India is a significant player in the global automotive market and is known to be a playground rich with numbers. It’s only fair that manufacturers try to bank on this factor and cash in. While most manufacturers go the easy route and bring in European models and specs, very few leave their comfort and venture into uncharted territory to build a brand new car or platform from the ground up for specific markets. Consumers often reward and appreciate this move, yet this is quite the risk for most manufacturers, and the worst-case scenario can cost them a fortune. One such fresh manufacturer trying to carve its name on the Indian subcontinent is Citroën.

Sure the C5 isn’t exactly what you’d call affordable, but there is no denying that it feels like a cut above and somewhat justifies its command over such a price tag. It was only a matter of time before Citroën stepped up by focusing on segments below and playing the numbers game. We’re here to determine if they can crack the subcompact crossover SUV segment. Citroën has made the new C3 from the ground up, keeping Indian customers in mind. Citroën claims they’ve bumped up localization to more than 90% and designed to keep Indian buyers happy, or to be more precise, the Indian youth.

Exterior

The C3 is a very youthful-looking car, and its design only adds more emphasis to what its target audience is. Citroën claims that the C3 can be customized with three different trim/design packs with up to 56 customization options and 70 accessories available from purchase. There are three variants: Live 82, Feel 82 and Feel 110, Live 82 being the base variant.

Now, as customizable as this makes the C3 when considering its European counterpart that offers up to ninety-seven different colour combinations. It’s no deal-breaker, but it would be great if Citroën made that level of customization available in the future because the C3 is quite the looker. It looks smart, athletic and quirky, which is something I believe the youth would appreciate. Though this segment is filled with handsome-looking cars, I think the C3 does a fantastic job of holding its own and looking unique.

The LED DRLs look striking and blend in with the grille to form the Citroën logo. It would have been nice to see Citroën equip this car with LED headlamps or indicators. Still, I’m hoping their pricing would go ahead and justify the lack of any exterior flamboyance we’re used to seeing in this youthful segment. The proportions are good, and Citroën even lets you add decals and bits of trim on the roof and its sides to further spice up the already spicy design.

They say that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so I shall let thee behold its beauty and decide for yourself if you’re charmed by its looks or not.

Interior

The interior of the C3 is simplistic and minimal and gives you the features you’d need. Even the top-spec variant we were given boasted of nothing over the top or out of the ordinary. There is no keyless entry, no ambient lighting, and even the mirrors are adjusted manually. If anything, the interior felt too simple for such a quirky exterior. The options for interior trim vary from grey to orange depending on your choice of exterior colour, and I’m sure Citroën allows for further customization via their accessory catalogue. 

The infotainment screen is easy to use, responsive to the touch, and quite clear even on a sunny day like ours. Buttons and switchgear feel tactile to use while following the simple theme present in the cabin. The infotainment, too, is relatively minimal and most of the options menus are empty with barely an option or two, making navigating through it a lot simpler. It has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, which should make things easier to use.

I must say I enjoyed the sound system, and I’d reckon it’s just as good as the Tata Punch, if not second to it in terms of audio quality. The steering, too, is mostly empty with simple volume controls and hands-free call controls to keep you occupied.

Let’s talk about seats; they’re comfortable and are fabric seats. They aren’t significantly bolstered but keep you cosy either way. The use of plastic is relatively abundant inside this cabin, but the overall built quality looks and feels promising and higher quality than its competition. Despite adjusting both the front seats for my height, there was plenty of room in the back, and I can imagine four of me would be pretty comfortable and even be able to accommodate a fifth with ease. Kudos to Citroën for managing space in the cabin so well, as its smaller proportions can lead you to believe otherwise. NVH levels are well contained, and the cabin feels as solid on the inside as it would suggest on the outside.

There is enough storage to store your trinkets, three USB charging ports, and a 12V charging socket to charge your electronics. Although times are changing, I would have preferred Citroën to make at least one of those ports a Type-C port. That being said, if you’re someone that doesn’t have a new generation phone and plan not to get one anytime soon, I doubt this would ever phase you.

One key highlight was the effective air conditioning that did a fantastic job keeping the cabin cool despite the hot and humid Goan summer weather. Visibility for the driver and the passengers is excellent, with the pillars rarely depriving you of a clear view of what’s outside. With that said, it was time we hit the road and saw what the C3 had in store for us.

Performance and Handling

The Citroën C3 has two engine and two gearbox options while having a 30L fuel tank. We first drove the less powerful 1.2-litre petrol motor that produces 80 bhp and 115 Nm of torque out of its naturally aspirated three-cylinder motor. The power seems sufficient for your daily city commutes and has enough punch to hold its own out on the highways. Give the engine some juice, and it’ll pull smoothly while maintaining good efficiency.

Keep the engine floored, and the double-digit fuel efficiency figures quickly dwindled to single-digit ones. If you’re trying to get the most out of your motor during these trying times, drive the C3 Feel 82 with a light foot and easily squeeze up to 17 km/l. This motor comes equipped with a 5-speed gearbox; swapping cogs on this gearbox is a lot of fun. The throws are surefooted and short, leaving you feeling like a Fast & Furious character who is aching to shift gears. My gripe is actually with the fact that there is no tachometer in this car.

For someone like me that’s very used to having one in his manual cars, this was a little unusual, and I’m sure most enthusiasts would agree with me. However, if you aren’t one, I doubt this would bother you, and you’d happily make do with the gear shift indicator given on a relatively compact digital speedo. Anyway, the clutch can take a little getting used to and sure took me a while, especially around some narrow uphill lanes we were driving across.

It took time, but I eventually did get comfortable with it. But I did notice that you have to depress the clutch pedal quite a bit before it would engage, and this can get a little cumbersome to use in bumper traffic. Given that there isn’t an automatic variant on offer yet, this could be a deal-breaker to some that would use this as their daily commute in a city like Mumbai.

It was time I moved into the punchier C3 equipped with the Puretech 110 motor. It’s the same engine 1.2-litre motor but this time turbocharged. It now produces 108 bhp and 190 Nm of torque which is just bonkers for such a compact car. This motor felt more urgent from the getgo and took little effort to accelerate. I was instantly in love, and it now came equipped with a 6-speed gearbox which made ringing its bells even more of a boon. This engine and gearbox combination is crème de la crème and is probably the best I’ve experienced in this segment.

I felt like a Fast & Furious character as I swiftly glided down the road with a grin plastered across my mug. However, the clutch feels the same as before and the brakes though capable, end up possessing a spongy pedal feel. These were the only things I would reckon need tweaking.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this variant and recommended it to all the enthusiasts looking for a car in this segment. Fuel efficiency figures are similar, though it’s easier to reach single-digits with this motor. I managed to see figures go as low as 8 km/l when I drove with vigour but saw it go as high as 15 km/l on my sane drive back. So I’m willing to reckon you can get more though I doubt you’d be able to resist the urge to hit the pedal to the metal.

The ride and handling were other highlights to me, and Citroën has done a great job nailing a balance between them. It is not as plush as the Tata Punch, but it drove better than it around corners. Even while entering corners aggressively, the C3 had excellent grip and didn’t lose composure. The C3 felt nimble on its feet, and even body roll was predictable and mostly contained. I imagine it is a great companion for weekend getaways around your favourite hill station or mountain road.

Verdict

Citroën has put together a fantastic product, even though it lacks the flash, dash and tech you’d expect. It’s still a quirky looker, and at its core, it’s great fun to drive and practical. It does everything you’d want from a car of its class and only falls short on certain gimmicks we’ve all come to expect and gotten used to having. The C3 would make a worthy addition to most youngsters’ garages and draw a lot of envy and attention, as it did during our time with it.

However, all of these are just words. When push comes to shove, the pricing will put things into perspective and either make or break your plan to acquire this car. I’m only hoping Citroën prices this smart because they have a great package with great potential. I suppose only time will tell as Citroën will announce prices in mid-July. Until then, I eagerly await because I, for one, am impressed by the Citroën C3.