Hyundai i20 VS Citroen C3
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- Unique styling
- Giant door pockets
- Sofa-like seats
- Slow and seemingly indecisive auto transmission
- Low on advanced safety tech
- No front parking sensors
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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|
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
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.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
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.
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
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.
Price and features
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
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.
Engine & trans
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
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
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
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.
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
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.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
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.
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.