Citroen C3: First drive review

Citroen’s first mass market car is a compact SUV in the mould of the Nissan Magnite and Renault Kiger but Citroen calls it a ‘hatch with an SUV attitude’. We get behind the wheel to test it out
The Citroen C3 is the first mass market car from the French carmaker
The Citroen C3 is the first mass market car from the French carmakerShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

A new car is always exciting but this is doubly important. The Citroen C3 is the first mass market car from what is still a brand new manufacturer, but one with serious ambitions. Their manufacturing footprint spans two factories, one at Hosur for powertrains and the other at Thiruvallur for manufacturing the car itself. The R&D centre is based close by in Chennai and employing the engineering services of Tata Consultancy Services a brand new platform has been designed for India, along with a significant export target. One new car every year is the target for this new C-Cubed platform, and now that Citroen are part of the larger Stellantis group, it’s only a matter of time before we get a mass market Jeep too. For now though our focus is on the Citroen C3 that, in size, shape, form, character and positioning, is similar to the Renault Kiger and Nissan Magnite. However Stellantis CEO and MD Roland Bouchara says the C3 delivers “an SUV attitude in the hatch segment”, and points to B-segment hatchbacks like the Tata Altroz, Maruti Suzuki Baleno and Hyundai i20 as the rivals for the C3.

Styling of the Citroen C3 is clearly inspired by the larger C5 Aircross and packs in French chic
Styling of the Citroen C3 is clearly inspired by the larger C5 Aircross and packs in French chicShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Citroen C3 styling

“We are not claiming to be an SUV,” says Saurabh Vatsa Citroen India brand head which is a refreshingly honest take on this segment. Fact is that none of the compact SUVs are really SUVs in the traditional sense of the term. But fact also remains that today everybody equates this body style to a compact SUV, and targeting the Altroz, Baleno and i20 will just cause confusion in the minds of buyers. Another truth bomb. The Citroen C3 looks nothing like a B-segment hatchback and every bit a compact SUV.

15-inch steel wheels as standard on the top-spec variant, alloys are an optional accessory
15-inch steel wheels as standard on the top-spec variant, alloys are an optional accessoryShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

The styling draws clear visual inspiration from the C5 Aircross with the typical Citroen nose integrating the dual chevrons into the grille and flowing into the headlamps. The LED DRLs are arranged in Citroen’s new X-shaped motif and the headlamps are halogens, not LEDs even on the top-end variant. This gives you an idea of the price and positioning of the C3, which is then reinforced when you notice the 15-inch wheels aren’t alloys but steel wheel with hub caps styled to look like alloys. The stance in profile is clearly SUV-inspired with the thick, black, plastic cladding running along the wheel arches and bottom of the doors while the ground clearance is a generous 180mm.

Customisation is a big talking point on the Citroen C3 and you can choose between three styling packs. The factory-fitted Vibe pack comes with either the black contrasting roof that you see here, or a bright orange floating roof accentuated by orange wing mirror caps and elements in the bumpers and flanks. At the dealership you can opt for the Elegance or Energy styling pack and choose between 56 customisation options and over 70 accessories including alloy wheels but not including a rear wash wipe which is a significant omission.

I suspect an underbody shroud will also be quickly introduced to that accessories list. Peer through the engine bay and you will see the road, Citroen officials being quick to clarify that they’ve tested the C3 extensively in India and there is no danger of the engine getting damaged. However on our roads and especially during the upcoming monsoons, a significant amount of muck and grime will be kicked into the engine bay making it hugely messy — and that’s why all cars in India have an underbody shroud. There’s also the way the insulation has been attached to the underside of the bonnet that looks very strange, and too obviously cost-compromised.

The interior of the C3 gets a funky design
The interior of the C3 gets a funky designShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Interiors of the Citroen C3

The chunky-and-funky exterior vibe of the Citroen C3 continues on the inside, and here too you can personalise it with bright burnt-orange inserts that really liven up the cabin. The cabin also leaves you in no doubt that this is a compact SUV with its raised seating position, the high-set view out, and beefy detailing.

10-inch infotainment gets wireless CarPlay and Android Auto
10-inch infotainment gets wireless CarPlay and Android AutoShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Taking centre stage is the 10-inch infotainment that has a good resolution and is responsive to touch, and it also gets wireless CarPlay and Android Auto which is a nice, premium, touch. There’s no in-built maps, which is not required since everybody uses Google Maps off their phones in any case, but there’s also none of the connectivity features that every new car gets. Interestingly the C3 gets ‘wire guides’ so that the charging cable for your phone is not left dangling around in the cabin, and that’s because the lower variants won’t get an infotainment of any sort, making do with a provision to plug in the phone in your line of sight.

Even the top end variant doesn’t get a wireless charger but the bigger miss is the tachometer. In a marked contrast to the big infotainment is the tiny 3.5-inch digital display for the speedo that uses old-school graphics and completely misses out on a tachometer. I don’t remember the last new car I drove without a tachometer!

There are other signs of cost cutting. The rear view mirror doesn’t get day-night adjust. The wing mirrors don’t have electric adjust, which means adjusting the passenger-side mirror will require quite the stretch to get to the joystick. The power window switches for the rear passenger are behind the handbrake and not on the doors. There’s no ESP on any variant. The steering adjusts only for height, not reach. The door handles are the old-school flip-up type not the pull-type we are seeing everywhere and there’s an exposed keyhole on the driver’s side. There’s no sunroof. There’s no dead pedal. The sound quality of the 4 speaker system is poor. And you don’t get a reverse parking camera.

With that out of the way I can also tell you that the quality of the cabin is pretty good. Of course at this price point you cannot expect soft-touch plastics, and there are none around, but the fit-finish and the sense of quality is pretty good. The steering wheel feels nice to hold, the seats are comfortable and the visibility is good. While there are no rear vents, the air-con itself works very well and the knobs operate with a nice precision. Similarly the air-con vents are nicely finished and feel like quality items.

My personal opinion. Sort out the speedo cluster — normal dials will do, we don’t even need a digital cockpit, but we need a tacho — and everything else will then seem inconsequential.

Space inside the Citroen C3

Citroen claim a best in class shoulder room, but that’s in comparison with B-segment hatchbacks, and in that sense the C3 can squeeze in three abreast though not in the greatest comfort. Citroen also claims a theatre seating arrangement where the rear seats are positioned a little higher for a better view out front, though this is not something that I really noticed. What I did notice is enough space to make it comfortable for four with plenty of head room and even toe space under the front seats. I also noticed a rather pronounced transmission tunnel which means the middle passenger will have to jostle with the other two for foot space when you squeeze in five. And the middle guy only gets a lap belt, plus there’s no arm rest for when you’ve got only four in the car.

When compared with its more obvious rivals the Citroen C3 doesn’t set any new benchmark with both the Magnite and Kiger being more spacious, and so too is the Nexon and XUV 300.

The C3 is offered with a choice of two petrol engines
The C3 is offered with a choice of two petrol enginesShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Two petrol engines in the Citroen C3

Two engines are on offer, both made in India at the Hosur powertrain facility, and both mated to manual gearboxes. At launch there will be no option of an automatic, which is a surprising omission.

We start off our drive in the 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, turbo-petrol that makes 109bhp and 190Nm of torque. Claimed 0-100kmph time is 10 seconds and the C3 definitely feels quick, aided by the light weight, 1035kg for the top-end variant. With peak torque coming in at 1750rpm this motor also delivers good low- and mid-range grunt making it quite peppy both in the city as well as on the highway. There is a bit of turbo lag, but at what revs the boost kicks in I cannot say as there’s no tachometer to go by. It also means you have to shift by ear because there’s no redline to indicate when to shift.

The typical 3-cylinder irregular idle is evident at idle and the motor can get very audible when driven enthusiastically, though at cruising speeds it nice and quite like all petrols in this class. The turbo-petrol is mated to a 6-speed manual which has an acceptable, if not the slickest, shift quality. Braking is via discs up front and drums at the rear, which delivers perfectly acceptable retardation.

Claimed fuel efficiency is an excellent 19.4kmpl and it gets even better on the 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated engine which delivers 19.8kmpl. On the latter though that comes at the noticeable expense of performance, the 81bhp and 119Nm being insufficient to spin the front wheels when you accelerate vigorously, struggling to keep abreast of fast traffic on highways, and forcing you to plan your overtakes well in advance. This motor can only be had with the 5-speed manual that has a similar shift action to the 6-speed.

The Citroen C3 doesn't like to be hustled
The Citroen C3 doesn't like to be hustledShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Ride and handling of the Citroen C3

Comfort is the key differentiator for the Citroen brand and that’s been a major area of focus on the C3. It’s evident the minute we get out of the hotel gates and on to the first speed breaker, the way the Citroen C3 goes over bumps and ruts is very impressive. This is a comfy car, no question about that, also helped by the fact that the seat cushioning is also well judged for comfort while not being too soft either. We also tried it over broken patches of road and the C3 felt impressively planted with very little shocks being transmitted to the cabin. Citroen’s claims of being best in class are grounded in reality, but we also have to mention that they’re comparing it to hatchbacks. Compact SUVs like the Tata Nexon do deliver a better ride, while delivering significantly better handling too.

The first time I went round a corner in the C3 I dialled the Citroen PR man to cross check with his engineers if the C3 has anti-roll bars. As you can see from the images the body roll is generous with the C3 leaning heavily on the outside front tyre causing it to buckle and wash into exuberant understeer. This is allied to steering that is lifeless, though in terms of weight it is actually a good balance between ease of manoeuvrability at low speeds and stability at high speeds.

The Citroen C3 clearly does not like to be hustled. Its sweet spot is at eight-tenths where it takes all the bumps and undulations on the highway in its stride, the turbo-petrol is singing in the meat of its power band with enough overtaking grunt to effortlessly maintain good speeds, and there’s a pleasant sense of calm inside the cabin. And it does get anti-roll bars.

Prices of the C3 are estimated to range from Rs 5.5 to Rs 8.5 lakh
Prices of the C3 are estimated to range from Rs 5.5 to Rs 8.5 lakhShot by Abhishek Benny for evo India

Verdict on the Citroen C3

Context is everything and honestly no buyer will compare the Citroen C3 against hatchbacks so neither shall we. The obvious target is the Magnite and Kiger, both incidentally born out of the same engineering thought process and activated by the same people who are now calling the shots at Citroen. The result is a localisation content of over 95 per cent at launch for the Citroen C3, which is hugely impressive for a manufacturer that only announced their India plans three years ago. And the end result has to translate to hugely competitive pricing.

We estimate prices to start at Rs 5.5 lakh and topping off at Rs 8.5 lakh, handily undercutting the Magnite and Kiger, and setting the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. At these prices all the visible signs of cost cutting will become inconsequential, in fact all of it will be lauded as clever optimisation to hit the pricing bulls eye. Context after all is everything, and if our price estimate is on point, the mix of style, space, comfort, performance and even fuel efficiency will get Citroen’s (mass-market) Indian innings off to a flying start.

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