- Delightful 3-pot engine
- Excellent ride and handling
- Cute and quirky looks
- Spec sheet doesn't match price tag
- Safety and cabin tech a bit outdated
- Lacks useful interior storage
Citroen has always been known for producing quirky cars that offer something different to the status quo. The 2021 Citroen C3 offers exactly that to those who are looking for a light European hatchback with oodles of style and a bit of exclusivity.
Problem is, with light cars costing more than ever before, the C3 is knocking on the doors of more pragmatic options from the segment above – including the evergreen Mazda3. Let’s find out if it’s a case of style over substance or if the C3 can justify its worth.
Price & Specs: 7.0/10
The 2021 Citroen C3 offers one trim and one drivetrain – the fully-loaded C3 Shine with a 1.2-litre three-pot petrol engine for $28,990 before on-road costs. It makes the range easier to understand but comes at the cost (literally) of making entry price for the C3 much higher than competitors like the Volkswagen Polo or Mazda 2. In fact, it aligns the little C3 closer to entry-level small cars like the Mazda3.
The C3 does make up for its not insignificant price tag with reasonable amounts of standard kit. Outside you get 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, foglights on both ends, and Citroen’s rubbery ‘Airbumps’ that are designed to minimise the impacts from shopping trolleys, car door dings and other unwanted shopping centre dings. Inside, Citroen boasts about the C5’s new seats that have been pin shed from the bigger C5 Aircross – the driver’s even coming with an armrest of its own. You also get a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation, wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, DAB+ digital radio, proximity keyless entry with push-button start, single-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated and folding exterior mirrors. Unlike many Citroens from the past, a sunroof is missing from the spec sheet – even as an option.
Safety is covered with front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, tyre-pressure monitoring, blind-spot monitoring, a speed limiter, manual cruise control, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking (AEB). Unfortunately, the AEB system is a rather basic camera-based system that doesn’t utilise a radar to support pedestrian or cyclist detection or even radar cruise control. We also think it should come with rear AEB and rear cross-traffic alert.
There is only one standard colour on the 2021 Citroen C3 Shine which is known as ‘Polar White’. All other colours attract a $690 charge, these colours include ‘Perla Nera Black’, ‘Elixir Red’, ‘Arctic Steel’ and ‘Spring Blue’. Depending on what colour you choose changes the colour of the roof, exterior mirrors, foglight surrounds and one of the air stops. Choosing ‘Arctic Steel’ makes the other body panels mentioned white, but choosing ‘Spring Blue’ or ‘Elixir Red’ makes these panels black. ‘Polar White’ gives you the choice of wither red or blue panels whereas choosing ‘Perla Nera Black’ makes these panels red.
Our C3 Shine was finished in ‘Spring Blue’ metallic paint for an additional $690, bringing the total driveway cost in New South Wales) at the time of writing to $33,429. By comparison, a fully-loaded Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Style with metallic paint and driver assistance pack will cost you $32,653 drive away while a bigger Mazda 3 G20 Evolve automatic finished in premium paint will set you back $33,165 drive away. In terms of kit, the Mazda and the Polo offer a more complete safety package with radar cruise control, a more advanced AEB system that utilises a camera and radar and rear cross traffic alert. The Polo also brings a fully-digital instrument cluster, premium sound system and dual-zone climate control to the table, although it misses out on the C3’s LED headlights.
|2021 Citroen C3 Shine|
|Engine||Three-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Displacement||1.2 litres (1,199 cc)|
|Power||81kW @ 5,500rpm|
|Torque||205Nm @ 1,500rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle, claimed)||4.9L/100km|
|Fuel consumption (on test)||6.7L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||45L|
|Price as tested (before on-road costs)||$29,680|
Performance & Economy: 8.0/10
The Citroen C3’s 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine is an absolute peach. It may sound diminutive on paper (because it is) but the 1.2-litre capacity actually compares quite well with its competitors. Just look at the Volkswagen Polo and its 1.0-litre turbo three or the Mazda 2 and its 1.5-litre four cylinder.
Producing just 81kW/205Nm, the modest figures tell a very different story to the driving experience. Revving out the little three-cylinder produces reasonable momentum and a charming note to boot. It never feels urgent, but more than quick enough. If anything, the C3 feels quicker the more relaxed you drive it. Sitting at low revs and squeezing the throttle ever so slightly allows the C3 to tap into its notable torque without kicking down a gear. That torque is available from just 1,500rpm and moves the C3’s lithe 1,090kg body with ease.
The six-speed conventional automatic also helps the C3 to feel more grown up than rivals like the Polo, which stumbles at low revs as its tiny engine tries to build boost and the DSG fails replicating the ease of a proper automatic transmission.
The engine stop and start system works as well as the rest of the package. It’s always ready to go as soon as you lift off the brake pedal with no hesitation or jerkiness as exhibited in some European rivals with small displacement engines. Fuel economy is rated at 4.9L/100km in the combined cycle but we only managed 6.7L/100km in mixed conditions. Be mindful that it requires 95RON minimum and those who do a lot of highway kilometres should also take into account the tallish sixth gear could impact fuel economy.
Ultimately, the C3 is an easy and effortless drive that’s perfectly suited to urban environments. Buyers who might consider a Volkswagen Polo 85TSI or even a similarly-priced Mazda 3 G20 won’t be left disappointed or jarred by the C3’s charming drivetrain.
Ride & Handling: 8.5/10
As much as we want to avoid saying the 2021 Citroen C3 is typically French in the way it rides and handles, it really is. There’s a plushness that you only expect from larger cars but it doesn’t come at the expense of control.
The 205/55R16 tyres are decidedly chunky for 2022 and work in harmony with the soft suspension to get the worst of our Aussie roads from ruining the serenity in the cabin. The quality Michelin Primacy tyres also do a good job of keeping tyre roar at bay and make the little Citroen a compelling long-distance cruiser.
The fact that the C3 weighs little more than a tonne also pays dividends in the way it steers. It manages to feel responsive despite the soft, cosseting suspension. The steering is effortlessly light but easy to gauge. The quick ratio helps the nose to feel dirty and agile when changing direction, but get too zealous and the front tyres will begin to scrub wide.
Where the Volkswagen Polo reserves playful for the GTI, the Citroen channels some hot hatch energy into its unassuming C3. Combine its fruity drivetrain with its lithe kerb weight and plush suspension, its more charming than a similarly priced Mazda3. In saying that, the 3 has it beat for refinement and NVH.
Interior & Practicality: 6.5/10
Step into the 2021 Citroen C3’s cabin and you’re initially greeted by a pleasing mixture of colours and textures. Those aforementioned ergonomic front seats pinched from the bigger C5 Aircross are said to be inspired by armchairs, and swathed in a very chic combination of light and dark grey cloth with pops of emerald green to tie in with the rest of the cabin. The dash even gets a pop of padded cloth ahead of the passenger with an emerald trim to frame it. Note: that’s the only soft-touch surface to be found in the cabin, with the rest being finished in utilitarian hard plastics. Not ideal when you’re in the same price bracket as the genuinely premium interior in the Mazda 3. At least the design is thoughtful and interesting, with unique touches like the grab handles on the doors that are inspired by high-end luggage. There are also plenty of squircle-like shapes likely paying homage to the Airbumps on the exterior door panels.
Like the active safety technology, in-cabin tech is best described as sufficient if not class-leading. Forget digital dials, you only get analogue in the C3 and a small monochromatic screen in the middle. It’s well presented and easy enough to read but the screen wedged between the dials feels lightyears behind the Volkswagen Polo’s smart digital instrument cluster. It brings up a digital speedo and basic trip computer functions but not much more.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen is the same unit from the Peugeot 308 which was perfectly good for 2013, but a bit slow and clunky for 2022. That the climate control needs to be adjusted through the touchscreen can also be a bit of a faff when you’re on the move. The physical volume knob and buttons for the demist function, hazard lights and central locking is welcome. At least it comes with DAB+, built-in navigation and smartphone mirroring. The latter is wired in its implementation, for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the system worked well and helped the touchscreen to feel a decade newer.
Storage isn’t a strong suit in the little Citroen, with an awkward cubby that we couldn’t find a practical use for below the touchscreen, a shallow cupholder ahead of the gear selector, another shallow storage space below the manual handbrake and a teeny tiny glovebox that’s half taken up by the fusebox that hasn’t been swapped over for right-hand drive. The door pockets are at least reasonable.
Rear seat accomodation is good enough for the class, with less knee room than you’d find in a Polo but a good amount of headroom and toe room. As its light-car origins portrays, there’s no flip-down armrest, no USB ports, and no air vents – just two map pockets and door bins that are about half the size of those up front.
The hatchback opens up to a commendable 300-litre boot. The lip is rather high and there aren’t any neat touches like shopping bag hooks. Folding the rear seats down opens up to 922L of space but with a notable hump when sliding items up to the front. A Volkswagen Polo beats the C3 with a roomier cabin with up-to-the-minute technology and a larger, more versatile boot. The Mazda3 trumps both with a high-quality cabin, yielding materials and modern design. Shame about its cramped rear seats and small boot that actually measures in five-litres smaller than the C3’s despite being some 464mm longer.
Running Costs & Warranty: 6.5/10
The 2021 Citroen C3 is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty which is par for the course in 2022. The C3 also gets five years of capped price servicing so you know what to expect in the first five years of ownership. Oddly, Citroen recommends servicing ever 15,000km/12 months rather than Peugeot’s 20,00km/12 months despite using the same running gear.
The C3 will set you back $2,524 over the first five years (or an average of $504.80 per year) or 75,000km which may seem steep for the class of car, but the Volkswagen Polo takes that figure up to $2,661 over the same period, or $532.20 per year. Pragmatic buyers might be swayed at this point by the bigger-yet-cheaper Mazda 3’s $1,670 over five years. It is worth noting that the Mazda 3 can only travel 10,000km between services, so this may skew back towards the C3 for those who travel longer distances.
2021 Citroen C3 Shine DiscoverAuto Rating: 7.3/10
The 2021 Citroen C3 delivers oodles of style, charm and a certain je ne sais quoi that’s hard to put your finger on. Whether you compare it to similarly-priced rivals, from the light car segment or even the segment above, it doesn’t stack up on paper. But after spending a week in the charming little C3 it’s easy to see yourself dropping over $30K on it.
Some Francophiles always have and always will buy French cars. If you’re one of those who are tempted to dip your toe but aren’t sure, we implore you to book a test drive and try it before you write it off.