It’s been quite some time since we’ve been behind the wheel of a Citroen. 2021 brings a refresh of the C3 model, that apparently “heralds an era of bold customisation and design focus for those who want to stand out from the crowd.”

With almost 100 combinations of exterior aesthetics, that’s easy to believe. But aside from being bold, what’s it like to live with daily? We spent a week with the $29,990 Shine model.

The Range

Citroen New Zealand have decided to just have the C3 one model, unless you include the more SUV-like C3 AirCross. It’s fitted with a 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, turbo petrol Puretech 110 motor putting out 81kW of power and a decent (for its size) 205Nm of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The AirBump® design found on each side of the 2021 C3 serves to protect the vehicle from everyday knocks and scrapes. And there’s also new, wider Advanced Comfort Seats with a folding driver’s armrest

There’s two new optional, extra-cost interior trims: Emerald Ambience ($500) and Techwood Ambience ($1,000). The Techwood option adds driver’s seat height adjustment, a leather steering wheel and handbrake knob.

Driving aids new to the model include Speed Limit Recognition, Lane Departure Warning, reversing camera and rear parking sensors. Additional aids are also available as part of Safety Pack $1,500, including Blind Spot Monitoring, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, front parking sensors, and more.

As standard, the car comes with 6 airbags, a tyre pressure monitoring system, cruise control and speed limiter, lane departure warning, Coffee Break Alert, LED headlights, LED DRLs, front fog lights, automatic headlights and wipers, Welcome and Follow me Home lights, 16” alloy wheels, all windows one-touch up or down, heated and power folding exterior mirrors, 7” capacitive touch centre screen, keyless entry and start, 6-speaker audio, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality.

C3 owners can choose from seven body colours, four different roof treatments and four individual colour packs, allowing for 97 possible combinations. Bianca White is the only free colour with the other six ranging from $550 to $950. As well as the white, there’s Soft Sand, Cumulus Grey, Nimbus Grey, Nera Black, Spring Blue, and Elixir Red, which is the only one at $950 extra. All but Bianca White are metallic.

Our test car has two extra-cost options, Elixir Red paint at $950, and the Techwood Ambience interior upgrade at $1,000, bringing the as-tested price to $31,940.

The new C3 now has a 5-year warranty, and you can read more about the model on Citroen New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

It was hard to miss our test car, in my opinion looking stunning in Elixir Red. With the AirBumps, the metallic red paint and splashes of white plastic, it stood out from a yard full of grey and silver cars.

Interestingly, the entire design of the car was a love/hate topic. I was fine with it, very much liked it even, but others not so much. Part of this was the AirBumps, and the splashes of white on the front and sides. Side on, the plastic wheel arches seem unnecessary, but I guess an attempt to look more like an SUV. Still, they are great for stopping stone chips.

You quickly see the changes at the front of the car – so many lights! Citroen’s ‘LED Vision’ system is fitted, and if anything, looks very cool. Around the rear, the C3 is looking a lot like a Suzuki Swift, but that’s no bad thing. It’s a simple design at the rear; clean and uncluttered with no unnecessary angles.

Overall, it’s different and distinct, and I expect that’s a reason some buyers move to a European car.

The Interior

The seats will catch your eye as soon as you open the door. This year’s C3 has “Advanced Comfort Seats” and they look supremely comfortable. With high sides and largish side bolsters, they also look like they will hold you in place pretty well.

The seats are grey cloth, with some splashes of brown and ivory across the top, along with contrasting stitching. They look expensive, and lift the perceived quality of the interior. If you upspec to the Techwood interior pack, you get a folding arm rest for the driver, pretty handy some days on those long commutes, stuck in traffic.

The white on the outside is carried to the inside, where the large door bins are completely white. On the subject of the doors, well it blew me away to see the “luggage-style front door handles”, as Citroen calls them. It felt like I was picking up a suitcase every time I closed a door. Don’t get me wrong, I like them, and they sure are different than anything else I’ve seen lately. Also on the doors are dimples in the door cards, adding a touch of flair.

Up front of the car is a single USB port and a single 12-volt socket. There’s no such things in the back for your passengers.

Our test car had the Techwood package, which is the only way of getting driver’s seat height adjustment, a leather steering wheel and handbrake knob. That felt a little strange, I can’t remember the last time a new car I drove didn’t have seat height adjustment as standard. The Techwood package also includes the wood on the front passenger’s side of the car, which I initially thought still had some plastic wrapping over it. But no, it’s just the design. At first I didn’t like it, but over the week it grew on me. I wasn’t sure it really needed the white lines printed on the ‘wood’ but I guess that’s the ‘Tech’ part of the name.

Like the Peugeot 2008 GT we recently reviewed, there’s a large glovebox lid, but a tiny storage area inside the glovebox. The car’s manual lives in a seat pocket as it won’t fit in here.

There’s a tacked on centre display, but thankfully it’s down quite low so doesn’t quite look like an afterthought. It has minimal buttons on the screen, and the only way to adjust any AC settings is via the touchscreen.

For a small car it’s quite spacious in the front, while rear leg room is about average for the class. The rear windows only go down ¾ of the way, so something to consider for people who hate this.

The boot in the C3 is generous in size at 300 litres – bigger than the Yaris or a Corolla. It is relatively deep too, and then there’s the big surprise under the floor: A full-size spare! Rarely needed but so appreciated. While the alloys on the car are 16”, the steel spare is a 15” unit.

The Drive

We last saw this engine in the Peugeot 2008 in 2017, and loved it then, and yet the 2008 weighed in at over 200Kg heavier. I was expecting bristling performance from that tiny 1.2-litre 3-cylinder turbo engine, since the C3 is just 1,090Kg. Performance is good, but didn’t feel as peppy as the 2017 2008. I’m not sure why since they make the same power and torque, but it was just a gut feeling. 0-100km/h takes 9.8 seconds, which is mid-pack for this size car.

The transmission is the same too, a straight 6-speed automatic. No fancy double clutches or CVT here, happily an old school automatic. So it should be nice and smooth, right? If only. Like the 2008 from four years ago, the transmission is the car’s weak point. It’s jerky up and down the changes. I still prefer it to a CVT automatic, but the jerkiness did get a bit annoying. It feels like an old robotised manual-automatic gearbox, if you remember those.

That’s probably the only thing you aren’t going to like on the C3 – most everything else is good. And not just good, some things are great. For example, the ride. How Citroen got a car this small and light to ride so well is a mystery to me. It glides over bumps and potholes, and pretty much ignores them. I thought the Yaris Hatch I had just a few weeks ago rode well for a small car, but the C3 blows it into the weeds for ride quality.

One thing the Yaris did do was handle brilliantly. So what of the C3? I didn’t actually get to test it out on a windy road like I did the Yaris, but on the whole it felt fine. There is more body roll than the Yaris, but the grip is there. Understeer will make an appearance if you push too hard, but that’s not what the C3 is about. It’s a lovely Daily Driver that can double as a weekend runabout.

Other great things must include the new Advanced Comfort Seats. When I saw them I was a bit blown away – they look like lounge chairs, but I wondered if it was all style and no substance. No way are they all looks. They are soft, comfortable and extremely supportive. The side and rear bolsters are fairly substantial, but for me that just meant holding you snug and tight. And being so soft, it didn’t matter how tight. The seats in this car are a highlight and remind me of the ones in my long gone (and now ancient) Renault 16TS.

Back to actually driving the C3, visibility is generally pretty good, bar a fairly chunky C pillar – very common these days for safety and design – and also a fatter than normal B pillar. Otherwise the cabin is nice and light and the side windows are quite large – great for kids on long trips and also for changing lanes on the motorway.

While performance doesn’t feel as good as the 2008 a few years back, it still astounds with the amount of torque it supplies. 205Nm of torque from 1.2 litres is excellent, and the engine can really pull, making passing traffic easy – once the gearbox has changed down a gear. The engine itself can sound a bit rattly at lower engine revs, but wind it out past 4,000rpm and it takes on a nice tune. I did find the gear lever a bit out of reach, and it’s a dog-leg unit, so no lock button here.

It took me a few days to get used to the brakes. They’re quite touchy, which can be embarrassing initially, until you get used to them. After that, they’re nicely powerful and inspire confidence in panic stops.

The car does have a Sport mode, operated by a small button in front of the cup holders, with a small S on it. To be honest, all it did was hold the gears longer, and change gears down sooner. With all the torque at hand, it was all a bit pointless, so I left the car with Sport mode turned off.

Speaking of cup holders, I think we’ve found the world’s smallest. I have no idea what cup would actually fit in them, and even if two cups went in there they’d be pushed aside by each other, there’s so little space. No idea how those got past user design testing.

All the windows are auto up and down – thank you Citroen – and the turning circle is pleasantly tight, great for around town parking.

The dash is nice and clear, not customisable in any way but for $30K I wasn’t expecting this. There’s no 50km/h marking on it but there is a smallish digital speedo dead centre to focus on.

The C3 comes with cruise control, but it’s not adaptive. It does have a ‘Mem’ button along with traffic sign recognition, so you can double-tap the Mem button to set your cruise control speed to the current speed limit. Of course, you have to double-tap it every time the speed limit changes. Cruise control is operated by an identical stalk like the one we saw on the 2008 GT a few months back. Fixed in place and obscured by the steering wheel spoke. Not ideal, but you sort of get used to what button does what.

On the central display there is a soft button for SatNav, but since the C3 doesn’t have SatNav, it simply looks for an Apple or Android phone to hook into for SatNav. Not a bad thing. There’s other soft buttons for phone, audio, settings and AC.

Audio is usable, with clear sounds coming through most of the time. It’s not my ideal setup, but the audio controls are split left and right on the steering wheel. It seems like another user design miss, as the volume up/down controls are left and right buttons, and track/station forward/back are on a thumbwheel on the right side of the wheel. It would have been better for volume to be the thumbwheel. Citroen aren’t alone in this setup. On the frustrating side of things, the audio always reverts back to radio when you get out of the car. This used to be quite common, but we haven’t seen it for a while.

Over my 500Km with the C3, I managed to use 7.1L/100Km of petrol. Interestingly, this is exactly the same as I got with the more powerful Peugeot 2008 GT (that has more power and more torque), and slightly more than the 2008 I tested in 2017.

The Competition

All listed are front-wheel drive, 5-door hatchbacks. Surprising how many we still have for sale in New Zealand. SUVs haven’t quite taken over all the market segments.

Brand/ModelEnginePower/Torque
kW/Nm
SeatsCargo capacity, litresFuel L/100kmPrice – High to Low
Peugeot 308 Allure1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol turbo96/2305435 5.1$36,990
Toyota Yaris ZR1.5-litre, 3-cylinder petrol88/14552704.9$29,990
Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo1.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol turbo81/20053304.8$29,990
Citroen C3 Shine1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol turbo81/20553005.2$29,990
Mazda21.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol82/1445250 5.3$28,095
Suzuki Swift RS1.0-litre, 3-cylinder petrol turbo82/16052655.1$27,990
Kia Rio Limited1.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol74/13353256.0$27,990
Honda Jazz RS1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol97/15553595.6$27,490
Hyundai i201.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol74/13453016.5$26,990
MG31.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol82/15053076.7$19,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros
Sublime ride quality for a small car
Bold design
Seats
Torquey engine
Good boot space for a small car
5-year warranty at last
Full-size spare

Cons
Jerky transmission
Bold design not for everyone
Audio reverts to radio
No adaptive cruise
Vehicle Type5-door, small crossover SUV
Starting Price$29,990
Price as Tested$31,940
Engine1.2-litre, 3-cylinder turbo petrol
Power, TorquekW/Nm81/205
TransmissionEAT6 six-speed automatic
Spare Wheel15” full-size spare
Kerb Weight, Kg1,090
Length x Width x Height, mm3996x1829x1474
Cargo Capacity, litres300/NA
Fuel capacity, litres45
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – combined – 5.2L/100km
Real World Test – combined – 7.1 L/100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing CapacityKg, unbraked/braked450/450
Turning circle, metres10.7
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty5 Year/100,000Km Warranty
5 Years Roadside Assistance
3 and 5-year capped-price service plans available
ANCAP Safety Ratings4 Stars
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
7
Interior
8
Performance
6
Safety
7
Styling
7
Value
7
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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