Some cars appeal most convincingly in certain context, such as a Fiat 500 in Old Town Rome. Or an Audi S8 blasting along the Autobahn. Or a Ford Super Duty pick-up truck dropping a boat into Lake Powell, Utah. Or a Porsche 911 GT3… in my driveway.
I imagine the Citroen C3 is a glove fit in Paris. Compact, flamboyant, achingly French, with cobblestone-friendly loping ride, tiny fuel sipping engine and signature Airbumps-as-fashion for Parisian touch-parking. But its suitability for the combative confines of Melbourne or Sydney? Well…
It’s not that the French compact hatch is ill-equipped for the Aussie inner-city environment. It’s just for a cheerful runabout it’s not that cheap and against equally (or arguably more) stylised competition, it’s a little slim on gear and fun factor. So it makes a grand enough entrance in street presence alone but struggles a bit in the experience.
Not doing the current C3 hatch many favours is that it isn’t the face-lifted version of this current generation that’s due early next year – even then the key update highlight is LED headlights rather than the current halogen units – and the entry pricing for C3 has bolted upwards significantly since its 2017 Aussie debut.
There’s only one C3 variant available in Oz right now, the Shine. It’s the high-spec version in that it lobs for – gulp – $28,990 plus on-road costs – gulp – and there’s no cheaper-priced, lower-specified variant to opt for.
That’s a fair step from just a couple of years ago when you get into C3 for $23,490 list, but the debut version had neither AEB or Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. These and other spec updates arrived in the 2019 update, complete with a price rise to $26,990.
There’s no real cheap and cheerful variant to make its funky alternative design properly hip-pocket attractive. Especially when you can flaunt style in Fiat’s 500 Lounge, to pick one rival, from under $20,000 (albeit in manual form). Even the Abarth 595 ($26,990) saves a few grand.
Elsewhere, the Mazda 2 range tops out at $25,990 for the GT and Volkswagen’s Polo Style at $25,490. The C3 Shine is also right at Toyota Yaris SX Hybrid money ($29,020).
And that’s glancing at the more extravagant end of a segment kicking off at around the $15,000 mark for the entry stuff.
The Citroen C3 hopes to lob in with the aspirational crowd including Audi A1 (from $32,350) and Mini Hatch (from $30,250) despite wearing a mainstream badge – no matter how Citroen’s infrequency on Aussie roads might translate to ‘exclusivity’ of sorts.
So, the Shine would really want to pile on the goodness in equipment and hands-on impression to approach justifying its bold price positioning.
Outside the C3 Shine halogen headlights, 16-inch alloys, power-folding mirrors, LED daytime running lights, side mirror indicators, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and rain-sensing wipers. Outside of Citroen’s signature Airbump plastic body protection, there’s not much to remark about exterior gear other than it ought to fit LED headlights for its price and wheels have been downsized from 17-inch since MY18.
The C3 is offered in a choice of six body colours plus various bi-tone dual-colour combinations, with those outside of white wanting for an extra $290 (Almond Green) or $590 (metallic finishes).
Inside, the Shine fits keyless go, cloth trim, mechanical-adjust front seating, a leather steering wheel, analogue instrumentation, single-zone climate control, USB and 12V ports, one-touch electric windows all round and a space saver spare. Infotainment is a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple and Android smartphone mirroring, inbuilt sat-nav and DAB+ radio.
There’s the odd stylised feature – fabric ‘luggage inspired’ door handles – but essentially there’s nothing on the equipment list that’s going to elevate the C3 Shine out of the mainstream and into premium High Street territory, where its lofty sticker price otherwise suggests it should park itself.
In terms of highlights and points of difference from the light car pack, there’s really not that much worth a special mention.
The C3 launched in early 2018 in Oz with an average four-star ANCAP rating off the back of assessment conducted in 2017, a result mostly – though not wholly – due to the lack of autonomous emergency braking fitment on local models at the time.
It otherwise performed quite well in some areas of assessment, with 88 per cent for adult occupant and 83 per cent for child occupant protection, with 59 and 58 per cent respectively for pedestrian protection and safety assist. In the latter category, it scored 1.5 out of 3 for lane support and 0 out of 3 for AEB systems.
Come April 2019, and C3 was updated with added equipment that now includes, among various additions, standard low-speed AEB and blind-spot monitoring. While fitment does go some way to addressing absent safety equipment, the AEB fitted is quite rudimentary, featuring no pedestrian or cyclist detection and operating up to just 30km/h in a nation where most school zones are 40km/h.
The remainder of the C3 safety credentials includes lane departure warning, driver attention alert, speed sign detection with over-speed warning and distance alert, while the cabin fits six airbags including the common front, side and curtain array.
The hatch also fits the nifty Euro-spec hazard light warning feature under heavy braking, which is quite beneficial in warning following drivers of an emergency stop, even in a nation that’s recently adopted the dodgy and confounding habit of flashing hazards as some sort of ‘thank you’. ISOFIX mounting points are located on the outboard rear seating positions.
Some elements of the funky exterior design, right down Airbump-shaped design motif, are mirrored inside the cabin in areas such as the door handle ‘pods’ and the air vents. But while some effort has been injected to bring a sense of occasion in the look of the interior – be it the distinctive seat trim execution or the white highlighted door bins – the C3 really struggles to drag itself up from its cut-priced roots to create an ambience expect from its upmarket price-point.
For a nigh on $30,000 hatch, it really feels like it offers more of a $20,000 interior.
The mechanical adjust front seats are only adequately comfortable, the analogue instrumentation and cheapo monochromatic driver’s screen are old hat and there’s so much acreage of shiny plastic that cabin clean up could be practically conducted with a hose.
Nor is it an easy cabin to get comfortable in as the seat positioning is cumbersome to alter and the steering wheel doesn’t have quite enough height and reach adjustment. Nothing about the interior space is really tactile or brings a sense of solidity in execution, while strong sunlight bouncing off the shiny dash top and steering column shroud can cast ‘milky’ reflections in the windscreen and instrumentation.
There’s little storage along the centre console, including dinky misplaced cupholders and a lack of armrest, and while the door bins are large their plastic walls just rattle items stowed there incessantly.
No hope for some silver lining with the infotainment system, either, and not just for its modest 7.0-inch size or low placement diverting your gaze further from the road than normal. It’s clunky, slow in touch response and feature activation, annoyingly locates the air-con controls and stop/start ‘off’ buttons in its menus, and is a distracting chore to navigate for the uninitiated.
The cabin is decently packaged, though, and there’s reasonable room in row two. But it also lacks any convenience or facility for rear passengers and seems even more cut-priced in back than it does up front.
The boot offers quite a commodious 400 litres that expands, with a pronounced ramp created by the 60:40-split seatbacks, to a reasonable 922 litres.
All in all, the cabin doesn’t do the hatch many favours. It might be perfectly adequate for a cheap runabout but clearly out of its league against the more premium segment offerings available for similar – or less – outlay.
The C3 is powered by a 1.2-litre direct-injected turbo three-cylinder petrol producing just 81kW at 5000rpm if quite a healthy 205Nm from 1500rpm. It’s paired with the conventional six-speed automatic as standard as there’s no manual option available locally.
It’s claimed to return a combined consumption of 4.9L/100km with an urban figure of a more realistic 6.8L/100km that’s more likely this type of urban runabout’s target environment. On test, though, it runs habitually in the sevens or more, no doubt directly related to the sort of driving style this powertrain demands – more on that next.
At 1090kg, it’s quite lightweight though performance is actually a bit tardy for such a small device boasting north of 200Nm – 0-100km/h acceleration is claimed to take 10.9 seconds.
It might be tempting to excuse the lacklustre execution elsewhere in the package if the C3 delivered on its namesake and shone on road. A bit of fun-filled driver engagement and pep underfoot would suit the C3’s character and stake it’s mark in segment with an appealing point of difference.
Sadly, perhaps, it’s not to be. I’ve driven a lot of small-capacity three-pot powertrains of late and the C3’s isn’t one of the better ones. Engine response to throttle inputs is tardy and it’s not terribly willing once it mans the battle stations despite the 205Nm boast.
Every right foot modulation is met with a light-switch pause and a leisurely enthusiasm from the transmission that makes it an inconsistent and arduous experience around town where this sort of car should perform best.
It’s not just the powertrain economy-focused calibration, either. Activating Sport mode just makes its character less refined in transitioning on and off power, and it just really lacks polish and finish.
Lacking French Flair
An unrefined powertrain and floaty ride might cut it in cobblestoned Paris but not so much on the streets of Sydney or Melbourne
So much so, in fact, that at crawling pace the whole powertrain produces an alarming shudder you might expect from a crook dual-clutch design, even though the C3 uses the usually smooth torque converter-type auto.
Unsurprisingly, the C3 forces you to drive it assertively in order to ‘power through’ some of its off-the-mark foibles and general lethargy, but the trade-off is this punishes fuel economy for the sake of driver sanity.
The ride is lopey and bouncy at low speed, moreso over undulations at speed on the highway. It’s quite decent at absorbing impacts yet the chassis seems under-damped and never feels properly composed or settled. Good for Parisian cobblestones, perhaps, but not great for general body control, particularly with a head of steam out on the highways. The chassis lulls about on its wheels in a manner a hatch this small and light shouldn’t.
Steering is super-light and transparently aloof, though some buyers might find favour in its ease of use.
There’s certainly not much sense of engagement that might otherwise bring some satisfaction to pointing the C3 through the urban confines. And, to top it off, the gruff little three-pot shudders into and out of life with stop-start with enough annoyance that you’ll be digging through the confounded infotainment sub-menus to switch it off before every trip.
Thankfully it’s easy to park, with its grainy and guided (if non-adaptive) reversing camera a handy ally.
At the time of writing, Citroen is offering its ‘Comfort Therapy 5+5+5’ promotion bundling in
five years of unlimited-kilometre warranty, five years of roadside assistance and five years of free basic scheduled servicing.
Service intervals are 12 months and 15,000kms, which is shorter mileage per visit than some Citroen models.
Outside of the current offer, servicing costs are capped at a total of $2374 for 60 months/75,000kms, averaging out to $474.80 per year over five years.
Styling and colour choice are the pint-sized French hatchback’s two big draw cards, though you’d really want to be smitten with what’s on offer to fork out what the C3 Shine asks for.
It’s a bit of a shame there’s isn’t a cheaper variant on offer – as there is Europe where C3 undercuts the Volkswagen Polo’s entry price in some markets – where you could buy into the flamboyance on offer at a much more reasonable price.
As it sits, the once sub-$24,000 prospect just a couple of years back has ballooned to a $29,000 pitch that just doesn’t stack up in the equipment and value stakes in 2020. Not only does the C3 Shine face competition from equally funky choices for less money, it’s surrounded in segment by techier, more safety-laden, roomier and nicer driving alternatives for similar outlay.
The C3 Shine is tough prospect to recommend. But if you dare to be different and money is of little consequence, it does represent an adventurous left-field choice that firmly sets itself apart from the me-too crowd.