Citroen C3 C4 Comparison Essay

On the move, the C3 Aircross feels pretty much like a slightly larger, taller version of the C3 - and in the most part, that's no bad thing. The two cars share a lot of components because they're both based on PSA's familiar PF1 platform.

This isn't the most sophisticated set of chassis parts on the market - indeed, it can be traced right back to the old Peugeot 206 - but a string of updates over the years has kept it respectable, and the C3 Aircross implementation is one of the best we've yet experienced.

It continues PF1's well-known trait of allowing the occasional sharp road imperfection to jar through into the cabin, unfortunately, but the extra bit of travel afforded by the Aircross’s extra height does make it feel a bit more accomplished than a C3.

It hangs on surprisingly well, too. The Aircross shows decent resistance to pronounced body roll, and while the steering is far from communicative, it’s direct enough for you to learn to lean on it.

This is not the type of car that you'll get a great deal of enjoyment from driving at the limit - but should you carry a bit too much speed into a corner, it's worth knowing that the Aircross will punish you not with any sideways drama but with predictable, consistent understeer.

We've tried examples on 17in and 16in wheels and the larger tyres have a tendency to scrub across the tarmac; the 16-inchers actually behave themselves too, but there is a noticeable groan from the straining sidewalls.

The PureTech petrol engine is available with three power outputs - 81bhp and 118Nm, 109bhp and 205Nm or 129bhp and 230Nm. The diesel options are two versions of the same 1.6-litre BlueHDi unit, producing either 98bhp and 254Nm or 118bhp and 300Nm.

We're very familiar with the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine - it's used in a variety of Peugeot and Citroen models. It's a refined enough engine, only feeling a bit strained when you get above 4,000rpm, but possessing enough torque to make sure you shouldn't have to do that very often. The mid-spec 109bhp version offers the strongest mix of performance, economy and price. 

The auto box, meanwhile, is an Aisin unit that’s also seen use in various Minis; it’s not infallible, but it’s generally smart enough for swift, smooth progress on all but the twistiest of roads.

We've also tried the high-powered diesel, which feels a more grown-up offering altogether - helped, no doubt, by hefty torque that cuts in at around 1,250rpm. It’s not the quickest C3 Aircross on paper (that’s the high-powered petrol) but it’s almost certain to be so in the real world. The diesel engine - PSA’s well-proven 1.6 - is a great little motor, blending that admirable bottom-end shove with smoothness that only starts to break up at levels of revs that you simply don’t need to use.

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We tried this engine with the six-speed manual, which is a solid enough gearbox let down by a slightly vague linkage (a typical PSA trait, unfortunately) and a squared-off, stylised gearknob that isn’t particularly comfortable in the hand.

The C3 Aircross isn't really designed to for serious off-roading, but Citroen does offer its Grip Control system as an option if you know you're going to get the wheels muddy from time to time. It's basically an advanced stability programme that can be altered depending on the surface you're driving over - and it includes a hill descent setting that will take the car down steeper slopes at a gentle, easily controlled speed.

Engines 

The C3 Aircross has a choice of a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, called PureTech and offered with three different power outputs, and a 1.6-litre diesel, badged BlueHDi and available in two different states of tune.

Both engines are strong for their class; they have enough torque to ensure that you don't need to rev them hard, although we'd probably edge away from the most basic petrol, just because its outputs are likely to be on the limit for comfortable rapid cruising in a car that's bigger and heavier than the C3 supermini.

You're unlikely to hear either the petrol or the diesel when you're doing motorway speeds; that's because both engines settle down nicely into the background at a cruise, and also because there's a fair bit of wind noise from the side mirrors that will drown out any thrum from under the bonnet.

The diesel engine is noisier than the petrol, but it's still not particularly rattly for an engine of this type. And again, there's so much torque low down that you can happily shift up a gear at 2,500rpm, well before any harshness kicks in. 

It’s all really a question of just how much quirk you want in a small car. By and large, we consider Irish car buyers to be conservative, safe-pair-of-hands sort of consumers. It’s why Toyota’s uncomplicated, reliable nature chimes so much better with buyers on these shores than it does across the rest of Europe. We, generally speaking, don’t care much for show-offs.

Quite how the new Citroen C3 will fare in Irish sales terms then remains to be seen. This is a car so outgoing that some versions even come with a windscreen-mounted camera which allows you to take snapshots of your drive to share with friends on social media.

No, we’re not quite sure what the point is either (although there is a potential insurance benefit from the fact that the camera can also record looped video).

The previous C3 was, while not being an especially bad car, almost totally anonymous and entirely overshadowed by its flashier cousin, the DS3.

There’s little chance of the new C3 ever being overshadowed though – it borrows the double-decker front-end styling from the C4 Cactus and C4 Picasso to striking effect, and the optional “AirBump” door protectors add another layer of love-it-or-loathe it quirk.

With a contrasting roof and a range of bright colour options and stickers, it’s quite distinctive and rather handsome. You can either go nuts with bright greens or oranges, or class everything up with blues or greys and either version looks nice.

Inspiration from C4 Cactus

Inside, there’s a great deal of inspiration from the C4 Cactus (the luggage-handle door pulls, the ovoid air vents, the central touchscreen) but thankfully a good deal more attention to functionality has been paid then in the Cactus.

So you get four fully winding windows, instead of rear pop-outs, and the seats are far more comfortable. Like those of the Cactus, they still have a touch of bum-down, knees-up about them but the overall driving position is much better here.

Overall quality seems good too, and might eventually underline Citroen’s stated ambition of being in the top five brands that you’d recommend to a friend.

Space is decent, although this is no Honda Jazz inside. Rear legroom grows by 22mm compared with the old C3, but headroom is a little tight in the back for tall passengers. Boot space, at 300 litres, is very practical.

There are essentially two engine choices – a 1.2-litre petrol or a 1.6-litre diesel. The 1.6 diesel, although not excessively expensive, will likely not be a big Irish seller as diesel sales in this class are minimal.

A 68hp 1.2 PureTech petrol costs as little as €15,490 but the far more impressive 82hp version starts at a still-reasonable €17,590. Standard equipment includes a USB socket for media streaming & Bluetooth handsfree, safety features including Lane Departure warning and coffee break alert, as well as comfort features including cruise control and power steering.

To drive, the C3 feels essentially unexciting. Which is not to say bad, in fact it’s quite good. It’s far, far better in fact than the old C3, with steering that, while still over-light, feels as if it might actually be connected to something.

The C3 feels agile and adjustable in most situations, and its ride quality is truly impressive. Now, it doesn’t yet benefit from Citroen’s potentially game-changing Advanced Comfort suspension, which will only begin to come on stream from next year, but the C3 is notable for being far gentler on your spine than most.

Noisy suspension at times

Okay, so these were impressions gleaned on mostly smooth Catalan tarmac – Irish roads will present a stiffer challenge, and it’s worth pointing out that although smooth, the suspension can be a bit noisy at times.

The engine’s noise is mostly pleasant, revving with a warbling, rasping three-cylinder note, but around town it can start to feel lumpy and coarse especially at idling speed, which is a shame as most C3s will spend most of their lives in town.

That said, for a compact 3.9-metre long car, it’s an accomplished motorway cruiser – a combination of those comfy seats, refinement and that 82hp engine’s solid mid-range power.

Refreshingly, Citroen also gave us its new Real World fuel economy figures, assessed in association with environmental think tank Transport & Environment. The official laboratory tests gave it a combined fuel economy score of 4.7-litres per 100km for the 82hp PureTech petrol, but real-world testing, over a 90km route, suggests that 6.8-litres per 100km is closer to the truth. Driven gently, I’d say you’d split the difference.

The C3 is basically unremarkable – it’s an entirely conventional five-door small hatch with some Francophone styling tinsel sprinkled on at the last minute. Still, that tinsel is actually rather charming, and all the more welcome in a class of cars that tends to be dominated by dullness, rather than by quirk.

The lowdown:

Citroen C3 1.2 PureTech 82hp Feel.

Price: as tested, €17,590. C3 range starts from €15,490

Power: 82hp.

Torque: 118Nm.

0-100km/h: 13.0sec.

Top speed: 167km/h.

Claimed economy: 4.7-litres per 100km (60.1mpg).

CO2 emissions: 109g/km.

Motor tax: €190 per annum.

Verdict: Comfortable and really rather stylish, the C3 is utterly conventional under the skin, but likeable all the same.

Our rating: 3/5

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