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Citroen C3 1.6 HDi 90bhp Exclusive 5-door

Click to view picture gallery“David Miles steals a pre-Christmas
  first drive in the new Citroen C3 that
  goes on sale early in the New Year.
  It looks similar to the old one but
  don’t let that fool you — under the
  skin it
s all new

ON TELEVISION SCREENS NOW with a pre-launch Christmas and New Year holiday period advertising campaign and on sale from January 15th (2010), the new Citroen C3 five-door 'supermini' has the external styling cues of its predecessor but inside, particularly in trim design and quality, things have definitely changed for the better.

It needs to because the new C3 has to sell against the likes of the best-selling Ford Fiesta, the Vauxhall Corsa and now the brand new, and class-leading, Volkswagen Polo.

But despite Citroen's decision to stay close to the previous C3's look (chiefly because it has sold over two million units since its launch in 2002), the latest C3 is not just a face-lift model but, generally speaking, a completely new car.

At 3,940mm in length, 1,730mm in width and 1,510mm in height, the new C3 has roughly the same overall proportions as the outgoing model. It has a short and steeply rising bonnet, large frontal glass area, low glass line to the sides and a bulbous roof. The styling now includes a more noticeable trapezoidal front grille and an eye-catching design for the headlight clusters that taken together give increased road presence and a far more purposeful look.

Side styling treatment includes a low waistline but instead of black rubbing strips on the doors (as per the previous C3), there are now contoured styling lines pressed into the metal. At the chunky rear there is a wide-opening tailgate giving access to a deep and wide 300-litre boot. However, the high rear sill doesn't make loading easy for heavy items and although the rear seats do fold down, they do not fold flat and consequently leave a 'step' in the load floor.

The modern-day family car is mainly about packaging: maximum space in the minimum size. Front seat passengers in the new C3 have lots of space and rear seat occupants should be quite happy with the leg and headroom. The seats look comfortable and supportive but feel less so after a long journey. The ride though is comfortable and the suspension generally copes well. Perhaps it is a bit soft at the front end, and the rear set-up can cause the car to skip sideways when a back wheel falls into a large rut or pothole. And there's also some wind and tyre noise intrusion.

With the low waistline, huge glass area relative to the size of the car and the Zenith panoramic sunroof for VTR+ and Exclusive versions, the interior is light, airy and all-round visibility is first class. Also first class, and the most notable first impression about the new C3, is the huge improvement in the design and finish of the interior. It looks more expensive, it generally feels of high quality, it is more sculptured and it looks 'posh' — certainly a higher level in style and quality over other popular superminis. I can see this feature being a big selling point for retail customers; that and the final negotiated price, of course.

The new C3 is offered in CitroŽn's three core trim levels — VT, VTR+ and Exclusive — with a Special Edition 'Airdream+' (available to order now for delivery from March 2010) that emits just 99g/km of CO2.

The new C3 delivers
excellent combined cycle
fuel economy of up to
48.7mpg for petrol
models and 74.3mpg
for diesel versions
The entry-level VT models come with generous levels of standard equipment including an MP3-compatible radio/CD player with steering-mounted controls, electrically-adjustable door mirrors, front electric windows and a multi-function on-board trip computer.

At the heart of the range, the likely best selling VTR+ trim gains the panoramic Zenith windscreen, air-conditioning, 15-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, leather steering wheel and cruise control with speed limiter.

The range-topping Exclusive models offer premium levels of design and comfort with additional equipment such as digital air-conditioning, front and rear 'one-touch' electric windows, electrically-folding and heated door mirrors, part-Alcantara upholstery, 16-inch alloy wheels and dark-tinted rear windows.

The Special Edition Airdream+ will be CitroŽn's first production model to emit less than 100g/km of CO2 and represents the greenest choice for the environmentally-conscious motorist. Based on the VTR+ trim level, it gains two additional features as standard: rear parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity.

On the downside, ESP (electronic stability programme) is standard on just one 1.6-litre HDi 110bhp model and available as a £300 option on other Exclusive specification versions but not on any other models. This is a big own-goal for Citroen as ESP has to be fitted as standard to gain a Euro NCAP five-star safety rating — the new C3 made only four stars and so loses out in the safety stakes to its main-selling competitors.

Prices start at just £10,790 for the entry-level 1.1i 61hp VT petrol model, rising to £16,140 for the range-topping 1.6HDi 110hp 6-speed manual Exclusive. At the heart of the model line-up, and offering an excellent balance of value and equipment, VTR+ models start at £12,690 for the petrol versions and £13,790 for the HDi-powered equivalent. The low-CO2 Airdream version will cost £14,490.

Talking of engine options, the new C3 is initially offered with the choice of four petrol engines and three HDi diesels, with the Special Edition Airdream+ 1.6HDi 90hp unit with CO2 emissions of 99g/km coming soon.

The three HDi diesels are: 1.4 HDi 8V 70hp, 1.6 HDi 16V 90hp and 1.6 HDi 16V 110hp — all emit 115g/km of CO2 or less. The 1.6 HDi 16V 110hp and the 1.6 HDi 16V 90hp Euro V engines (the latter being specified in the Airdream+) are fitted with Citroen's lauded DPFS (Diesel Particulate Filter System).

I would go for the
Exclusive trim level
because it just looks and
feels so good
The four petrol engines are 1.1i 8V 61hp, 1.4i 8V 75hp, 1.4 16V VTi 95hp and 1.6 16V VTi 120hp and emit between 134g/km and 158g/km of CO2. The VTi 95hp and VTi 120hp are from CitroŽn's family of refined and economical BMW co-developed powerplants.

For drivers keeping a close eye on their fuel costs, the new C3 delivers excellent combined cycle fuel economy of up to 48.7mpg for petrol models and 74.3mpg for diesel-powered versions.

All engines are mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox, apart from the 1.6 HDi 16V 110hp which has a 6-speed manual transmission. The 1.6 VTi 120hp is offered with a choice of either 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions.

Because the C3 is predominately a retail customer car, most sales will be taken up by the petrol engines but with the significant move to downsize and pay less tax some fleet and company car drivers will find their annual high-mileage driving will be better suited to the very economical, less tax incurring, but more expensive to buy diesel versions.

To get me behind the wheel of a new C3 before the public launch, Citroen kindly supplied a 1.6 HDi 90bhp Exclusive version priced at £15,190. This is not likely to be the most popular model but I would go for the Exclusive trim level because it just looks and feels so good.

I also liked this particular 90bhp diesel engine because it is fuel frugal, returning 54.8mpg on test. Officially it will average 65.7mpg, but with CO2 emissions of 110g/km it costs only £35 a year for road tax and even company car drivers will pay a very reasonable 13% Benefit in Kind tax. The 159lb ft of torque from just 1,750rpm made the C3 feel very responsive at low to medium speed driving despite the long-legged final drive gear ratio needed for the low emission rating.

While there is much to like about the new Citroen C3, it is not perfect; and the competition is fierce. But knowing that Citroen are aggressive with their showroom deals it looks a possible winner. Not working in its favour is that ESP is not standard on all models, the seats lack support, the steering is short on feedback, there's some wind and tyre noise intrusion and deep potholes unsettle the handling. On the plus side you can list improved quality, the plush high-class interior, a light and airy cabin with good visibility, mostly well equipped, a comfortable ride, fuel and tax friendly and easy to live with.

To see more of the new C3 in the metal, watch the television commercials this Christmas and New Year: it will make better viewing that the usual load of 'repeats' we will have to endure. — David Miles

Citroen C3 1.6 HDi 90bhp Exclusive 5-door | £15,190
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 11.3 seconds | Overall MPG: 54.8mpg
Power: 90bhp | Torque: 159lb ft | CO2 110g/km | Insurance group 4E