The SUV obsession continues unabated in the passenger car market. And while this is not unique just for the Indian market, the average Indian car buyer isn’t really looking for a true-blue SUV, as much as he is for the attributes of that vehicle type. The sport utility body-style to be more accurate is what we are buying into, even if the underpinnings are that of hatchbacks. Into that ‘fast-getting-crowded’ segment comes in another new competitor – the Citroen C3.
The C3 will be the first of at least three new models bearing the double chevron logo, including a battery electric vehicle and a compact SUV, that will be built on the C-cubed platform. This versatile platform has been specifically developed for markets like Brazil and India, and the C3 for our market will be the first born. Citroen has had a slow start selling meagre volumes with the CKD imported C5 Aircross being the only model in its India portfolio for the last 15 months. All of that will change with the forthcoming official launch of the C3. And if the C5 Aircross was pricey for its positioning, the C3 will, hopefully, be competitive and positioned in the other (lower) end of the price spectrum. After sighting the C3 in camouflage and then even without it for months now, I finally got the chance to drive it in Goa last week. Here are my first impressions.
Even though we know it was a sub-4-meter vehicle, the C3 looks smaller in the flesh and when stood next to it, compared to its perceived size in pictures. The exterior design contributes to its appeal and is very easily going to be the reason why many newcomers to the Citroen brand will walk into its showrooms. The French design flair and that bit of quirkiness come through in the front design and the family lineage is evident in the way the chrome garnish leading off the double chevron logo extends to either side of the grille and merges into the headlamps and DRLs. The C3 is going to be launched with only two variants – Live and Feel (for the Puretech 82), with an extensive list of features and accessories that can be opted for by customers to personalize their vehicle. The test mule that you see in these pictures has a few add-on accessories like the contrast-colored accents.
The faux underbody protector, contrast black side cladding and the relatively upright A-pillar angle are all meant to mimic the style of an SUV. From the side too, the C3 has the raised stance of an SUV, with mild crossover vibes. The 3D tail-lamps and the pronounced haunches abet this image. But the 15-inch steel rims and the relatively yawning gaps in the wheel arches sort of dampen this impression. Incidentally, C3’s variants won’t get alloy wheel options at the time of launch. The rear seems smaller is with a compact tailgate. The lamps help visually lengthen the rear design. Citroen officials are clear about not calling the C3 an SUV. They insist that the internal communication is that it is a hatch with SUV attributes. This is certainly a good thing and will come into play when the C3 is positioned in the market. Overall fit and finish is good, with consistent shut-lines and no obvious signs of ‘cost management’. Only the door handles felt a bit built to a price.
The C3’s cabin is striking and has that same French flair and touch of quirkiness. The bold dashboard with its contrast anodized orange IP and the opposed orientation for the aircon vents stand out, making it very different from what we have seen in the hatchback/ SUV-body-style. The layout of the dash is symmetrical, and the finish quality is good, but the quality of plastics used could have been better in places.
There is also quite a bit of plastic around the front two seats with the door panels, center console, the instrument binnacle and the molded 3-spoke steering being fashioned out of the material. I thought there could’ve been a few trim options that break the monotony of large plastic panels. The 26cm infotainment screen offers access to all the standard controls for media, telephone, navigation etc. In terms of connectivity, it even offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Though it seems a little clunky in terms of integration at the top of the center console, buyers are unlikely to find the touchscreen infotainment wanting in terms of usability. The same can’t be said about the simplistic instrument cluster, which is basically just a MID style small digital screen that offers basic information like speed, odo, fuel level and engine temperature. There are no dials for speedo and rpm-meter.
The C3 also misses out on a few other features that is fast becoming standard in the premium B-segment like a sunroof, connected car features, electrical adjustment for door mirrors and leatherette upholstery. But the C3 offers practical adjustments like manual seat-height lever and tilt steering.
The seats are nicely contoured and comfortable, though it gets only fabric upholstery. Headroom and legroom available in the cabin is good for a B-segment car, thanks in part to the 2,540mm wheelbase. The boot offers 315-liters of luggage space. There could be a more loaded variant in the future. But this will be it at the time of launch.
Citroen officials feel they are entering a new market with the C3 and that they should start from being humble. One of the consequences of this attempt at staying simple and trying to unclutter the choices for the customer is the restricted variant and powertrain strategy. Apparently, their customer clinics also confirmed that buyers prefer a less complicated variant strategy. This wouldn’t have stood out as an issue a decade ago, but today other brands have a plethora of choices on offer. One of the fallouts of this plan for the C3 is the absence of an automatic transmission at the time of launch, though folks at Citroen tell me that there’d be one later in the product life cycle.
The two 1.2-liter engines on offer in the C3 are both 3-cylinder petrol units that share the same block but are marginally different internally. The lower powered Puretech 82 is a naturally-aspirated 1,198cc unit paired with a 5-speed manual transmission and delivers 82PS of power and 115Nm of torque. The turbocharged Puretech 110 is a 1,199cc mill that is married to a 6-speed manual and delivers 110PS of power and 190Nm of torque. Both deliver a claimed 19+kmpl of mileage, with the 82PS delivering marginally higher fuel efficiency. The naturally-aspirated engine feels a bit underpowered, especially right after I got off the more powerful Puretech 110. One does get used to the lag in power delivery, after spending some time behind the wheel and can be managed by keeping the engine on a light boil. The only time the 82 feels cumbersome is when I was negotiating some of the speed-breakers of Goa.
The Puretech 110’s turbo kicks in seconds after throttle input and this powertrain feels nimble and much more eager on the road. There is a lot more low-end torque available too making it easier to weave through traffic without having to shift down. The gear shift quality in both the manual transmissions is clean, though i found the gating to be a little pronounced. The power steering offers adequate turning assistance, but I felt an inexplicable vibration at the wheel during slow speed turning manoeuvres. Braking is decent, though I’d have liked a bit more bite. The C3 gets disc brakes for the front and drums for the rear. The suspension is a highlight, for what is essentially a hatchback, and could easily be one of the best in the segment. The suspension geometry is fairly sophisticated and even includes anti-roll bars, enabling stable turns even at speed and a composed ride over uneven tarmac.
In terms of safety equipment, the C3 gets two airbags and a couple of other basic features like reverse parking sensors and child lock, but no ISOFIX seats.
The C3 is essentially a hatch that’s likely to be positioned in the B-segment and will probably take on every car in that size and price class. But in terms of build it does offer a lot of SUV body-style attributes, even more than some of the competitors. The 180mm ground clearance, the 100mm taller seating position, and of course the SUV like design will be appreciated by buyers. Though the cabin seems a bit spartan in its build and misses a few features, it can still take on cars in the sub-4-meter segment that offer similar trim. The only catch could be Citroen’s ability to price it competitively. With extensive localization it should be possible for Citroen to take on Maruti, Tata and Hyundai. I expect ex-showroom prices to range from about ₹6 lakh to about ₹8 lakh.
June 15, 2022