Citroen C3 2019 Car of the Year review

New supermini chic undone by retro origins

Citroen C3

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IF proof proper is needed that Citroen is back, it’s the return of the C3. In less than two years, more than 400,000 units of the striking third generation have been sold worldwide, exceeding forecasts and putting the century-old brand back on the map. Internationally, at least.

It’s easy to see why. Chunky, handsome design with ever-so-subtle crossover cues make the French supermini seem a little larger than it is (while actually shedding 75kg compared with the preceding version). Inside the spacious cabin, sofa-like seating, deep glass areas for exceptional vision, a simple yet contemporary dash layout and classy details like luggage-strap door pulls add further appeal.

Backing the latter up in the sole Aussie-spec Shine variant are lofty levels of standard kit, including a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, reverse camera, road-sign recognition tech, climate control, lane-departure warning, driver-attention alert, rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, alloy wheels, four-wheel discs, and a five-year warranty. Plus, buyers can option an in-built dash-cam and a fixed glass roof, as well as 33 colour and trim customisation combinations, at fairy reasonable prices. “Feels boutique!” one judge quipped. Germans, take note.

Things continue to look peachy on the move, thanks to a smooth and punchy 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo that pulls strongly and doesn’t fall into the trap of many similar downsized powertrains by sounding strained at the upper end. The C3 also happens to be commendably economical, with light yet accurate handling and soft suspension that puts many larger models to shame. Style and relaxed refinement are very much the chic C3’s calling cards.

These qualities were enough for the Citroen to give the all-new Volkswagen Polo an unexpected run for its money in a 2018 four-car comparo, despite the C3 sitting on PSA’s ageing and utterly conventional PF1 platform, which dates back to the late 1990s Peugeot 206. No fancy hydraulic suspension here, just good old trusty struts and a torsion beam out back.

However, the lack of Autonomous Emergency Braking and keyless entry/start availability helped the VW pull ahead. Those issues have been remedied in MY19 C3s, which also gain blind-spot warning and DAB+ digital radio. All for no extra dosh. Gosh!

Ultimately, though, the dated engineering underneath has caught up with the fresh-faced Citroen, as revealed by some scattered switchgear (like the Houdini-esque ‘Sport’ button), a tiny glovebox, the propensity for quite a bit of bodyroll through tighter corners, and a dim-witted auto.

The harder we drove it the less convincing things seemed. Unlike the Polo…

Still, as a classy, Euro alternative to up-spec mainstream superminis, or even as a cheaper entree to posher premium fare like the Mini Cooper and Audi A1, the charming C3 represents a remarkably thorough proposition. Good enough for sales success internationally, but not enough for COTY. 

 

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