Citroen C3 VS Renault Clio
- Unique styling
- Giant door pockets
- Sofa-like seats
- Slow and seemingly indecisive auto transmission
- Low on advanced safety tech
- No front parking sensors
- Great chassis
- Decent specification
- Good all-round liveability for a hot hatch
- No AEB or rear curtain airbags
- No CarPlay, Android Auto part of expensive option pack
- RS Monitor no longer standard
The Citroen C3 is a little hatchback like the Kia Rio, Mazda 2 or the Suzuki Swift but it’s different to them, which is why you’re here, I think.
The C3 is different, not in a technological or engineering sense, but in the style stakes. It’s a premium and quirky French take on the tiny-car-thing in a similar way to the Audi A1, Peugeot 208 and Mini Hatch.
Yep, it’s cool, tiny, and little bit fancy. Sounds perfect for the 21st century Australian urban dweller, right?
Well, one came to stay at our urban home in Sydney for a week and here’s what I thought.
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
I'm going to reveal something of myself here - I used to be a RenaultSport Clio owner. This is what the purists call what we now know as Clio RS, and I find myself constantly corrected yet unrepentant. It was a 172 - a nuggety three-door with wheels that looked too small, a weird seating position and a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine that was big on torque as long as you belted it.
It was a classic and you could still see the links back to the epoch-making Renault Clio Williams, that blue and gold Mk 1 Clio we never saw in Australia that redefined the genre. The current Clio has been around for four years now and I even drove this current RS Clio at its launch in 2013, memorable for the sudden bucketing rain that drenched the circuit and made things very interesting indeed.
This Clio was a big change from the cars that went before - slimmer-hipped, less aggressive-looking and with a 1.6-litre turbo engine, five-door-only body and (gasp!) no manual, just Renault's twin-clutch EDC transmission. It was a hit, at least with enthusiasts. Back then it was the dawn of a golden age in small hot hatches. But that was then, this is now. With a small power bump and a couple of features thrown in, is the ageing RS still at the pointy end?
|Engine Type||1.6L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The C3 is not a bad choice of car for the urban dweller with its tiny size making it easy to park, big windows for good visibility, the air bump armour protecting its doors, and tech like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for keeping your hands off the phone. The little Citroen is unique in its looks among many ‘samey’ hatches out there. If only the C3 drove as well as it looked. The driving experience could be smoother, but if you can get used to this side of its character there’s plenty to like – like those seats. So, for the daily driver score the C3 Shine gets 6/10 but a 7/10 for its urban score.
The Clio RS is still a ton of fun and in Cup spec, probably the best compromise between price and livability. Despite its advancing years (it turns five this year, so ready to start kindy) and big brother Megane hogging the limelight with a fancy new model on the way, the Clio is a stayer. It's missing some frustratingly obvious things like CarPlay, AEB, rear airbags and rear cross-traffic alert, but it's hardly alone in the segment.
With the departure of the Fiesta ST, though, the Clio returns to the top of the list of best small hot hatches on sale today.
Think the Clio is ready for the pension? It it living on franking credits it doesn't deserve?
When it comes to the Citroen C3 I think 98 per cent of the appeal is the styling, and the remining two per cent is that you can also drive it places. Okay, that’s probably a bit much, but a big part of the C3’s charm is the way it looks.
There’s nothing wrong with that because the C3’s design is pleasing. If you were having trouble putting your finger on what it is about the C3's the styling that's so interesting and cute, then let me point out the rounded-off shapes.
Yep, they’re everywhere – the headlights, the tail-lights, and those 'air bumps' down the doors which stop them from getting dings in carparks. Even the C3 badge on the back of the car is stylised to make a rounded-off rectangle shape.
I’ve heard the word ‘squircle’ used in relation to them and they’re everywhere, even on your phone, just look at the shape of the apps. Never noticed it did you? And they were literally right under your nose.
Anyway, the same rounded rectangles are seen in the air vent design, the door handles, the shape is even pressed into the door trim. I’m not sure if I’m going bonkers, but does the steering wheel have a square with round edges look, too?
While we’re inside check out the suitcase strap style door handles and those seats. Oh man, if the car business doesn’t work out for this French brand the manufacturer could always go into making furniture because Citroen’s seats are supremely comfortable, supportive and stylish. In my opinion when it comes to comfort no other carmaker can beat Citroen’s seats.
Enough about the seats. This isn’t seatsguide.com.au, so let me give you the dimensions. The C3 is 3996mm long, 2007mm wide (with the mirrors out) and 1474mm tall.
There are six colours to choose from including 'Almond Green' and 'Cobalt Blue', which are both optional and so is the 'Aluminium Grey' our car wore with the 'Polar White' roof.
I nickname it Pigeon Grey because as you can see in the images the colour camouflages the C3 into the road and if it wasn’t for the white roof the car would be almost invisible in an urban landscape.
Maybe you want that but if it was me, I’d go for the standard Polar White and red roof which is also standard. The red and white combination suits this little car perfectly and it’ll stand out like it should.
Now, don’t get the C3 confused with the C3 Aircross which is the SUV version of the little hatch, while the C5 Aircross is even bigger. I’ve reviewed them all so you can read about those later. Let’s move on to the price.
The Clio is a handsome small car but nothing out of the ordinary until you apply the very cool Liquid Yellow paint. That hue really is quite something and works even better with the black alloys of the Cup chassis.
The car has some lovely surfacing and in a recent-ish refresh, the slightly odd headlights were reworked, as were the front and rear bumpers which now link to the RenaultSport Megane. Sorry, Megane RS. The RS flag signature lighting is a nice touch, acting as DRLs at the bottom corners of the front bumper.
The lovely organic shapes of the Clio's sides still look good and the rather tough rear end with the chunky diffuser leaves you in no doubt that it's the proper RS not the halfway-house, 1.2-litre GT-Line.
Inside is starting to look its age, but graceful, a bit like Jamie-Lee Curtis' or George Clooney's embrace of grey hair. There are still some of the sharp edges I didn't like. It's certainly a Renault to look at and ergonomically works pretty well. One thing that has been fixed at some point is the switch on the gear selector - it won't bite you if you curl your finger underneath when you press it. You might think that's a small thing, but when you did it, damn it hurt.
Let me rephrase that. How are you going to be using your car? Are you going to try and get away with it as a family car? If so, I’d say it’s going to be too small because the boot has a cargo capacity of only 300 litres and it won’t fit a large pram.
Will there be people sitting in the back seats regularly? If so, again I think the C3 could be too small to frequently seat five, as legroom in the rear seats is tight, and at 191cm (6'3") tall I can’t sit behind my driving position.
But if most of the time only one or two adults are going to be in the C3 then it will suit them well, with enough boot space for a suitcase (see the images) or shopping. Plus, if you do need to carry more people you can, and it’s unlikely, they’ll be as tall as I am.
Cabin storage would be disastrous if it wasn’t for the enormous door pockets in the front and rear door. Apart from that, there’s no centre console armrest bin, two tiny cupholders near the gear shifter, a small glove box and a little shelf in the dashboard for a wallet or purse, but too small for my phone.
As for charging and connection for devices, the C3 could be better. There’s just one USB port (the old Type-A) and one 12V (who uses these?).
One of my practicality gripes about the C3 is that to adjust the climate control it needs to be done through the touchscreen, when a dial would be perfectly fine and quicker. Thankfully, there’s an actual volume control knob.
The Clio's interior is certainly snug. Rear seat passengers do okay for legroom but headroom is a mite marginal with the falling roofline for six footers. There are no cupholders out back, that curious French habit of supplying just a couple of cup receptacles of different and weird sizes persists. The front doors have space for bottles, the rears do not.
The boot is class-competitive at 300 litres (worth knowing the Trophy loses 70 litres to the Cup) and with the seats down stretches to a claimed 1146L.
Price and features
There’s one grade in the C3 line-up, it’s called the Shine and the list price is $28,990.
Coming standard is, proximity unlocking with push button start (so convenient if you’re getting in and out a lot on short trips), parking sensors (but only at the back not the front which is a bummer in the city), a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera and sat nav, digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, climate control, cruise control, 16-inch alloys wheels and LED running lights, but halogen headlights.
I’d expect more features for this price and there are rivals packing more into small cars than this for the same money. The Volkswagen Polo is $3K less and gets impressive features and if the VeeDub isn’t kooky enough then there’s Skoda's Fabia for $22K.
I get it, those cars aren’t as cool, so I’d seriously check out the $26,990 Peugeot 208 GT-Line which (because they’re part of the same company) shares the same engine and transmission and many other mechanical and tech bits.
As for the Audi A1, the most affordable lists for $32,350, but it is a premium and cool little car worth taking a look at.
The Mini Hatch is more expensive again, but undoubtedly cool and different.
None of the rivals have the C3’s ‘air bumps’ treatment. It’s a Citroen creation which first made an appearance on the Cactus SUV about five years ago. They’re little plastic bubbles that are basically armour for your car to protect it against runaway shopping trolleys and people opening their doors into yours. They’re not just a gimmick, they work.
You won't find seats like the C3’s in any of the competitor’s cabins, either. The ones you can see in the images come standard and they’re so good I’m thinking seriously about asking Citroen to make me a couch.
The iconic 'Liquid Yellow' ($750 option) Clio I had for the week was the Cup spec chassis. The Clio RS 200, as it is officially known, comes in two specs - Sport and Cup - and there's a Trophy 220 at the top of the range. I had the Cup, which retails at $32,490 (plus on-road costs). The RS220 Trophy, with a bit more poke and stuff, weighs in at $38,990 if you're interested.
The Cup spec is heavily based on the more affordable ($30,990) Sport, which means you get 18-inch alloy wheels (painted black, so watch those kerbs), climate control, four speaker stereo, keyless entry and start (the "key" is still that unwieldy keycard style thing), reversing camera, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, fog lamps, LED daytime running lights, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, launch control, leather bits and pieces and a tyre inflation kit instead of any kind of spare.
The 7.0-inch 'R-Link' touch screen software runs the four speaker stereo with DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and USB. If you get the optional RS Monitor, there is a full-on telemetry system from which you can save your, er, "track day" data and overlay in Google Maps to compare with your mates' or past efforts. You can also change the piped-in engine sound to various different sound effects which are delightfully silly.
Android Auto is part of the breathtaking $1500 'Entertainment Pack' option that includes RS Monitor (which used to be standard) and no, there's no Apple CarPlay. Leather is a further $1500.
Bottom line is that you do get a decent spec bump from the $30,990 Sport along with the more capable (and less comfortable) Cup chassis.
Engine & trans
The C3 has a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine making 81kW/205Nm, while a six-speed automatic transmission shift gears.
If a three-cylinder engine sounds tiny to you, then you’re right, it is, but these small powerhouses are really common for little cars these days. Plus, the power and torque outputs are more than enough for a car that weights only 1090kg.
The transmission was the let down here, the shifts slow and uncertain at times
The 200-equipped RSes pony up 147kW/260Nm, which is pretty much bang-on the obvious competition (Peugeot 208 GTI and the outgoing Fiesta ST), driving the front wheels through Renault's six-speed EDC twin-clutch. Unlike those two, there is no overboost function.
Dieppe's finest sprints from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.7 seconds, pulling along a kerb weight of 1204kg.
Citroen says that after a combination of open and city roads the C3 should use 4.9L/100km, while its urban mileage is 6.8L/100km.
My fuel test covered 174.1km of mainly urban roads and I needed 11.76L to fill the 45 litre tank to full again. That comes to bang on the serving suggestion of 6.8L/100km.
Not bad, but not fantastic fuel economy for a small car.
The C3 comes with fuel saving idle stop tech, too, which cuts the engine as the vehicle slows to a stop.
Renault claims 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle but, yeah, nah. My week was admittedly filled with plenty of horseplay and spirited driving, yielding 11.4L/100km. If you were careful you may fare better - but not that much better.
The fuel tank is a fairly standard 45 litres. It requires 98RON premium unleaded.
The C3’s length is its biggest urban strength, and in the time I had it there was almost never a spot I couldn't squeeze into.
Visibility is also good in all directions, through those giant windows, although I did feel low down with even small SUVs seeming to tower over me.
I’ve reviewed the SUV version of the C3, the C3 Aircross, and the slightly taller ride height made for even better visibility.
A comfortable ride and a fun sporty feel to the handling makes buzzing around town enjoyable, but if I could change anything it’d be the engine and transmission.
This may be a highly acclaimed three-cylinder engine and the transmission is a six-speed auto (torque converter, not a dual clutch), but their interaction with each other doesn’t provide the smoothest driving.
The shifts sometimes arrive too early, or at peculiar times, sometimes hesitating mid-shift, and moving to higher gears results in slumps of turbo lag.
I also found the fuel saving idle stop tech way too intrusive, to the point where the engine was cutting out midway through intersections as I was waiting to turn. Thankfully, you can turn this off.
The RS has always had a belter of a chassis. The Cup chassis became a thing just over a decade ago and is lauded by the fans as The One To Have. I've not always been convinced of this as my earlier drives of the Cup-equipped machines have usually been in close proximity to the Sport chassis.
The Cup is slightly lower than the Sport, with 15 per cent stiffer springs and dampers and perhaps more importantly it scores 18-inch wheels with Dunlop Sport Maxx RT2 tyres, which you can reasonably expect to be a bit firmer than the 17s with Goodyear F1s on the Sport. And they are.
However, in most situations, the Cup chassis is perfectly benign. You certainly feel the bumps and lumps, but you haven't bought a Cup chassis for Lexus-like isolation. It's certainly sharper than the Sport chassis and when you're really giving it a go around the bends, the comfort deficit is more than made up for by the extra grip and poise.
The chassis is aided and abetted by a torquey 1.6-turbo that cheerfully...no, gleefully spins to the redline which could do with another thousand revs, but that's forced induction for you. The aluminium shift paddles need a good positive pull to get a gear, but that gear is delivered quickly and effortlessly. The Clio is a great deal of fun in Sport and Race modes, with throttle mappings and gearshifts becoming more aggressive as you switch through the modes.
The brakes are tremendously effective and the electronic limited slip diff (*cough* brake-based torque vectoring) ensures you'll hit your apexes and the tyres spend more time gripping than spinning.
But it's not all hairpins and off-camber left-right-lefts, is it? Plenty of owners have to live with the car in traffic day to day. Driving the Cup in isolation, I've changed my mind about it. I reckon it's the best of the two chassis settings. The city ride is better than decent, with the hard edges potholes chamfered off by the dampers and decent compliance. It's not too noisy, either.
ANCAP scored the Citroen C3 four stars out of a maximum of five in 2017, but that was before AEB was added in 2018. Also, standard is lane departure warning, and blind spot detection. As mentioned above there’s also rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
The AEB system works at slower city speeds which is a plus for urban driving, but it doesn’t have pedestrian and cyclist detection, which is a minus.
And there’s no rear cross traffic alert either, which in other cars has saved my skin more than once while reversing into busy little streets.
For child seats you’ll find three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.
The Clio was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in November 2013.
Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km and capped price servicing is offered with the first visit costing $381, then $491, $621, $496, and $385 for the fifth.
Renault says it was the first European maker to offer a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty in Australia, and who are we to argue? The package also includes up to four years of roadside assist and three years of capped-price servicing.
Renault expects to see you just once a year or every 20,000km, which gives you a bit more headroom than some similar service plans, at least on the mileage. The first three services will cost no more than $369 unless you need a new air filter ($38) or pollen filter ($46). At 60,000km or four years you'll cop $262 for a set of spark plugs. The company's website also suggests if the Clio doesn't like the state of its oil, it will beep at you until you have that attended to.