The new Citroen C3 majors on both style and comfort, which does set it apart in the market. It's not adventurous, mechanically, but perhaps that's not what customers are looking for.
In the metal
From the double-decker lights (narrow, piercing ones up top and bigger, squarer ones beneath) to the distinctive 'AirBump' door protectors on the side, there is no mistaking the new C3 for anything other than a Citroen. And that is a very, very good thing. The old C3 was too boring and too bland to make much of an impression, but this new one is really quite striking. Citroen is going to offer it in a broad range of bright colours, with contrasting roof finishes and, in the style of the MINI and Fiat 500, optional stickers and decals. Quite how many Irish customers will stray beyond the usual blue, black or silver is not known, but still, it's nice to know you can.
Inside, there is a great deal of influence from the successful Citroen C4 Cactus, but the execution here is rather better than you'll find in the compact crossover. Clearly, a great deal more thought has been put into the functionality of the cabin, and not just on how it will look, and that is a major improvement on the Cactus. So while the seats are similar, the driving position is much better, and they are actually more comfortable. While the door pulls, shaped like the handles of old suitcases, are carried over, the quality of fit and finish is much better than that of the Cactus. And while the central touch-screen is the same (and the satnav annoyingly erratic) the instruments, a mixture of analogue and digital, look more classy and work better. And, praise be, you can actually wind the rear windows up and down.
Space is decent, and in fact rear legroom has increased by 22mm compared to the old C3. That said, it's not comparable with the vast acreage you'll find in a Honda Jazz and rear headroom is a touch tight for taller people. The boot's good though - 300 litres is generous for this class, and impressive in a car that doesn't break the four-metre length barrier.
The C3 is a bit light on new tech, though. That central touchscreen has Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink, and there's an optional built-in forward facing camera in the windscreen, which can take photos of what you're looking at and share them on social media. Can you spell gimmick? The rest of the car is, mechanically speaking, carried over from the C4 Cactus and the Peugeot 208, but none the worse for that.
It might seem a little unfair to say that the Citroen C3 feels entirely unremarkable to drive, but it just is. It slots neatly into the light, easy-going small hatch handling template without fuss or excitement. The steering is a big improvement on that of the old C3, but still a long way behind the slick helm of the Ford Fiesta. Still, for most drivers it'll be just fine, and overall, the C3 feels pleasing agile, especially around town.
What it is very good at is riding. Now, Citroen is embarking on a huge programme of redesigning the suspension systems of all its cars, making them far more squishy and comfortable than pretty much any rival. We won't see the full new tech (centred around clever new dampers and springs) until next year, but the C3's carefully tweaked suspension gives us something of a flavour - and it's good. The ride is relaxed and calm, without feeling floppy and loose. It's not perfect - the suspension can actually be quite noisy over certain bumps - but it's very good, and distinctive within the class.
Actually, the C3 is quite a refined car in general, as the three-cylinder 82hp PureTech engine is mostly quiet (aside from an odd tendency to lumpy idling in traffic) and wind noise is well suppressed. It's not quick, but the 82hp engine is probably the best all-round unit in the range. It's cheaper than the diesel options and punchy enough to make upgrading to the turbocharged 110hp model unnecessary. It's actually surprisingly good on the motorway, where those seats, that ride and the engine make for good long-haul companions.
Interestingly, Citroen is now issuing new 'Real World' fuel economy figures, which peg the C3 at closer to 40mpg than the 60mpg achieved in the official laboratory tests. We'd suggest that 50mpg is attainable though, if you take your time a little.
What you get for your money
Prices kick off at €15,490 for a basic 68hp Touch model, which is quite well equipped with a USB stereo connection, lane departure warning, Bluetooth and cruise control. Spec up to a mid-range C3 Feel and you get the touchscreen, alloy wheels, air conditioning and LED daytime lights. You'll have to spec up to a top of the line Flair to get AirBumps and the windscreen camera as standard though, and the whole thing just starts to look a bit too expensive at that point, but there is a well-priced optional Style pack that gives you AirBumps and a contrast roof on a Feel spec car for just €500.
The 2017 Citroen C3 breaks no new ground in a mechanical sense, but it does feel like a well-honed product. Cabin quality has definitely taken a big step forward, and it has refinement on its side. Add to that its quirky, distinctive styling and we have a very appealing new small hatch.