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Car reviews - Citroen - C2 - VTR

Our Opinion

We like
Agile road manners, versatile interior, funky styling
Room for improvement
Slow response of SensoDrive transmission in Auto mode, interior finish, fuel consumption

15 Apr 2009

WHEN the Citroen C2 arrived in Australia in 2004 as a premium, two-door light hatch, it promised an abundance of French style and features to appeal to the gathering force of user-choosers keen to avoid mundane Japanese or Korean offerings.

Then, in late 2005, Citroen released the MY06 update C2 VTR (plus introduced the 90kW VTS manual) that brought changes to the SensoDrive paddle shifters, gearlever design and gearbox software, plus a new instrument cluster, audio system, column stalks and myriad mostly cosmetic changes such as new alloy wheel design and new taillight treatment.

The MY06 also began the slippery slide on the C2’s abundant standard features in the name of cost saving. First, the tailgate storage lid was lost, and later in 2006, climate control (replaced by rotary dial ventilation with air-conditioning), auto wipers and auto headlights.

The C2’s styling will find its detractors, yet, to many, the look is vital and appealing, despite the rounded bonnet contrasted by more square-jawed proportions of the side windows and roof line.

The 1.6-litre engine settles to a not-exactly-silken idle, and the engine can become boomy at about 3000rpm. But there is enough low-rpm torque to make the 1.6 an acceptably tractable engine. When revved, it reaches for its 6500rpm cut-out with eagerness. It is a good, responsive engine, but not a great one.

Low fuel consumption is not one of the 1.6’s fortes, with 10.5L/100km achieved in stop-start urban running. That will easily drop to a 7.0L/100km figure during easy, open-road cruising, although the C2 is revving at a relatively high 3100rpm at 100km/h.

The most interesting technical element of the C2 can also be its most frustrating. The C2 VTR’s SensoDrive transmission is an electronically supervised clutchless manual designed by Magneti Marelli (which builds the similar Selespeed system for Alfa Romeo), and that is also used in the C3 and C3 Pluriel.

SensoDrive offers two modes: Auto, in which all gearchange decisions are made automatically, or Manual, in which the driver selects gears with the conventionally placed floorshift or with steering column-mounted paddles.

Auto mode permits manual override via the steering column paddles. The system automatically reverts to first gear when rolling to a stop, but otherwise holds whatever gear the driver chooses.

SensoDrive works well on a lazy Sunday drive in Auto mode, or when enjoying exploring the chassis on a twisting road in Manual mode. Sure, it’s no snap-quick Volkswagen DSG system, but the gearshifts are smooth in Auto and then quick and decisive in Manual. The shifts seem to get quicker as revs rise and according to how much throttle you apply. It even rev-matches on downshifts. Nice.

That’s all fine, except people don’t always drive slow or fast. In the thick vein of driving in between such extremes, in give-and-take situations, the SensoDrive makes frustratingly slow gearshift decisions in Auto mode. You have to anticipate changing road conditions and override the system by making a manual downshift.

In a situation where you are rolling along with no throttle input but then need a lower gear to regain momentum quickly – without it being a full-throttle launch – SensoDrive dithers, sometimes allowing the C2 to roll to a complete standstill as it fumbles for a lower gear.

When taking off several metres from an intersection, the system can catch you unawares by selecting second gear almost immediately after taking off in first, leaving you desperately trying to take a gap in the traffic while lugging along.

It doesn’t inspire confidence, especially if you are a new driver expecting SensoDrive to behave like an automatic. If you are an enthusiast you can work around these failings, but ‘work’ is the operative word. It’s no lazy person’s auto.

Although the C2 looks like a hot hatch, it really isn’t. More like, er, a warmed over hatch. Aside from the engine not propelling the C2 fast enough – a claimed 10.9-second 0-100km/h feels about right, but is pretty average for the light class – the suspension is not tied down sufficiently for a hot hatch (and since the MY06 upgrade, Citroen says suspension settings have been changed ‘for a smoother ride’) and the inconsistent weighting and dulled feel of the steering are not exactly the makings of superb driver involvement.

That doesn’t mean it’s no fun, with the 2.8 turns lock-to-lock helping a decisive turn-in and easy wheel twirling, and the chassis can be balanced on the throttle for a nice, flowing drift through the twisties.

Although the ride is reasonable for a small car on a short 2300mm wheelbase, it can fidget a bit. The C2’s MacPherson struts clunk and bang loudly over larger bumps and potholes, too.

The interior is a smart four-seater design with rear seats that slide fore-aft to allow a compromise between boot length and rear-seat legroom. The two rear buckets give the two rear occupants a lot of elbow room for a small car.

Legroom, even with the rear seats set back, is not going to accommodate a six-footer with ease, but for anyone shorter, the back is surprisingly roomy.

The rear seat backs fold on to the seat base and then pivot forward to allow a 879-litre capacity (to the roof), but the seats won’t stay in position unless the front seats are forward on their runners – fine if you’re short but frustrating if you’re not.

The split tailgate is a good idea for permitting access to the cargo area in tight spaces, although the two child seat anchor points are fitted to the back of the cargo floor, encroaching on available cargo space when childseats are fitted.

Up front the seats are sports luxury rather than stitch-you-in-place racing buckets, but they are a fair compromise between pillowy comfort and firm support. The A-pillars are thick and impede vision, as do the C-pillars to the rear, but you don’t notice any huge blindspot, and the side mirrors provide excellent vision.

The dash controls are simple and easy to operate but the plastics are brittle and while the overall style is pleasing, the pimpled finish on the lower dash and door cards are not going to appeal to everyone.

The French seem to have resisted the scourge of cupholders every step of the way, with the C2’s three examples able to take nothing much larger than those small plastic cups you give children drinks in at parties. A few bins littered around the cabin are useful, but this is by no means the greatest thing for cabin storage.

The C2 VTR is the type of car that will draw those who love the styling and versatile interior and can learn to live with SensoDrive – and perhaps enjoy its technical merits.

Those who can’t or won’t abide the dithering SensoDrive will not be happy with VTR ownership, and that, unfortunately, is what makes this transmission the deal-breaker for many for what is otherwise a great little car.

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