CITROËN has always — well, nearly always — been a paragon of style and virtuosity when it comes to the design of their cars and the classics the company has come up with down the years are far too numerous to go through in the limited amount of space we have available.
In latter years though, the number of knock-me-down originals the French outfit has come up with has been a little on the thin side and while the company has strenuously endeavoured to embrace its’ originality and uniqueness, the pressures of modern commerciality to produce more accessible (and therefore saleable) and less niche cars has often beaten it into submission.
Even so, I am delighted to report this week that the company has not lost its’ mojo and, with the new C3 model, has returned to something close to the sort of form which once consistently stood it out from the bland, insipid and dull products that competitors so regularly pump out to the masses.
Certainly in recent years Citroën has tried terribly hard to reverse what was seen by many as a descent into a slough of mediocrity and the introduction of the DS sub-brand and the unveiling of visually appealing machines such as the C4 Cactus, have been worthy attempts to arrest this seemingly cataclysmic problem.
Some facts and figures, first. During 2016, Citroën sold a total of 1,325 units on the Irish market to end up in 19th place on the list of top selling makes here, with a total market share of 0.92%.
During the same period Hyundai sold 7,425 units of its Tuscon model alone. Thus far in 2017, Citroën has sold a total of 395 units (21st place in the manufacturers’ list), while Hyundai has sold 2,454 Tuscon units.
That’s pretty eye-opening, when you think that the French brand — hugely iconoclastic and with a feted legacy in the car making business — is being outsold by more than eleven to one by what the French would consider to be an upstart outfit from close to where they used to exercise their colonial muscle.
But Citroën is fighting back. The company drew a lot of flak for the plastic AirBump side panels on the C4 Cactus as faux styling, but the fact remains that this neat idea for staving off the bumps and scratches which invariably arise from modern day living, was a very original one and also something which the French, typically and inevitably, turned into a fashion statement.
The fact so many people took a scunner against it was meat and drink to Citroën and you have to say — fair play to them. In a short period of time they made an unlovely bit of synthetic crap make them look like high order-fashionistas. It is thus no wonder then that they have replicated it — albeit in longitudinal rather than rectangular form.
And so the C3 comes with the stand-out AirBump thingies as a stand-out element of the design. In fairness, it is not the only thing that stands this car out from the Supermini mob as stuff like the upper and lower deck front lights, stand-out alloys and a huge variety of mix-and-match colour choices.
Then there is the interior décor which, while very plasticky in certain places, mirrors the fashion statement which is the exterior. Some elements — the leather door handles, have been carried over from the C4 Cactus — but the rest of it is very well thought out and executed and have the desired effect of standing it out from the pack.
Throw in the expected French levels of comfort, which are almost astonishing for a car in this class, and you’ve got something very different, very appealing and, well, very Citroën. But all of this is, indeed, a very good thing.
It may well be that — brilliant ‘PureTech’ 1.2 litre three cylinder turbocharged petrol engine aside — a lot of the mechanicals are no better than ordinary, but if you feel that way about the C3, then you’ve already missed the point about the car.
And that point is: if you want to feel good about your motoring self and still look wildly different from the Mini and Fiat 500 hordes, then there is only one answer — the C3.
OK, so the ride might be pretty average on unrelentingly vituperative Irish roads and the handling is not exactly racy, but I’d be pretty confident that the majority of people who opt for this car will be staunch urbanites who think a rural environment is a park in Ballinlough and who therefore have little need for serious quality in either department.
Even so, such motoring agnostics would have to admit that the little petrol engine is a gem. Pumping out some 110 bhp, it is as sharp as a whip with a sub 10 second 0-100 kph time and a top speed in excess of 190 kph. It has massive torque delivery and can be made to do all sorts of interesting things if you want it to.
Fuel consumption is excellent provided you’re easy on the loud pedal (4.5 l/100km - 61.4 mpg) and the 103 g/km CO2 emission level is tax-friendly at only €190 yearly.
It is also a relatively spacious little thing with great room for driver and passenger, not-bad-at-all room for the rear passengers and a decent boot.
I really liked this little car and could certainly live with its’ few foibles because Citroën has certainly got its act together to make a car which resonates with the young at heart and the Francophile alike. And that, believe me, is not an easy thing to achieve.
Style may well triumph over substance to some degree here, but that is no bad thing in a world of copyists and all too much lack of imagination.
And its’ not that dear either, although the 21k for the Flair version we tried - with all the bells and whistles attached, is a bit of a step up from the fifteen and a half being asked for the base model.
Nevertheless this is a welcome and very individual return for Citroën and the world is a much better place as a result.
Vive La France!
The Cost: from €15,450 - €20,990 as tested.
The Engine: called the PureTech - they should have called it the PureGem.
The Specification: the tech available in the Flair version tested is impressive and you can also colour-code to your heart’s content.
The Overall Verdict: Cracking.
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