The latest Citroën C3 is very different from its predecessor but how user-friendly is it as a daily driver? The traditional May break for the writer and his good lady, and a planned week on England’s Jurassic coast in Dorset, provided the perfect opportunity to find out what this car is all about.
We last drove the C3, the third generation of the model, at the UK launch event in 2016 and were impressed by its combination of style, performance and practicality. And on delivery of the top-grade C3 Flair PT 110 model to Charman Towers in mid Wales, the visual presence of the car is immediately obvious.
Bold look, outside and in
Leaving aside the duck-egg blue paint finish, a colour this writer has not experienced since painting it onto the bottom of Airfix model Spitfires as a child, the C3 certainly makes a statement with its two-tier front lights, the bold chrome stripes of the bonnet, and those air bumps on the side.
The more I get used to these plastic mouldings the more I’m coming to like them. One can order an entry-level C3 without the ‘bumps’ but I think that would make the doors seem unnecessarily bulbous, and they do offer some against car park dings.
Inside is a similar story. The latest Citroën interior treatment debuted with the C4 but is no less impressive in the C3. It feels like there is a lot of room inside, emphasised by the full-width dashboard, and it feels very upmarket with lots of neat touches – none more so than the ‘suitcase strap’ interior door handles.
Some of the plastic finishes are a little hard to the touch but not irritatingly so, while the dash layout is impressive – angled neatly towards the driver and with not too many buttons to confuse.
Briefly I’m concerned that rear seats will need to be used to accommodate luggage as the 300-litre boot only just accommodates the suitcases for a week away, and I speculate that with any of our offspring tagging along space could have been an issue. But then I realise that I am misinterpreting this car. Its boot is bigger than rivals the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208, because this is a supermini – it just doesn’t feel like one…
Getting to Dorset in good time to find our holiday cottage requires miles of motorway munching, and the C3 feels very assured. Admittedly we do have the current power range topper in a turbocharged version of the three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine of 110hp, but the whole car offers refined progress at motorway speed limits – not the prime environment for a supermini. At least it does in terms of roadholding, bump smothering. Less impressive is the mildly intrusive engine note at speed limits – a six-speed gearbox would probably help matters.
The Jurassic Coast stretches around 96 miles from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, and gets its name from its rock – constant coastal erosion has exposed 185 million years’ worth of geology. It’s been a World Heritage Site since 2001, but the writer has not been here since the 1970s – and it is the most memorable piece of geology from those childhood holidays that we make for first.
Durdle Door is an enormous, rock arch jutting out to sea, the vertical strata highly visible as one looks down on it from the top of the cliff. To get to that point requires traversing rather more challenging roads than the motorway. These are twisty, with more indifferent surfaces, and sometimes not much wider than the car.
On such narrow routes discretion is, of course, called for, every inch of the C3’s generous visibility out front made use of. Reversing into parking spaces exposes somewhat less impressive rear vision, but the parking camera and sensors of the grade ease this issue.
When the roads widen out one can fully investigate the car’s handling prowess, which is, well okay. It is rather softly suspended, with quite a bit of body lean under enthusiastic cornering, and steering that is not quite as sharp as rivals. And while the engine is quite torquey, when one just need to exercise the gears the shift is rather woolly in operation.
Overall, however, the car remains refined, and this shows itself the following day. Heading out to the Isle of Portland we drive through the centre of the Port of Weymouth, and straight into a traffic jam caused by a police incident on the quayside. The C3 simmers quietly in the queue, effective air conditioning keeping things cool within.
Portland was once a naval base, and remains a centre of the limestone industry – St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace and the Cenotaph are all built with Portland Stone. Much more recently the seas were the scene of great British success as the home of the maritime events in the 2012 Olympics.
Having easily crested the steep hills up to the top of the island one gains a superb view of the coast stretching away. Prominent is the remarkable Chesil Beach, seemingly cutting off a section of sea in a highly visual representation of a geological trait known as longshore drift.
Perhaps the most fascinating bit of geology, however, is found at a small coastal town that has recently found new fame. West Bay is now better known to TV viewers as Broadchurch, home of the ITV crime drama, and settling down with a cup of tea at a seafront kiosk one can constantly hear other tourists passing by with comments such as “There’s the police station,” and “Isn’t that mobile home where David Tennant lived?”
From the quayside bench where Tennant’s DI Hardy and Olivia Colman’s DS Miller shared many of their scenes, one can see very clearly the looming and so distinctive sandstone cliffs above the beach. Sandstone is soft, rock falls are common, and it is distinctly unnerving a few weeks after our break to see pictures of a new and massive fall from the cliffs, completely obliterating the stretch where we had walked under those very same cliffs…
Getting to West Bay, and indeed all our chosen locations during our Jurassic week, reveals the one major frustration with the C3. The car has the most idiosyncratic satellite navigation system this writer has ever experienced. Its routing suggests that it has a ‘on holiday’ mode, the seven-inch touchscreen constantly suggesting one dives off main, and direct, routes onto slow, longer side roads – it makes no sense at all…
Overall, however, the C3 proves a highly agreeable companion for our Dorset tour, a relaxing car to drive and thus one less thing to worry about on our holiday. In fact, we end up so relaxed that we forget to use some of this top-level Flair model’s extras, such as the built-in dash cam on which one can both record video, or take photos and send to friends via a smartphone app.
Superminis are of course generally regarded as around town cars, their traditional environment being on the daily commute. These days especially, however, all cars have to offer extra versatility. In many ways, the Citroën C3 breaks the mould in supermini design, and on the evidence of our week in a geological history lesson, the car would suit many buyers as a good all-rounder.
Citroën C3 – key specifications
Model tested: Citroën C3 Flair 110 hp
Price: £16,425 (range starts £11,135)
Insurance group:16E (range starts 8E)
Engine: Petrol three-cylinder 1.2-litre turbo.
Power (hp):110 @ 5500rpm
Torque (Nm):205 @1500rpm.
Top speed (mph): 117.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 61.4.
CO2 emissions (g/km):103.
Key rivals: Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Peugeot 208.
Test Date: May 2017