Citroen C3 review - an alternative supermini comfortable in its own skin

Citroen is very forthright about its focus with its current range of cars. It’s all about comfort and individuality - something the brand has long been famous for.

Rather than chase the segment leaders for driving dynamics or cutting-edge technology, the French brand has put its efforts into creating cars that ride well, isolate passengers from the outside world and, perhaps, have a little of the flair that made so many of its old cars so memorable.

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So if you want a supermini to chase down a Ford Fiesta on a twisting B road, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if soft seats, squishy suspension and a quirky, relaxed interior float your boat, read on.

The Citroen C3 is, indeed, in the same part of the market as the famous Fiesta, the Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corsa, but cuts a slightly unusual figure with its strangely blobby yet square styling, upright front end and instantly recognisable airbumps. It’s quirky without feeling like it’s trying too hard.

Citroen C3 Flair Plus

  • Price £20,010 (£21,255 as tested)
  • Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol
  • Power: 109bhp
  • Torque: 151lb ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Top speed: 123mph
  • 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
  • Economy: 42.4-50.1mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 131g/km

The interior echoes the bolder look of the outside, sharing the rounded oblong motif common across the brand on everything from the air vents and door cards to the gear stick and instruments. Our test car’s dashboard trim is particularly appealing in a segment dominated by variations on the theme of black plastic. It’s still plastic but with a pale wood-effect to it offers an eye-catching highlight to the cabin. There is still, however, quite a lot of grey and black plastic, not all of it of particularly high quality.

The C3’s seats are also different from the norm. They’re broader and softer, borrowing the “advanced comfort” cushion technology from larger Citroens. However, short squabs and a noticeable lack of lumbar support mean they’re not as successful at projecting Citroen’s comfort-first philosophy. There are also some ergonomic missteps, including cupholders so shallow as to be useless, a well positioned but awkwardly shaped under-screen storage space and, in a first for me, a touchscreen positioned so that it’s partly obscured by the steering wheel.

So, a mixed bag when it comes to interior comfort. On the road, though the C3 feels more assured. It is far more pliant and softer riding that it rivals, even relatively comfortable ones like the Renault Clio. Pitted urban roads are far less jarring than in something like a Fiesta or Corsa. But on the open road that softness translates to a lack of body control not found in other cars in the class. It feels a little like piloting a marshmallow.

A well-powered marshmallow, though. Citroen’s engines have been among the brand’s strongest suits in recent years and in the C3 the tried and trusted 1.2-litre PureTech petrol once again does sterling service. With 109bhp, it’s the most powerful version sold in the C3 (there’s an 82bhp version and a 99bhp diesel) and it feels strong and responsive in the relatively light C3. There is a bit of obvious noise from it but nothing worse than in similarly equipped rivals. Official economy is 42-50mpg and in a week of urban school runs and longer government-sanctioned shopping trips I saw a steady 46mpg.

At the top of the range, our test car costs around £20,000 but brings with it most of the goodies on offer in the C3 range, including driver assistance with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and auto-dipping headlights. Our car’s Technical Wood trim and seven-inch touchscreen with connected nav and smartphone mirroring are also standard, although flashy metallic paint, front parking sensors and blind spot monitoring are all still added-cost options.

Character will get you so far and the C3 has far more of that than most rivals. In fact, if owning something unusual is top of your list then it’s a viable and quirky alternative to something like a Fiesta, thanks to its strong engine, comfortable ride and interesting styling. However, it is somewhat compromised by a vague driving experience, questionable cabin ergonomics and a sub-standard infotainment system. In a segment with some truly great cars, that could be a problem.