Citroen used to make great small cars. The AV, Visa and Saxo gained a cult following for their keen performance and sharp lines. Then it launched the Citroen C3 in 2002 and things went wrong. I know, I had one.
More accurately, my mum had one, and I borrowed it. That’s right, I spent my teenage years hurtling around my then hometown of Camberley on the Surrey-Berkshire border in a pale blue Citroen C3.
It was, my friends told me, not as good as their Ford Fiestas and Vauxhall Corsas. It looked tired and, well, boring. I had zero street credibility. Even my girlfriend at the time – who didn’t even drive – hated it, and sure enough she soon stopped taking lifts in it, though there were other reasons too.
Citroen C3 Flair PT 110
Engine capacity: 1.2-litre petrol
Power output (BHP @ RPM): 109 @ 5,500
Top speed (MPH): 117
Fuel economy (MPG): 61.4
C02 emissions (g/km): 103
In the broader automotive world it became another one of a series of forgettable French cars. Since then though, Citroen has launched a string of DS cars, a sub-brand of upmarket models. And now it’s time for the more humdrum Citroen C3 to get a proper update.
The result, the Citroen C3 Flair, is a triumph. It follows on from the excellent C4 Cactus with small plastic “Airbumps” down the outside (panels to protect it from being dinged, resembling sturdy bubble wrap), colour inlays and strap door pulls inside. Inside, the dashboard is sleek and boasts a class-leading 7-inch touchscreen that adds to the funky feel of the car. There are endless ways to customize it too with up to 36 different body, roof and alloy wheel combinations.
This sort of personalisation and the striking colours could be seen as style without substance, but the C3 is an accomplished little city car.
On the road it’s not as engaging to drive as the class-leading Ford Fiesta, but for a city car the C3 rides incredibly well and road noise levels are low. I tested the award-winning 1.2-litre petrol engine, which is nippy enough for town, has a delightful engine note and can hold its own on the motorway.
There’s also a diesel model but the economy gains aren’t worthwhile, especially considering the petrol unit will easily do 50 miles per gallon in the real world. Then there’s the likelihood that diesel cars of any kind won’t be that welcome in cities in the future. This week London mayor Sadiq Khan announced a clampdown on older diesels from 2019. Don’t expect that regulatory front to stay still for long.
That’s not the sort of thing I would have worried about as a teenager. Then all I wanted was a Ford Fiesta. Objectively the C3 still isn’t as good as a First, but it stands out from the crowd as a somewhat funky, left-field option. Things are looking up for Citroen.