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Car reviews - Citroen - C3 - Shine

Our Opinion

We like
Quirky looks inside and out, nippy three-cylinder performance, compliant suspension tune
Room for improvement
Jerky automatic transmission, disruptive idle stop-start system, compromised interior storage

Citroen goes all quirky with third-gen C3 light car – but does it really Shine?

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Citroen logo21 Jun 2018

By JUSTIN HILLIARD

Overview

 

GROUPE PSA has been on a bit of a roll recently, particularly with its Peugeot brand. A raft of all-new models, including the 3008 and 5008 SUVs, has seen it earn high praise for creating genuinely good products.

Thus, it would be reasonable to assume that Groupe PSA’s other French marque, Citroen, would follow suit with a product onslaught of its own. The good news is, it has, and it starts with the third-generation C3 light hatchback.

It’s safe to say the C3 has plenty of style, but does it have any substance? More importantly, does it have what it takes to dethrone the Volkswagen Polo? We test the five-door in its flagship Shine form to find out.


Price and equipment

 

The C3 Shine is priced from $23,490 before on-road costs, making it one of the more expensive propositions in the light-car segment due to Citroen’s flagship-only approach. In keeping with the brand’s French origins, the C3 is a stylish affair that is clearly pushing itself as an emotional alternative to its conventional-looking rivals. We think the exterior look is bang on, although the rear end is a bit boring when compared to the front.

 

Standard equipment includes diamond-cut 17-inch Crossway alloy wheels wrapped in 205/50 Goodyear EfficientGrip tyres, a space-saver spare wheel, dusk-sensing halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights (DRLs), front foglights, static cornering lights, power-adjustable side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers and Citroen’s now-signature, and rather quirky, Airbumps.

 

Inside, a leather steering wheel, climate control, two second-row Isofix anchorage points, front and rear power windows, dark-tinted rear windows, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 12V socket, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and voice control feature.

 

Our test car was finished in no-cost Polar White solid paint with a contrasting Sport Red roof and side mirrors, and optional red Urban interior trim ($150). An integrated dash cam ($600) was also fitted, bringing the price as tested to $24,240.

 

Interior

 

The C3 Shine’s interior is an interesting, fun place to be. The French flair that is evident externally carries over internally to good effect – so long as that’s to your taste.

While the aforementioned Airbumps also carry over internally, they are inverted and placed on the upper door trim. A nice little detail, we think.

Our test car even featured a flurry of red highlights throughout the cabin, which further add to the C3’s personality. Bonus points for running with an interesting cloth seat design, too.

 

However, some negative Citroen traits also shine through – pardon the pun. Namely, every storage option is compromised in some way. Own a drink bottle? Good luck finding a place to store it. The Shine doesn’t discriminate either. Be it a 600ml or a 1.25L bottle, none of the available cup holders will suffice. The French seemingly only have coffee on their menus, because that’s the only type of cup that will fit comfortably.

 

To make matters worse, the two cup holders in front of the gear selector are compromised height-wise by the shallow (and rather useless) storage area that juts out just above.

Don’t worry about throwing your drink bottle in the door pockets, it will just roll around endlessly. We guess Citroen didn’t plan on people getting thirsty while driving? And don’t even get us started on the partitioned glovebox that cannot accommodate the instruction manual.

 

Speaking of the gear selector, it is lovely in hand, combining some of the best materials used in the Shine’s interior. However, its gate is an absolute mess. Unlike the J-gate used by most automatic transmissions, the C3 runs with a disjointed shape that goes left and right with no rhyme or reason.

Even after a week of driving the Shine, we still couldn’t anticipate which way to move the lever to get into drive or neutral (without directly looking at the gate map, of course).

 

Measuring in at 3996mm long, 1829mm wide and 1474mm tall with a 2539mm wheelbase, the C3 offers reasonable headroom and legroom in the second row, making it comfortable enough for adults on regular journeys – so long as only two occupants are present. Three proves to be too much of a squish, but that’s not much of a surprise when you consider the segment it plays in.

Cargo capacity is good, at 300 litres, but can expand to 922L when the split-folding second row is stowed.

 

Engine and transmission

 

The C3 Shine is motivated by a 1.2-litre PureTech turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine that produces 81kW of power at 5500rpm and 205Nm of torque at 1500rpm.

What immediately jumps out at you sitting behind the steering wheel is the thrust of torque available barely above idle. A forceful shove propels you off the line and on towards peak power, which actually feels nippier than the aforementioned figures suggest.

 

Given the Shine ‘officially’ sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 10.9 seconds while on the way to a top speed of 188km/h, you’d assume it was no speed demon. While this is partly true, the three-cylinder does well when moving things along. It’s easy to see why it has been recognised as the best powertrain in its class at the International Engine of the Year Awards for the past three years.

 

However, the C3’s six-speed automatic transmission, which is sourced from Aisin and exclusively sends drive to the front wheels, is a major let down. Its biggest flaw is the fact that it acts like a dual-clutch unit, which is baffling considering it has a torque convertor.

Gear changes into and out of second are overtly jerky, so much so that they can unsettle the Shine’s handling during low-speed cornering.

 

Bury the accelerator and the hesitation before the transmission kicks down a gear or two is prolonged. Other Groupe PSA products run a similar set-up but do not have such pronounced issues. We thought it would be the same situation here, but unfortunately this proved to not be the case.

 

Furthermore, the Shine’s idle stop-start system also plays a part in disrupting what would otherwise be a very smooth driving experience. While we always welcome an eager idle stop-start system due to its fuel-saving capabilities, it appears not all are created the same. This iteration’s problem is its desire to switch the engine off at every possible moment, even when it is not quite idling yet.

 

For example, when the C3 is gliding to a standstill at a red light, you can feel the idle stop-start system start to activate through the powertrain before arriving at a complete stop. This is problematic because sometimes red lights don’t stay red, meaning you’ll be back on the accelerator with a moment’s notice – something this idle stop-start system is not prepared for.

 

To make matters worse, we found that it would sometimes even start to engage during low-speed cornering. In our experience, idle stop-start systems that are generous enough to wait a second or two after coming to a complete stop before activating are usually the best.

 

Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres, partly thanks to the troublesome idle stop-start system, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 110 grams per kilometre. During our week with the C3, we managed 7.4L/100km over a mix of city and highway driving, although our 400km blast was skewed towards the former.

 

Ride and handling

 

Considering Citroen did not tune the C3 Shine’s suspension for Australia’s tough conditions, ride comfort is very impressive. Its set-up consists of psuedo-MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear, with each axle featuring coil springs and telescopic dampers.

 

Thankfully, uneven and unsealed roads are dealt with confidently, while most potholes and speed humps are unable to upset progression. Groupe PSA has been nailing their suspension tunes recently, with the C3 serving as another example of this.

 

Our only criticism is that the Shine is prone to pronounced body roll through most corners, whether low- or high-speed. Naturally, it is not a sportscar with a firm suspension, but we hoped it would be flatter around the twisty stuff. Thus, the C3 does exhibit some unwanted SUV-like tendencies.

 

However, the Shine does employ its electrically assisted power steering to good effect. Being a front-wheel-drive vehicle, it is subject to some understeer, but for the most part it is a nice steer.

While it lacks the meatiness of sportier set-ups, the lighter feel is quite nice in hand, while reasonable feedback is on offer. It won’t blow you away, but it won’t upset you either as throwing the C3 around corners can be a real hoot.

 

Safety and servicing

 

While the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is yet to assess the C3 Shine, its European counterpart, Euro NCAP, awarded the model a four-star safety rating in 2017. Its lack of autonomous emergency braking denied it the maximum score.

Nevertheless, results of 88 and 83 per cent where achieved in the adult and child occupant protection categories respectively. While its pedestrian protection (59 per cent) and safety assist (58 per cent) returns were poorer.

 

Advanced driver-assist safety technologies only extend to lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, driver attention alert, tyre pressure monitoring, cruise control, a speed limiter, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, as autonomous emergency braking and other features will be added in an update due by the end of this year.

 

Anti-skid brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency braking assist, electronic stability and traction control systems, hill-start assist, and six airbags (dual front, side and curtain) are also included.

 

As with all Citroen models, the C3 Shine comes stand with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty with five years of roadside assist. Service intervals are annual or 15,000km, whichever comes first.

 

Verdict

 

To be honest, we were really looking forward to falling in love with the C3 Shine. Groupe PSA’s recent form suggested it would be another cracker, but we handed the keys back feeling slightly underwhelmed.

 

The C3 does a lot of things really well. Namely, it looks good, rides well and has an award-winning three-cylinder engine that is worthy of its accolades. However, two factors critical to the drive experience – the automatic transmission and idle stop-start system – let it down.

 

If Citroen manages to nail these in the future – and follows through with its promise of adding crucial safety features – we would wholeheartedly recommend the C3 as a stylish alternative to the class-leading Volkswagen Polo. Unfortunately, it’s just not there yet.

 

Rivals

 

Volkswagen Polo Launch Edition (from $22,990 before on-road costs)

The Polo shot right back to the top of the light-car segment when its sixth-generation model launched. A well-tuned suspension and high levels of standard equipment make it the default choice.

 

Honda Jazz VTi-L (from $22,990 before on-road costs)

While the Jazz lacks the dynamic sharpness of its rivals, it makes amends with its unrivalled interior packaging. An almost van-like composition is sure to impress alongside keen pricing and great fuel efficiency.

 

Mazda2 GT (from $23,680 before on-road costs)

The Mazda2 continues to be a perennial contender thanks to its great design inside and out, and nimble handling. However, its ride can be bumpy, while noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels remain a concern.


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