Big-screen debut for Citro�n C3

Citroen's new C3 benefits from some blue-sky thinking, says ANDY RUSSELL.Mix French flair with a bold streak in car design and you've got Citro�n's 'Creative Technologie'.

Citroen's new C3 benefits from some blue-sky thinking, says ANDY RUSSELL.

Mix French flair with a bold streak in car design and you've got Citro�n's 'Creative Technologie'.

The French car-maker has never shied away from building characterful cars, with varying degrees of success over the years, but the sky's the limit for the second-generation C3 as it takes the popular supermini upmarket with a prestige look and feel.

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Citro�n has modernised its range, with desirable looks and features at affordable prices, and the C3 follows the design cues of the C4 Picasso and C5, making it a cute, curvaceous supermini.

But the highlight - or should that be skylight - is a huge panoramic windscreen, on all but the entry model, stretching back over the front passengers heads.

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Sliding back the internal sunblind reveals the full extent of the 1.35m screen - 36pc bigger than the average supermini's - which sweeps back into the roof, flooding the cabin with light. The top 25cm of the screen has progressive tinting to cut out glare.

Next year the C3 will get Citro�n's second-generation Stop & Start system along with 90 and 95g/km diesels and new three-cylinder sub 100g/km petrol engines. Until then it carries over the 1.1, 1.4 and 1.6 petrol units and 1.4 and 1.6 turbo diesels.

I tried the more powerful 95hp 1.4-litre petrol engine which has been co-developed with BMW. It's flexible enough at low revs in traffic but comes alive above 3,000rpm with perky performance, yet returned 44mpg overall with a best of 50mpg. Unfortunately the five-speed manual gearbox had a rather notchy shift.

Citro�ns have always excelled on ride quality and the C3 is no exception, flattening bumpy roads and soaking up small potholes and raised manhole covers with supple efficiency. The downside is that the soft suspension can make it feel floaty over undulating roads when pressing on with enough body lean in bends to have passengers seeking something with which to steady themselves. Light steering is a delight in traffic but lacks feel at speed.

The C3 is one of the most compact superminis but has a class-leading 300-litre boot and that's not good news if you are stuck in the back between the boot and the front seats. Citro�n claims the C3 offers one of the most spacious cabins but rear-seat passengers are unlikely to agree. Even with slim, contoured front seat backs and a the lower section of the dashboard recessed to allow front passengers to sit further forward, legroom in the back is at a premium even for short people. It's all very well expecting the front passenger to give up some of their legroom to improve it for those in the back, but the driver can't if they want to be comfortable at the wheel.

The driving position is already marred by not enough reach adjustment on the steering wheel which meant I had to have the seat closer to the wheel than I like so could not stretch out my legs - not that they're particularly long. Slim pillars and large areas of glass mean good all-round visibility.

The good news if you need to carry loads is that the class-leading, boxy boot is all useable space with a reasonably low sill. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold on to the cushions but slope up from the boot floor.

No complaints either about the overall ambience of the tasteful, eye-catching interior which, like the body, has a definite air of quality with upmarket soft-touch plastics, contrasting chrome trim panels and glossy piano black highlights, swooping curves and a logical layout with dials that are easy on the eye and sensible controls that fall readily to hand. Move lower down the fascia and the plastics are clearly cheaper highlighted by the glove box lid.

Three mainstream trim levels are offered - VT, VTR+ and Exclusive - and there's also a special edition 90hp 1.6 diesel Airdream+, based on VTR+, which is Citroen's first production model producing less than 100g/km of carbon dioxide.

Entry-level VT, from �10,790, includes MP3-compatible radio CD with steering-mounted controls, electric door mirrors and front windows and trip computer. Big-selling VTR+, from �12,690, adds the panoramic Zenith windscreen, air-conditioning, 15in alloy wheels, front fog lights, leather steering wheel and cruise control with speed limiter. Exclusive, from �14,090, gains digital climate control, rear electric windows, electrically-folding and heated door mirrors, part-Alcantara seats, 16in alloys and dark tinted rear windows. On the safety side, all come with anti-lock brakes, front and front side airbags and, from VTR+, curtain airbags but stability control is optional and only on range-topping Exclusive.

Pricing sits between the dearer Ford Fiesta and the less expensive Volkswagen Polo but Citro�n has built recent success on tempting deals and I can't see the C3 being an exception.

There's a lot to like about the new C3 - another huge step in the right direction for Citro�n - but clever features, while welcome, can't overcome its shortcomings against some key rivals. That said, it's got its own strengths and is full of character.


PRICE: �14,090

ENGINE: 1,397cc, 95hp, four-cylinder petrol

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 10.6 seconds; top speed 114mph

MPG: Urban 37.2; extra urban 58.9; combined 48.7

EMISSIONS: 134g/km


INSURANCE GROUP: 1-20, 4E; 1-50, 12E

WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE? Length 3,941mm; width 1,728mm; height 1,538mm

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