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Citroen C3 2021 review

The Citroen C3 certainly stands out from the crowd
EXPERT RATING
7.1
The 2021 Citroen C3 keeps everything that's good about the tiny French hatch while adding a few useful bits and pieces in an effort to justify its ambitious pricing. Fans of the brand will still love it, but I can't help thinking its high price is holding back this excellent small hatch.

Sometimes a car lands on a motor show stand (remember them?) and immediately takes away the world's breath. Citroen used to do that routinely, but after a fallow, timid period, dropped the C4 Cactus.

Nothing else looked like this very French, very wacky SUV. It had its detractors, but like Bangle BMWs, it was hugely influential, particularly over on the Korean peninsula.

Sadly - actually, I reckon this borders on criminal - the Cactus didn't do well in Australia, despite having all the things we like about SUVs - a good engine, plenty of space (okay, the pop-out rear window was pretty dumb) and individual looks.

People, for some reason, couldn't get past the innovative Airbumps on the side, either.

The Cactus has departed our shores but the C3 is a worthy carrier of its styling torch. Smaller, cheaper (at least on paper) and as close to being a compact SUV without actually being one, the C3 has been around since 2016 and has just had a refresh for 2021.

Citroen C3 2021: Shine 1.2 Pure Tech 82
Safety rating
Engine Type1.2L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency4.9L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$28,990

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   6/10

The auto-only C3 is $28,990. That's a drag because it's a lot of money for a small hatchback, eclipsing pretty much everything in its segment from Mazda and Kia and Suzuki. The only car more expensive is the Swift Sport auto.

The auto-only C3 is $28,990, which is a lot of money for a small hatchback. The auto-only C3 is $28,990, which is a lot of money for a small hatchback.

As I've said a number of times, you don't roll into a Citroen dealer by accident, you're looking for something specific, not a run-of-mill hatchback.

That's not a defence of the price, but the French maker's volumes are small here, so it's just nice to have them along.

You get 16-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, sat nav, auto wipers, leather shifter and steering wheel, folding powered mirrors and a space-saver spare.

The 8.0-inch touchscreen has Android Auto and Apple Car Play. The 8.0-inch touchscreen has Android Auto and Apple Car Play.

The 8.0-inch touchscreen is fairly ho-hum and everything is crammed into it, which makes for some tense moments when you just want to change the fan speed or something equally innocuous.

It does have digital radio and sat nav, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, neither of which are wireless.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

What isn't interesting about the C3? Australian disinterest in the Cactus is criminal because as someone who writes about cars, one of the main complaints I hear is, "Cars all look the same."

That's not especially true at the moment, the industry is in pretty good shape as far as styling goes, but the Cactus, and now the C3, certainly deliver on distinctiveness.

As I've already mentioned, this is an influential design given its obvious resemblance to the Cactus - the slim upper LED driving lights stacked on top of the larger headlights with a fairly bluff, upright front end.

This is an influential design given its obvious resemblance to the Cactus. This is an influential design given its obvious resemblance to the Cactus.

It's pretty obvious this will go down as a bit of a cult classic. Seems like Citroens are condemned to that status here in Australia.

Around the side you have Citroen's signature 'Airbumps', which act as side bumpers. Although, ironically, the Aircross version doesn't have these despite its more rugged appearance.

Not sure what's going on at Citroen design but I won't complain because I'm a bit in love with the way the C3 looks.

the C3 has 16-inch alloys. the C3 has 16-inch alloys.

The 2021 C3 has new alloys, two new body colours ('Spring Blue' and 'Arctic Steel') and a new roof colour ('Emerald').

The interior is a tale of two halves - specifically the dashboard design. The upper half is a bit retro with the rectangular air vents and body coloured strips.

A surprisingly conventional steering wheel frames an old-looking instrument cluster, but it all looks pretty good and works well.

Underneath the halfway line it's all flimsy grey plastic and dark, dingy impractical spaces that aren't at all interesting. Those funky 1960s suitcase style door pulls are present and correct, though.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

As this car is from a time before the French dropped their trenchant opposition to sensibly-sized cupholders (or having them at all), the beverage restraining situation is... poor. The two in the front are too small to hold anything but a Red Bull can and the solitary cupholder for the rear seat is too shallow to be useful when the car is moving. 

The front seats are possibly the most comfortable front seats in the business. The front seats are possibly the most comfortable front seats in the business.

More than making up for all of that are the front seats. An evolution of the chair I have more than once declared the most comfortable front seats in the business, they're now even better, according to Citroen.

I don't know how they're better, but they're a little more shapely to look at. They're still enormously comfortable and you could sit in them for days at a time and never feel a pinch.

Cargo space is flexible thanks to the sliding back seats. Cargo space is flexible thanks to the sliding back seats.

Perhaps in a push for redemption, each door has a pocket, with the fronts carving out a section for a bottle. You can also put bottles in the rear door pockets and they'll be just fine.

For a car this small, the 300 litre (VDA) boot with the seats in place is pretty good going. Drop the 60/40 split backrest and you have 922 litres. There is a bit of a drop once you're past the high loading lip and the floor is most definitely not flat with the seats down, but that's not unusual at this level.

For a car this small, the 300 litre (VDA) boot is pretty good going. For a car this small, the 300 litre (VDA) boot is pretty good going.

When you step up to the Aircross, you get between 410 and 520 litres courtesy of the sliding back seat, and the overall seats-down boot capacity is 1289 litres.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The C3's high, flat bonnet hides one of my favourite engines of all time, the 'HN04' 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbo. In the C3 it's effectively de-tuned to 81kW/205Nm. A six-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the front-wheels only.

The C3 weighs just 1090kg. While the 10.9 second run to 100km/h seems, and is, leisurely, although it never feels that slow, especially in the gears.

The C3 has a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbo. The C3 has a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder turbo.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The official combined cycle figure for the C3 is a scant 5.2L/100km on premium unleaded.

After a week with the petit Citroen, covering mostly suburban and urban kilometres, the trip computer told me I used 7.9L/100km, which is a fair way off, but unexpected given the hellish humidity and heat of the week I drove it.

I should also point out, the C3 I had was fresh off the boat so probably had a little loosening up to do.

Based on my figure, one you will most likely improve upon, you should be able to cover 560km between fills.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The C3 ships with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward collision warning, low-speed forward AEB, lane departure warning, speed sign recognition, blind spot monitoring and driver attention detection.

For the little ones, there are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors for baby capsules and/or child seats.

Last assessed by ANCAP in 2017, the C3 scored four from a possible five stars. Last assessed by ANCAP in 2017, the C3 scored four from a possible five stars.

Sadly, the C3 is missing high-speed AEB and rear cross-traffic alert.

Last assessed by ANCAP in 2017, the C3 scored four from a possible five stars, but when tested did not have AEB.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Citroen offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with roadside assist for the duration. 

Servicing is subject to a 12 months/15,0000 interval, with five years of 'Service Price Promise', or capped-price servicing to you and me.

Annoyingly it's not easy to find on the website, but we've got the service pricing right here.

The least you'll pay is a solid $415 and the most a fairly eye-watering $718, which isn't cheap for a small car, but at least you now know what you're up for. The total cost over five years is $2736.17, or just over $547 per service.

At the time of writing, Citroen was offering free servicing for five years on MY20 models.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

There is much to like about the way the C3 goes about its business. Citroen has returned to its roots with its recent hatchback and compact SUV range, unashamedly going for ride comfort and user-friendliness.

The C3's ride has to be the best in the class, with a plush, much larger car feel over smooth and bumpy roads. It feels almost completely unflappable and even when cornering... er... enthusiastically, the body remains well-controlled.

The C3's ride has to be the best in the class. The C3's ride has to be the best in the class.

It's also very quiet and the only thing that unsettles the rear torsion beams are nasty mid-corner bumps or those horrible rubber speed bumps in car parks.

The 1.2-litre engine is a cracker. While the numbers aren't super big, the torque curve is nice and chunky and makes the C3 remarkably good on the freeway, cheerfully tackling hills and overtaking with little fuss. 

My only complaint is the weird take-up of transmission on first gear. I feel like the C3 is gaslighting me into thinking it has a dual-clutch, but it's a normal torque converter auto.

It can lurch a bit, especially when coughing into life as the stop-start has activated and it's the only thing that reminds me this is a tiny three-cylinder hatchback. 

On the move, the steering is super-light and geared perfectly to urban and suburban agility. It's great fun to thread through tight inner-city streets as you sit a bit higher than, say, a Kia Rio GT-Line.

It's also a doddle to park, even more so now with the newly-fitted front parking sensors.

Verdict

With just one Citroen C3 to consider, this is very much a yes/no decision. I think it's a shame the price is so high because just a few grand off might tempt a few curious buyers through the door. Maybe Citroen is missing an opportunity here, too, as so few small hatches are left and fewer still under twenty grand, meaning the pack is tightly bunched under about $26,000.

It's a fun, quirky and individual car but not in the traditional 'will it start?' way. I think it looks great and it's the sort of automotive art people say they crave before buying something handsome but inoffensive. It would be an even better car with a bit more advanced safety gear and if that step-off from standstill was sorted out. I'm not sure I'd spend all that money on the C3, but I'd be sorely tempted.

Pricing guides

$28,990
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$28,990
Highest Price
$28,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Shine 1.2 Pure Tech 82 1.2L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $28,990 2021 Citroen C3 2021 Shine 1.2 Pure Tech 82 Pricing and Specs
Shine 1.2 Puretech 82 1.2L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $28,990 2021 Citroen C3 2021 Shine 1.2 Puretech 82 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.1
Price and features6
Design8
Practicality7
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Safety7
Ownership7
Driving8
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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