One of the biggest-selling cars in Australia, the five-door Citroen CS3 was introduced in 2002 as a more spacious and modern successor to the Citroen Saxo, which, having been on the market since 1996, was beginning to look somewhat dated compared to some of Citroen’s rivals.
The CS3 started with just two versions available, the SX and Exclusive. Both of these vehicles were powered by a PSA 1.4L single overhead camshaft petrol engine – shared with contemporary versions of the Peugeot 206, producing 52kW. It came with the choice of a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. More models were duly added to the range, including the convertible fabric-top Pluriel. In 2006, the standard first-generation models were given a redesigned grille and more prominent-looking bumpers.
The second-generation models were introduced in 2009 and were longer and wider than their first-generation predecessors, adding an extra 30cm of space in the rear of the car. The current CS3 range includes manual and automatic, petrol and diesel, VT, VTi, and Exclusive models, all of which are economical, if relatively expensive, to buy.
The original CS3 had a power rating of 52kW with a top speed of 154km/h. It was only capable of doing 0-100km/h in 16.5 seconds, proving sluggish at times, especially going up hills. The fuel economy of these introductory models was impressive, with the car using around 5.91L/100km.
The later second-generation models are faster in every respect. The 1.4L VTi, for example, can reach 0-1000km/h in 10.6 seconds and has a top speed of 183km/h.
The later diesel models (post-2009) are more economical in terms of fuel consumption than all previous and current examples at 5.5L/100km. They really shine in terms of CO2 emissions, producing a green 120g/km, even with the significantly greater output of 66kW and torque of 215Nm.
The convertible Pluriel model has a 1.6L engine with an output of 83kW, yet with the ability to reach 100km/h in 12.6 seconds is not particularly impressive. The Senso-drive semi-automatic gearbox found in this car was a staple of some of the earlier models, leading Top Gear Australia to – perhaps unfairly – proclaim that it is ‘a bit last-generation’.
The Pluriel is a pleasure to drive, however, making for a smooth ride with the fabric detachable roof adding that extra bit of cooling luxury during hot summers. As such, this car proved a popular option until it was withdrawn from production in 2010.
In keeping with Citroen's reputation in modern times for smooth handling, the C3 range continues this tradition with excellent suspension that braves the road's bumps and holes with ease. Handling across the entire range is improved by a height-adjustable steering wheel for added comfort, yet the steering is not as accurate as it could be, unsettling the body if wound off centre too quickly.
All models come with excellent anti-lock brakes and large windows that provide excellent visibility and brightness. The interior, for the most part, is spacious, although the rear is somewhat cramped on earlier models, with improvements being made in this department from 2009 onwards.
Every C3 model is equipped with impressive kit, including air-conditioning complete with a particulate filter – it is easily adjusted using two reassuringly simple-looking dials – and a roomy parcel shelf. On second-generation models, a trip computer, expensive leather or fabric seats, ESP, curtain airbags, and 300L of boot space are a few of the features that complete the impressive kit of the C3.
The panoramic Zenith windscreen is a great feature on second-generation models, which serves to enhance the already impressive visibility. Although unavailable on earlier models and only as an option on some early second-generation models, the Zenith panoramic windscreen comes as standard on all models made from 2011 onwards.
The dashboard on second-generation models is another improvement on previous versions. All controls are logically placed, and the mixture of analogue and digital controls adds a degree of classiness that displaces the less refined digitals controls of old.
There can be no doubt that the super-mini hatchback class is a saturated one, with the C3 facing stiff competition from the likes of the Ford Fiesta, VW Polo, and Toyota Yaris. While the C3 is arguably a more attractive-looking vehicle than the Yaris, as well as more spacious and comfortable to boot, many claim that the Ford Fiesta provides a nicer driving experience and that the VW Polo has a more appealing no-nonsense aesthetic.
The C3 is popular for a reason. Considering its better fuel economy, some innovative features, and its sheer character, the fact that it is a little more expensive to buy than the Fiesta should perhaps be overlooked.