First Drive: Citroen C3

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It’s been a challenging year for Citroen in Ireland. While it may be on course to match total sales of last year, in a much more active market its share of the passenger car market has fallen from 1.4% last year to 0.96% as of end November 2016.

There are signs for optimism though. Last year saw the Irish operation return to private ownership, with UK car distributor IM Group taking over from Citroen Motors Ireland. The period since has seen the company take on significant additional resource, while establishing a pricing structure removed from the price fixing and discounting of the past that resulted in yo-yo sales performances. That might be bringing short term pain, but should put the brand on a more stable footing going forward. Strengthening the dealer network, particularly in urban areas is also on the agenda.

Key to ongoing success though is its products. Currently just two models – the C4 Picasso and the C4 Cactus –  account for 80% of Citroen sales, and the company recognises it needs a broader spread of models to successfully grow market share. Four model launches are expected in the next 18 months, which will almost certainly include a long-awaited C-SUV crossover.

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It explains why the why the new C3 is such an important model for the brand. The outgoing version has been around since 2009 so understandably sales have tapered off, but at its peak it was selling upwards of 700 units a year. In that context, a target of 550 units next year seems perfectly reasonable, as Citroen aims to achieve 2.2% market share in this segment.

The French manufacturer has long been known for stylish and quirky models, and certainly one accusation you won’t be able to throw at the new C3 is that it is boring looking. Design and customisation are two of the key focus areas, and with a choice of 9 body and 3 roof colours, there is no excuse for buying an identikit car to your neighbour. Further customisation is available with the Airbump side protection mouldings first seen on the C4 Cactus.

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There’s a choice of 1.2 litre PureTech 3-cylinder petrol engines with power outputs of 68, 82 and 110 PS, and 75 and 100 PS versions of 1.6 litre BlueHDi diesels. Citroen has been an anomaly in this segment up to now with 75% of sales going to diesel models, whereas the segment as a whole is 90% petrol. They explain this by having more of a rural than urban customer base, but see a shift towards petrol with the new C3.

The 82 PS PureTech is likely to be the volume seller, but we’d recommend trying the 110 PS version. It offers lively performance, and with manual gearbox, matches the less powerful unit on fuel consumption (4.6 l/100km) and exceeds it for CO2 emissions (103g/km). The automatic gearbox version, which arrives here in February is also worth checking out for seamless gear shifts, and is perhaps nicer than the manual which has a slightly long and vague throw between shifts.

Interestingly, Citroen highlights that it would take 8 years or 165,000 km of driving before you would recoup the cost of buying a diesel versus petrol C3. Food for thought….

As a driver’s car, the C3 might lack the pin-point sharpness of a Fiesta, but it’s still pleasant to drive, with the suspension absorbing ruts and undulations well. It’s more comfort than performance oriented, which is really what you want and expect from a Citroen.

The interior is well laid out, with a seven inch touchscreen dominating. Plastics veer on the hard side, but they are nicely textured, and give a feeling of class. There are plenty of storage areas too. Rear seat passengers are well catered for in such a compact car, while the boot offers 300 litres – one of the best in class.

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Lots of safety features too, including Hill Start Ascent, Lane Departure warning, Reversing Camera and Blind Spot monitoring, as well as Speed Limit recognition. Another innovative feature is ConnectedCam, an optional integrated camera located behind the rear view mirror that can capture video and pictures, or can be saved as evidence in the event of an accident.

Available in three trim levels, Touch, Feel and Flair, prices start from €15,490. The expected volume seller, the PureTech 82 Feel is priced at €17,590.

Certainly first impressions suggest the C3 is set to make an impact in this competitive market segment.