Citroen C3 Hatchback

Price range

$18,990 – $22,990

Overall

Good: The C3 features modern styling, quality interior, spacious boot, and an optional panoramic sunroof which creates an amazingly airy cabin.

Not so Good: The rear legroom is only average, entry level 1.4L petrol engine lacks oomph and handling and steering feel behind the class best.

Design and Engineering

Good : The 2nd generation C3 arrived in Australia in November 2010. It’s bigger than the previous model, slightly longer, wider and (very slightly) sportier. The less whacky styling is expected to equate to more buyers, yet it still remains a stylish looking supermini, design highlights include attractive L-shaped headlights and an optional panoramic windscreen that goes well back into the roofline to create a truly airy cabin.

Not so good : Calling it sporty may be stretching it a bit, as its overall shape is more Homer Simpson than Lance Armstrong, and if you live in central Australia you probably won’t lust after the optional panoramic windscreen when the temperature is 40 degrees.

Interior and Styling

Good : A shift in use of materials makes this car far nicer than the previous model. The fit, finish and interior design feels premium and we like the use of brushed aluminium (optional) and chrome finishing. This C3 does without the digital driver’s instrument cluster of the previous model and the return to an analogue design helps to create a more premium feel. The driving position is good as the steering wheel adjusts for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out).

Visibility is impressive and cabin space feels better than before even though the wheelbase is shared with the previous model. The C3 ticks the storage box with a good sized glove box and boot space for a supermini- a roomy 300L with the rear seats in the up position.

Not so good : The driver’s seat is quite firm and the 2nd row legroom is by no means generous so big teens beware, and smaller folk may bemoan lifting shopping bags in as the base of the rear cargo zone is quite high.

Performance

Good : There are three engines on offer – a 1.4L petrol (58kW and 118NM) available with a five speed manual gearbox, a 1.6-litre petrol (88kW and 160Nm) with a four speed automatic transmission and a 1.6-litre turbo diesel (66kW and 250Nm) with a manual transmission. The 1.6L petrol is a smooth little engine, which stays quiet even when revved and has a respectable fuel figure of 7.0 litres per 100kms (official combined figure), though the performance on offer is more than adequate for its intended use. The turbo diesel is also impressively low on fuel consumption, an official combined figure of only 4.3 litres per 100kms.

Not so good : The entry level 1.4-litre petrol engine will not blow you away, producing only 58kW of power and only 118Nm of torque. If you can stretch to the 1.6-litre petrol or the turbo diesel we think it’d be well worth the extra outlay of $$.

Ride and Handling

Good : A much nicer drive than the previous C3, ride quality is noticeably better and it’s more fun to drive when the road turns twisty. For most owners the steering will get the thumbs up as it’s nice and light.

Not so good : Let’s not get too carried away with the handling as the C3 is still firmly in the comfort rather than sporty camp. Push on over b-grade quality back roads and it is no match for the class leading Ford Fiesta or Mazda 2.

The steering is also rather vague however as the C3 isn’t trying to be a hot hatch, we shouldn’t be too critical.

Buying and Owning

Good : The C3 is much better value for money than the previous model, as the entry level VT grade comes standard with dual front and front side airbags with the VTR+ and Exclusive grades adding front curtain airbags to take the count to six. All grades also come standard with ABS brakes, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Emergency Brake Assistance and Electronic Stability Control. Standard features across all the range include steering wheel mounted audio controls, an MP3 compatible sound system, a multi-function trip computer and air-conditioning.

The VTR+ grade adds a leather steering wheel, cruise control, a cooled glove box and front fog lights. The top of the range Exclusive grade sees the addition of Bluetooth and USB connectivity, climate control air-conditioning, a front centre armrest, interior mood lighting and a size bigger 16-inch alloy wheels amongst other goodies.

Not so good : Lined up against the competition the C3 is more expensive than most of its direct competitors (i.e. Volkwagen Polo, Honda Jazz) and a tyre mobility kit replaces the traditional spare wheel and tyre which country buyers might not be so keen on.

Citroen C4 Hatchback

Price range

$20,990 – $33,490

Overall

Good: Elegant and avant garde styling; Great visibility; Innovative features; Economical engines.

Not so Good: Ride quality; Steering feel; Rear passenger space; Aging chassis.

Design and Engineering

Good : The styling is all of the following – individualistic, elegant, bold and remarkably still fresh considering the Citroen C4 went on sale here back in early 2005! We should note it was freshened up with a facelift in March 2009. The exterior design is perfect for what has always been a relatively niche model – no point styling a small Citroen like a Toyota Corolla.

Not so good : The next generation model isn’t too far away, expect it to arrive Down Under in the second half of 2011. The current C4 platform shares its platform with Peugeot’s previous generation 307 small family car, which first went on sale here way back in 2001 and inherits too many of that model’s now old-school characteristics.

Interior and Styling

Good : The avantgarde theme continues inside with a futuristic dash design – the driver’s instrument panel, with a digital speedometer, is located in the centre of the upper dash in a rectangular pod shaped binnacle (helping to create a minimalist like theme). The centre console is the only ‘normal’ part of the dash which looks like it could come from another small family car; the steering wheel has a centre fixed hub (the middle part of the wheel never moves, so always stays upright and allows for an anatomically shaped airbag, plus it looks cool as well); the front seats are comfortable, the driving position is nice and high (unlike in a sport’s car, where lower is often better) and the visibility excellent. Useful storage compartments scattered around the cabin and decent boot space.

Not so good : The minimalist dash design won’t appeal to everyone. The front cupholder feels flimsy (yes only one?!); rear space is poor with tight leg and headroom.

Performance

Good : No shortage of choice with four engines on offer – two turbo diesel’s (a 1.6-litre with 80kW of power & 240Nm of torque and a 2.0-litre with 100kW & 320Nm) and two petrol’s (a 1.6-litre with 88kW & 160Nm and a 1.6L turbo 103/110kW & 240Nm). Not surprisingly the picks of the bunch are the 2.0-litre diesel and the punchy 1.6-litre petrol turbo.

The 2.0-litre diesel is smooth and mates well with the six speed gearbox (only choice). It’s a strong performer around town or out on the open road, offering dollops of punchy ‘oomph’, whilst staying impressively refined.

The 1.6-litre turbo petrol is made to work a little harder, yet has no problem getting the C4 up to speed and keeping it their.

Not so good : The 1.6-litre petrol is the weakest option here and feels underpowered for a small family car in the year 2010. With the five speed manual gearbox (also comes with a four speed auto) the gear changes lack feel and the clutch travel is excessively long.

Ride and Handling

Good : Overall the Citroen C4 is a balanced handling small family hatch, providing decent levels of agility and good grip levels.

Not so good : Over less than perfect surfaces the ride is often unrefined with a level of harshness above what we expect from Citroen. Over these surfaces the steering can experience unwanted kick-back and has a slightly vague feeling to it. Tyre noise is also louder than desired.

Buying and Owning

Good : Four engines (and three with two transmissions) to choose from and not one ‘gas guzzler’ amongst the lot (combined fuel economy ranges from an amazingly low 4.5 litres per 100kms with the sequential gearbox 1.6-litre diesel, to 7.7 litres per 100kms with the automatic gearbox 1.6-litre petrol turbo); Safety features include standard Anti-lock brakes, Electronic Stability Control and six airbags. The Citroen C4 is awarded a top safety rating in independent crash testing.

Not so good : A quick look in the classifieds will show that the C4’s resale value is only average; new model not too far away; parking sensors are an extra cost option across all grades.

Citroen C4 Picasso MPV

Price range

$37,990 – $37,990

Overall

Good: Avantgarde styling; functional interior; excellent outward visibility; truly economical motoring thanks to the turbo diesel engine and high tech automated manual gearbox; strong safety rating.

Not so Good: Compromised ride and handling; third row seating is for children only and boot space with seven aboard is average.

Design and Engineering

Good : The C4 Picasso arrived in Australia in March 2007. Based off the C4 hatch, the Picasso has had its wheelbase stretched 120mm to create room for seven seats over three rows. The styling is original and distinctive, with the super wide panoramic windscreen (it goes much further back into the roofline than the norm) creating fantastic visibility and bringing a real sense of openness into the interior.

Not so good : The compact rear suspension helps to create more room inside however it comes at a cost of ride and handling refinement. A mid life facelift shouldn’t be too far away.

Interior and Styling

Good : Steering adjusts for both reach and rake and the wheel is the same unique design as the C4 hatch (the centre hub of the steering wheel is fixed – it doesn’t turn!). The digital speedometer and rev counter is easy to read, the automatic electric parking brake takes up next to no space and the dual zone climate control air-conditioning controls are housed at either end of the dash, so neither the driver nor the front passenger need stretch.

The panoramic windscreen creates a fabulously airy front cabin and the large glovebox can be chilled. Storage compartments are generous, including two illuminated compartments with lids up front (in addition to the glovebox) and an underfloor compartment for row two passengers; the aircraft style tables on the rear of the front seats will surely come in handy and the boot light doubles up as a rechargeable hand-held torch.

Not so good : Second row legroom is nothing special if a 6-foot teen is sitting behind a similar height driver and the third row seating is really only suitable for children. With all seven seats in use, rear cargo space is the small side (at 208 litres), though luckily both the second & third row seats can be folded flat into the floor to create a very usable 1,950 litres of cargo capacity.

Performance

Good : The four cylinder 2.0-litre turbo diesel produces a decent 100kW of power (but unfortunately the May 2010 ‘upgrade’ see’s maximum torque drop from the previous 320Nm to 270Nm). Luckily fuel economy is now even better (the official combined fuel economy is a brilliantly low 6.0 litres per 100km compared to the previous 7.4 litres) thanks in part to the new automated manual six speed gearbox (previously the C4 Picasso turbo diesel grade was fitted with a six speed full automatic gearbox).

Not so good : When rushed or with a full load driving over hilly terrain (i.e. at high revs) the diesel powered Picasso emits a little too much engine noise into the cabin.

Ride and Handling

Good : Handling is more than adequate for the vehicles intended purpose – around corners, body roll is kept to a minimum and the Picasso stays composed over smooth surfaces.

Not so good : Less than smooth surfaces = noticeably diminished ride comfort, with the suspension all too easily becoming unsettled. Over rougher surfaces (i.e. sharp bumps and pot holes) the ride is at times even jarring. The variable power assisted steering is too light to install real confidence.

Buying and Owning

Good : Ticks the safety box with standard Anti-lock brakes, Electronic Stability Control and seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag) – the Picasso has been awarded an impressive 5 star Euro NCAP safety rating. The spare tyre is a proper full size, reverse parking sensors are standard and fuel economy is super low.

Not so good : Pricing was previously only o.k. at $45,990, however from August 2010 Citroen Australia drastically reduced the price to a much better $39,990. Another bonus is this is the Drive-Away price (not just the recommened retail price) so they cover all the on-road costs etc.

Citroen C5 Sedan

Price range

$36,190 – $57,190

Overall

Good: Great styling; elegant yet modern interior; economical Diesel engines; standard features.

Not so Good: 2.0L petrol engine is underpowered; pricey for a semi luxury brand; lacks useful cabin storage.

Design and Engineering

Good : The current C5 Sedan arrived in Australia in September 2008, with an all new design over the previous model. We think it looks great and love the creased ‘swage’ line running across the flanks at the height of the door handles (a little BMW inspired?!). No skimpy wheels on this model with Comfort grades running on 17 inch alloys, the Exclusive gets 18’s and even 19-inch alloys are available as an option.

Not so good : The C5 is almost a half size larger than most medium sized European offerings = greater passenger space, however with this comes an increase in body weight which does affect performance. The Limited Edition 2.0L petrol sedan especially looks underpowered in this size vehicle.

Interior and Styling

Good : A very refined and elegant cabin design. Step up to the Exclusive grade and brushed chrome highlights and full leather interior further lifts the ambience. The steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake and the front seats are soft and supportive so finding a comfortable driving position should not be an issue. The front seats also feature 8 way electric adjustments with driver’s memory.

Not so good : The electronic handbrake takes a little getting used to and the single (why not dual) cupholder in the centre armrest is poorly designed.

Performance

Good : The two Turbo Diesel offerings – a four cylinder 2.0-litre with 120kW of power and 340Nm of torque and a V6 3.0-litre with 177kW and 450Nm suit the C5.

Not so good : The 2.0-litre petrol engine offered from March 2010 is underpowered, producing only 103kW and 200Nm (which is about normal for a small family sedan, but not a larger than normal medium sized player).

Ride and Handling

Good : On a freeway or a smooth highway the C5 rides beautifully, you’ll struggle to find a more comfortable way to travel. The floating ride is a result of Citroen’s unique Hydractive III+ (hydraulic air) suspension. It is also a quiet vehicle with not much wind or tyre noise evident in the cabin.

Not so good : The air suspension works less well over rough surfaces and in an urban environment – often feeling floaty at lower speeds. This isn’t a sports sedan so those used to firmer riding BMW 3-Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class’s will need time to adjust.

Buying and Owning

Good : Economical turbo diesel engines; lots of features for the money – such as cruise control, climate control air-conditioning, auto wipers and headlights and a dimming rear view mirror. Ticks the safety box with at least seven standard airbags (nine for the Exclusive grade) and the driver’s airbag is anatomically shaped thanks to the fixed steering wheel hub.

Not so good : A niche vehicle in Australia so future resale can’t be expected to match a number of higher selling competitors.

Citroen C5 Wagon

Price Range

$41,190 – $59,100

Overall

Good: Smart design; classy interior; quiet and refined highway ride; excellent individuality (yet still sensible).

Not so Good: Pricey; heavier than previous model; sport mode = harsher ride; lacks steering feel.

Design and Engineering

Good : The latest generation C5 Tourer (or wagon to most folks) followed the sedan by a year to arrive Down Under (on sale from November 2009). We think it looks fantastic and are big fans of the elegant lines. The Exclusive grade comes with smart looking 18 inch alloys (the Comfort grades ride on 17-inch alloys).

Not so good : At almost 1,700kg the most popular 2.0-litre diesel grade (actually popular is the wrong word to use as C5’s are a niche player in Australia) is on the heavy side for a medium segment vehicle, but in its defense the C5 is significantly bigger than a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4 wagon.

Interior and Styling

Good : A Classy and modern interior. As with a number of modern Citroen’s the steering wheel has a fixed centre hub (nice to see at least one quirky touch), is leather finished and on the Exclusive grade has tasteful chrome inserts.

The steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake and the large front seats are comfortable. We liked the Exclusive grade’s ambient night lighting with motion sensors in the door pockets and the rear passenger side window sunblinds – just a couple of little things that show Citroen is thinking of the end user.

Rear cargo capacity is a decent at 505 litres or 1462 litres with the second row split-fold bench folded down. Thanks to the C5’s air suspension, the rear sill height can be lowered by 60mm to help with loading. Standard in the rear is a rechargeable torch, bag hooks, tie-down rings, a 12 volt outlet (and another in the front), protection netting and a security blind.

Not so good : Too small buttons in the centre dash panel – a common trait for a premium vehicle without a mouse control or touch screen interface. The storage compartments are on the small side and one cupholder in the front row isn’t enough for the target market mum and dad who are both likely to enjoy a quality cup of coffee. The rear seat folding down mechanism should be simpler to use.

Performance

Good : Two engines on offer, both Turbo Diesel’s – a four cylinder 2.0L with 120kW of power and 340Nm of torque and a V6 3.0L with 177kW and 450Nm. Whilst the smaller engine has significantly less power than the big V6, don’t discount it as we found it to have adequate cruising ability, staying quiet and smooth when driven normally. Whilst the spec sheet 0-100km/h sprint won’t worry a base model Holden Commodore, in real world driving it is o.k. for non lead foot drivers and the six speed auto is a good fit, ensuring smooth gear changes.

Not so good : The 2.0-litre diesel is a little noisy at high revs, and has to be worked hard to move what is a relatively large vehicle. Turbo lag is also apparent when in slower moving urban traffic.

Ride and Handling

Good : The hydro pneumatic suspension (now going by the name Hydractive III+) features automatic ride height adjustment and rides superbly over smooth surfaces. Road noise is kept to an impressively low level over all but broken up road surfaces. Light steering is great for parking and inner city traffic.

Not so good : The C5 becomes unsettled over sharp bumps. The sport mode suspension setting firms up the ride, but we still wouldn’t call it sporty. In Citroen’s defense the C5 isn’t, nor does it want to be, another sports wagon (if you’re after sports ride and handling, try the half size smaller Mercedes-Benz C-Class or BMW 3-Series wagons). Steering lacks feedback at speed.

Buying and Owning

Good : The C5 has been awarded the top star rating in independent European crash tests. Standard on all grades are seven airbags, including a Driver’s knee airbag, Electronic stability control and Anti lock brakes.

The Exclusive grade ups the airbag count to nine. This grade also features laminated side windows (contributing to the excellent quiet cabin), swiveling bi-xenon headlights, parking sensors front and rear, and tyre pressure monitors.

Not so good : The comfort grade misses out on Bluetooth (disappointing in a vehicle of this price) and Satellite Navigation should be standard on the Exclusive grades.

Citroen DS3 Hatchback

Price range

$27,740 – $29,740

Overall

Good: Funky exterior styling; bespoke interior feel; refined engines; impressive dynamics; customisable options list.

Not so Good: DS3 badge lacks the heritage of the competing MINI Cooper; tyre noise on the DSport grade; we wish Citroen would change its mind and import the wickedly quick DS3 Racing grade to Australia.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in September 2010 the Citroen DS3 is an all-new model from Citroen. Whilst it may share a platform with the more conventional C3 Supermini, the bespoke three-door body of the DS3 doesn’t share any body panels with the less sporty five-door only C3.Furthermore this little Citroen isn’t targeted at typical Supermini buyers – it’s going straight after a more premium target market – think MINI Cooper buyers.

The design is refreshingly bold – we’re fans of the sleek lines and the relatively low stance. Highlights include the distinctive ‘Shark-Fin’ side door pillars, the floating-style roof (which works best when painted with a contrasting colour to the body) and the LED light strips down both sides of the front bumper.

Not so good : One of our reviewer’s finds the overall design ‘a bit heavy’ and doesn’t think the DS3’s lines will ‘age as well’ as the MINI (but as they say, design is subjective).

Interior and Styling

Good : The adventurous styling continues inside and as with the exterior we give it the tick of approval. It’s a modern design with plenty of premium looking materials – the glossy lacquer finish across the dash looks great and the use of leather and chrome inserts is undertaken in a stylish, chic French way.

The two grades, DStyle and DSport, both feature comfortable seats up front, a generously sized glovebox and logically arranged switchgear. The design of the driver’s console is a cool three pod affair and the needles on the speedometer and tachometer look fantastic.

Second row legroom is better than the competing MINI Cooper and much better than the Fiat 500. You can take three of your friends out in the DS3 and unless they are Amazon-like tall they won’t need to attend a Pilate’s class the next day to untangle their limbs. The boot is a decent 285 litres (that’s more than 100 litres of space than the MINI Cooper can hold), fold down the rear seats and cargo space grows to almost 1000 litres (or approximately 300L more than the Cooper).

Not so good : The switchgear (control buttons and knobs) lacks the premium feel of an Audi; amazingly the interior does without a single cupholder (good luck Citroen if you ever decide selling the DS3 in Starbucks crazed America) and those over 6 feet tall may find it a little difficult to find an ideal driving position. Whilst leg room is better than most of the competition, remember this is a three-door Supermini!

Performance

Good : Two four-cylinder 1.6L engines are currently offered in the DS3, both of which were co-developed with BMW. The DStyle grade features the naturally aspirated engine (i.e. no turbo or supercharging), offering 88kW of power and 160Nm of torque and linked to a four-speed automatic transmission.

The DSport is the sportier of the two, with the help of a turbocharger the engine produces a healthier 115kW and 240Nm. This grade is only sold in Australia with a six-speed manual gearbox. Whilst the DSport offers significantly more power than the DStyle it’s also more frugal, with an official combined fuel economy of 6.7 litres per 100kms versus 7.0 litres per 100kms for the DStyle.

No big surprise that we think the 1.6L turbo is the pick of the two engines. It’s a flexible, refined and relatively linear motor which can take off with zest from the lights from surprisingly low revs. However it’s the mid-range power delivery that is most impressive.

Not so good : Whilst the DSport is an entertaining drive, it isn’t a true ‘go-fast’ hot hatch (but nor is it trying to be). Even so we wish the exhaust note was a little louder and the six-speed manual gearbox could be slicker in its shifts (but it’s by no means bad).

Ride and Handling

Good : Citroen has tweaked the suspension and steering over the less sporty C3. After spending some time behind the wheel of the DSport grade, we say the changes are definitely worth it as the DS3 has real dynamic ability. The DSport grade offers surprising amounts of cornering grip on the standard 17 inch low-profile tyres (the DStyle comes standard with a size smaller 16 inch alloy wheel package). It is also a lovely smooth handling Supermini, feeling more composed and comfortable than a MINI Cooper over most Australian road surfaces. The ride is a real highlight, the DS3 absorbs mid corner bumpers impressively and its low speed ride is equally good. The DSport’s chassis balance and engine ‘oomph’ are well-matched. The DS3’s electric power steering is set-up better than most. It feels nice and linear, turns accurately and quickly and doesn’t suffer from kickback over poor road surfaces.

Not so good : Under maximum attack a MINI Cooper S will likely holds its line longer before body roll and understeer kicks in (but how often can or should you drive like this on a public road) compared to the DSport grade (but we’d wager the difference is smaller than the difference in ride quality between the two – so a win to the DS3 than?). The amount of tyre noise in the DS3 over coarse road surfaces is more than we’d hoped and steering feel at straight ahead is also a little lacking in feel.

Buying and Owning

Good : Both DS3 grades come standard with twin front, front-side and side-curtain airbags as well as Anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake Distribution, Electronic Brake Assist and Electronic Stability Control.

A growing request from premium Supermini segment buyers is vehicle customisation and the DS3 well and truly gets the thumbs up in this regard. Customers can order a DS3 in an almost infinite number of body and wheel colour combinations and inside the bespoke combinations are almost as numerous. Different materials, trims and equipment levels are all just a tick on the options list away (fancy a leather dash or a different coloured gearknob?).

Not so good : Whilst an auxiliary audio socket is thankfully standard, USB and Bluetooth connectivity is unfortunately a cost option. The true hotch-hatch ‘DS3 Racing’ grade isn’t coming to Australia – with a big 147kW from its tuned 1.6L turbo engine it would make a cracking competitor to the MINI Cooper John Cooper Works grade.