Citroen C3 Shine

French flair for a high-fashion fee

ASH WESTERMAN

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

IN AN automotive world overloaded with over-choice and over-complication, thereís something refreshingly straightforward about the arrival of Citroenís C3 light hatch into Australia. Itís offered in just one (rich) spec level, with one turbo-triple-auto powertrain. Oh, and one pretty rich price tag, but more on that in a moment.

What the C3 also brings is a generous splash of design-driven pizazz and customisable style to what is a mostly sensible, pragmatic segment. Think of it as a stiletto to the eye of a Yaris.

C3 is built on PSAís long-serving PF1 platform; an entirely conventional architecture for this class with a torsion-beam rear-end and strut front, but that does feature disc brakes on all four corners. Overall length of 3996mm makes it around 60mm shorter than a Mazda 2, yet smart packaging means the rear is roomy enough for two adults if the front occupants donít require full rearward travel of their seats.

Yet its the design of the interior that stands apart from the competition for flair, with clever flashes of upmarket-feeling materials to distract you from the fact that the bigger, more costly bits, like the dash and door trims, are really not that costly at all. Retro-looking door-strap handles are intended to evoke thoughts of designer luggage. The seats are generously sized, properly comfortable, and are trimmed to look retro-upmarket.

Steering that is feather light at parking speeds does gain a little more weight on the move, and the C3 reveals relaxed damping that strikes an acceptable blend of easyriding compliance with contained roll, although Aussie back roads do uncover ropey rebound control. The powertrain, meanwhile, comes with its own caveat. The 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol is mated to a six-speed torqueconverter automatic, and itís mostly a very good combo, apart from a band of low-rpm vibration when moving away from standstill and at crawling speeds.

Now in colour

The C3 is available in nine body colours ($290 or $590), three roof colours, the no-cost option of black 17-inch diamond-cut alloys, and three choices of interior trim ($150 or $400.) Safety gear includes lane-departure warning and speed limit recognition systems, but the crucial omissions are AEB and blind-spot monitoring, which explains the ANCAP rating of just four stars. AEB is only now making it into European C3s; PSA wonít say when the safety system will make it into Australian cars; only that it will.

Then thereís the transmission calibration, which errs toward econo-focused snoozeville. Not an issue in daily driving, and there is a Sport button for a more aggressive calibration, but that brings an insistence on excessive and irritating gear-holding. Better to move the selector to the manual mode and shift yourself if you want to have a crack. On the upside, the engine is super willing and torquey, with a feisty, parping note.

So overall, C3 is near-impossible to dislike Ė or ignore. Yes, its price of $23,490 is for customers amenable to paying a premium for fashion. But if the alternatives in this segment leave you uninspired, perhaps the price of French chic wonít be insurmountable.

ASH WESTERMAN