We jagged the C3 for a 1200km round-trip from the south coast NSW town of Wollongong up to the northern beachside city of Coffs Harbour and back over a weekend. To be honest, I thought we were in for a rough weekend in a tiny, underdone city car.
I was completely wrong.
For two 185cm fellas, the C3 proved to be an admirably comfortable and easy to use device that ate up the big miles with ease.
It’s simple, no-frills interior is a breath of fresh Gallic air, and the cloth-covered seats are firm, deep, supportive and low slung. The traditional dash and chunky little steering wheel are perfectly proportioned, and the small, simple digital readout is easily visible.
The multimedia system is a bit fiddly, but most of that goes away when you plug your smartphone in, anyway. There’s a single USB port paired with a 12-volt port for your energy needs, too, but none in the back.
It’s tight-ish in the rear, but nowhere near as cramped as you’d expect, with sufficient knee and head room for even middling-tall teens. There are also ISOFIX baby seat mounts for the little ones, and loading them in should be pretty easy through the decently sized rear door apertures.
Storage is an issue though, with very few places to stow stuff. European car makers still don’t get our propensity for big drinks and a demand for them in our cars, and the C3’s bottle and cup holders aren’t great. There’s also little in the way of places for phones, wallets and the like, while the glovebox would be lucky to swallow a single glove, let alone a pair.
ON THE ROAD
Again, the C3 throws up a surprisingly spirited performance, despite its diminutive size. Based around a simple suspension architecture of struts up front and a torsion beam out back, the long-limbed little C3 has a lovely supple damper tune that allows it to simply hovercraft over the worst of our road imperfections. The steering is communicative and sufficiently direct, and the C3 simply eats up highway miles with a smile on its dial.
The drivetrain is surprisingly responsive too, despite its size. The three-potter petrol engine makes 81kw and a healthy enough 205Nm, and because it’s only pushing around 1090kg, it does a bang-up job most of the time.
Downsides? The engine note could be considered a little coarse (‘characterful’ perhaps), and there are a few moments of indecisiveness at times from the automatic six-speeder, but nothing really to write home about.
Citroen has always been a purveyor of slightly off-beat but amazingly practical cars, and the brand has a very long history here in Australia.
Aside from the lack of AEB and questionable on-board storage, the C3 is a perfect example of the rule that there’s a car for everyone. If you’re looking for a city runabout with a sense of style and fun, and that’s also capable of doing a 200km jaunt standing on its head, then you really owe it to yourself to go and check one out.