17.4.2012 Citroen C3 Airdream review
Citroen's 'micro-hybrid' C3 will save drivers from road tax and the London congestion charge, if applicable, but the lowest CO2 emitting model uses an electronic manual gearbox that is an acquired taste to put it mildly.
Providing you can cope with the engine racket when accelerating it's a sensible town car with a light and airy cabin and a good sized, well shaped boot. Wallowy cornering means won’t appeal to more dynamic drivers. General build quality and cabin quality particularly has improved enormously since the last C3. VTR+ trim means going green isn't cheap with a list price of £15,290.
Review by Russell Bray for nextgreencar.com
The 1398cc Euro 5 four-cylinder diesel engine produces 68bhp at 4,000rpm and maximum torque of 118 lbs ft from 1750 rpm. To achieve exhaust emissions of only 87 g/km CO2 this Airdream model is fitted with an electronic gearbox system (EGS), effectively an automated manual gearbox. It's not a pleasant system, delivering lurching, elastic acceleration. Whether you leave it in auto or over-ride the five-speed gearbox it is difficult to drive smoothly and avoid nodding dog syndrome. Engine noise is intrusive except when cruising. Top speed is 103 mph with acceleration to 62 mph in a sluggish 16.2 seconds.
The steering is pretty good and the brakes felt consistent and dependable but with its soft suspension the C3 is happier in a straight line than tackling S-bends. Potholes can shake the car sideways and are definitely best avoided. A VW Polo or a Ford Fiesta does a better job overall. General manoeuvring is easy thanks to the big windows. Parking sensors aren't really needed thanks to the car's shape and dimensions and aren't available as an option on this particular version though you can get them for £270 on other ones.
Despite a strong family resemblance to its predecessor, the latest Citroen C3, launched just over two years ago, has a smarter, more sophisticated appearance which is enhanced on VTR+ and Exclusive models with an extended windscreen which reaches back over the front seats. Quality has been improved and the car feels more solid though it lost 50 kg in weight compared to the previous version. The styling is still rather like a shrunken VW Beetle, especially in some colours, and it's a surprise to find the C3 is almost exactly the same size as Ford's classic leading Fiesta. Luggage capacity is a useful 300 litres – it is 3941 mm long and 1728 mm wide.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Despite being tall I found the C3's driving seat comfortable, but I needed it so far back that no-one would have been able to sit behind me. You can change gear using a sequential shift lever, or fixed paddles on the steering column but the computer system then seems to think for a while before carrying out your instruction.
Minor controls were fine but I find flat-bottomed steering wheels irritating in Lamborghinis so you can imagine what I thought of one in a Citroen. Why, for starters. Satellite navigation, a good stereo and digital climate control are standard on this model and were easy to operate (unlike the sat nav on the new Peugeot 208).
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Against the always optimistic in my experience lab test figures of 78 mpg round town and 83 mpg on the combined cycle, the test car in mixed conditions managed 53 to 60 mpg despite a very aggressive stop-start system which would cut out the engine and restart even as you were backing to and fro parking or making a slow turn. The 87 g/km CO2 emissions mean you don't pay road tax, but that is also the case with the manual gearbox version at 98 g/km. Insurance is group 15 for the manual compared to only nine for the EGS gearbox car which implies something, perhaps about driver patience. Citroen backs the C3 with a three year/60,000 mile warranty.
Citroen has four sub 100 g/km e-HDi Airdream models. They are dubbed micro-hybrids but rather than using electricity to drive an electric motor, like a Toyota Prius, they have a very quickly responding alternator to restart the car's stop-start system as they provides more kick than a normal or even beefed-up starter motor. Extra energy is stored in two ultra-capacitors. All manual transmission models have a Gear Efficiency Indicator (GEI), to enable the driver to optimise gear changes to improve fuel efficiency. Citroen says 'intelligent' engine ancillaries only consume power when needed, low viscosity oils reduce friction and low rolling resistance tyres reduce drag. Gear ratios are also taller. With this generation, Citroen reduced the weight of the C3 by about 50 kg per model and also improved its aerodynamics.
Standard equipment includes a four-speaker RDS stereo radio with MP3 player compatibility and CD player with steering column controls, rear split/folding/reclining seats, electric front windows and door mirrors, variable power assisted steering, remote control central locking, height and reach adjustable steering wheel and height-adjustable driver's seat. Safety equipment includes anti lock brakes with electronic brake distribution to the wheel with the best grip. The VTR+ test car also has a speed limiter and cruise control. Electronic stability control (ESP) is standard on this model but a £330 option on some other models. After a puncture recently I was delighted to see a full size spare wheel even though I didn't need it thankfully. The standard Zenith windscreen includes a sliding sunblind with sun visors attached. Metallic paint is a £440 option but Bluetooth phone connection and MP3 player link are standard.
Model tested: Citroen C3 VTR+ e-HDi Airdream 70 EGS
Engine/CO2: 68bhp 1398cc four-cylinder direct-injection diesel / 87 g/km
Trim grades: VT, White, Black, VTR+, Exclusive
On-road price: Range from £11,390 Test car £15,290
Warranty: Three years/ 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Available now
Review rating: 3.0 STARS
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